East Meets West
For a Westerner it is more probable to know Autoban through their partnership with De La Espada, but for someone who is visiting Turkey and wants to get a taste of contemporary Istanbul, it is impossible not to come across their architectural work.
During the last 11 years, the duo behind country’s most illustrious design practice has widely contributed to the aesthetic rejuvenation of the city. From The House Hotel Bosphorus to the recently inaugurated VIP Lounge of Turkish Airlines (not to talk about all the bars and restaurants), their identity has become synonymous to new Turkish design.
We met Seyhan Özdemir and Sefer Çaglar at the Galata-based headquarters of Autoban, in a buzzy atelier that houses a team of 35 employees of all sorts—from AutoCAD masterminds to engineers—and is beautifully cluttered with prototypes, lavish sampling materials and inspirational paraphernalia such as cords and vintage marble signs. After a short tour around the various spaces, Seyhan invited us into her office, where we talked about design, architecture, De La Espada, and her curious habit of constantly rotating the furniture of her apartment.
Autoban has a very neat and crafty style. Does your cultural background influence your way of working, your aesthetics?
We were born here in Istanbul in the midst of so many stylistic inputs, from the Romans to the Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire. Of course we are influenced by the contrasts of our country, but it’s so difficult to analyse—it happens unconsciously. One thing that I consider very important is that we are representing this country—or this city—in a contemporary way. This is the most important point for us. The other way around would be too easy: ours is a rich culture and people from other places are very interested in Istanbul. It’s easy to use heritage in order to attract attention, but we prefer to connect to the country in our own way.
Due to the identity that you have developed, Autoban has become one of the most representative examples of contemporary Turkish design.
I understand what you want to say, but it is difficult for us to make conclusions about our own work–we’ve been active for 11 years now and we’ve seen many people around us, many creatives coming up with a similar approach. What’s happening is a good thing. It’s kind of a renaissance.
When you started, 11 years ago, design in Turkey was very different…
Not just design, everything was different!
It was difficult. For instance, when we were at university, it was impossible to find international magazines at the Turkish newsstands. And we didn’t have the internet. We had to wait for the school’s library to order the magazines from abroad in order to see what was going on in the world. Ten years ago there was no design culture in the city, none at all! But the last decade has been very important for so many things in the country. It’s very refreshing. We are proud about having contributed in creating a design language for the city, not only in terms of products but lifestyle in general. We have been given the opportunity to interfere in the way people eat, how they live, how they incorporate design into their everyday life.
Do you have much design in your house, in your personal space?
Yes, of course! It’s full of art, also some timeless design objects, and things that I find on the street. But the furniture in my house is always rotating. When we design a new prototype, I’ll take it home to see if it’s functional, and also how it feels in the space. You see, we enjoy designing objects that serve a purpose. When a product offers solutions, it can be integrated in our lives much more easily. It’s our priority to create objects that people want to live with.
How would you describe your collaboration with De La Espada?
At the beginning we started with small objects, then we went to fairs and won some awards and the product design side started getting bigger and bigger. We are architects and interior designers—we create entire worlds—but production and sales is something different, so adding the expertise of De La Espada into that mix has been of vital importance. We like to play with technology and new materials, and De La Espada supports our design approach. I could say that we are living the dream of any designer!
I remember many years ago, I was in Milan for Salone de Mobile and I visited a showroom that you had put up in Zona Tortona. I don’t remember exactly how long ago it was…
I do! It was 2008, the first year of our collaboration, and they did a great show for us.
It was funny because when I visited, the fair had just opened and it was still empty. I came to your stand after visiting a very ‘loud’ brand—they had given me an large golden press tote. The person who received me at Autoban made a very charming comment about the clash between your designs and those of the other brand. In design, what makes the difference? Is it just about taste? Is it just about the object? Maybe there’s more to it than that…
We don’t think of objects—we think of spaces. We like designing stories, and we have a very strong architectural approach. In every product, what you see is structure and materials. We don’t do interior design or decoration—we do interior architecture. This approach is probably the main difference between us and most product designers.
What are we going to see next from Autoban De La Espada?
I can’t give away any details, but we’re working on a new line of furniture that will be launched at Maison et Object in 2015. It’s very different from the rest of our work, a big project indeed that involves many different objects.
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