Atölye Istanbul: A Creative Community Space

Engin Ayaz

Atölye Istanbul is a design project that explores the global pattern language of Maker Spaces via literature and field research, and develops a community space proposal in Istanbul that combines fabrication, co-working and peer-to-peer education.

Atölye stands for workshop/studio in Turkish. The project is driven by the ambition to create a cross-disciplinary platform to further catalyze the creative ecosystem in Istanbul and the wider region. To be housed in a large flexible space in the industrial district in Golden Horn, Atölye will contain digital and traditional fabrication facilities, studio/work spaces, classrooms, cafe, storefront and gallery. The ITP thesis forms Atölye's first phase, and includes precedences analysis, communication design, UX, architectural design, business modeling and web development. Atölye's next phase entails conducting community outreach and a detailed feasibility study in Istanbul with my co-founding partner.

The research component of Atolye Istanbul consisted of interviews, an online survey, a focus group workshop, field research via site visits, readings along with data collection and visualization work. More than 40 formal interviews in person or via skype were conducted with a wide range of stakeholders in Istanbul as well as designers and founders of various community spaces abroad. Moreover, a survey was conducted with the ITP community to better understand the priorities and complaints of the student body. This survey will serve as a prototype for a similar survey, which will be conducted in Istanbul post-graduation. Similarly, a focus group prototype workshop was organized with 12 students to deepen the understanding of the preferences of the ITP community. Another similar workshop will be executed in Istanbul in July.

Aside from in-person research, books and online readings supplemented the development of Atolye concept, especially Crafsmen by Sennett and Maker Movement by Anderson. In person visits to various creative spaces included Third Ward, Spark, Eyebeam, Genspace, NYC Resistor, South Bronx Fab Lab, Artisan's Asylum and Alpha Labs, all of which helped develop the framework for Atolye. Finally, an online database of 90+ similar organizations was compiled for future reference, highlighting the mission statement and facilities of these various organizations.

- Design / Art / Tech / Entrepreneur community in Istanbul

- Outstanding students from universities in Istanbul

- General Public wanting to learn new skills

- Visiting scholars and fellows from international institutions

The design component of Atolye Istanbul consisted of visual design, user-experience, business strategy, web development and architectural design.

Regarding visual design, the most important aspect was developing a consistent visual identity for the organization via a coherent and simple logo, a consistent typographic approach along with a color scheme and layout standards.

Regarding user experience, the design involved developing detailed user demographics categories and experience flows, visualizing the stakeholders via an ecosystem map, and establishing various scenario planning and backcasting techniques such as "A Domus Article from 2015" or "Letter to Grandmother on Atolye Istanbul" to better understand how the organization will be experienced in near and far future. The work also included the wireframe development for the website.

Regarding business strategy, the work included developing core set of principles for the organization, articulating customer segments, cost structure and other details via a business canvas and estimating financial projections over a six-year period.

In terms of web development, both a temporary landing/sign-up page and a more permanent website have been developed under the link The website contains class, workspace, events, and membership terms sections.

Regarding architectural design, the spatial programming was developed, establishing square footage requirements as well as adjacencies. Various spatial diagrams were prototyped to understand the whole design spectrum. Furthermore, based on an urban trends analysis, a preliminary city region has been set as an area that will be explored for specific real estate options.

Atolye Istanbul has been a great learning journey. The thesis project provided a strong fundament to move forward from, and a great reference point for our future endeavors in establishing a creative community space in Istanbul. I am glad to have taken the time abroad, incubating this idea both via theory and a design research practice, and now feel ready to go on the field and explore it further.

In this process, I wished I was able to take more time to establish few potential locations for architectural intervention, and refine the architectural design approach further. I also wished that I had funding to visit spaces beyond those in NYC to gain a better understanding of the maker space culture from around the world, and also spent more time visualizing the outcomes of this research via an interactive website. Finally, I wished that I could have refined some of the spatial patterns that I learnt about via physical prototypes. In any case, I think given the time limitations, the thesis met its goals that were established at its outset.

In terms of next steps, my partner and I will be back in Istanbul starting June, and will organize workshops and pop-up events to establish a core creative community that would consist of designers, architects, artists, engineers and entrepreneurs. Via these events, we will try to understand the current state of affairs among these creative circles, and see where we can add value. In the meantime, we plan to search for real estate across Istanbul, looking for suitable buildings that have a friendly landlord, a large, high-ceiling, street-level space that offers flexibility of rental agreement over time. We will also be seeking investment funding in Istanbul from various sources, including the municipality, European Union, private investors and a crowdsourcing campaign.

As we move forward with these steps, we plan to recruit two additional people for the founding team, including a community outreach person and a real estate/local business guru.

Based on the findings of this process, we hope to find 150 space in a central location to move in with the core community. In the beginning, Atolye would consist of a co-working space, a small fab lab and a classroom. We would develop incentives for the members to teach classes and use the fabrication shop for prototyping, and thus activate the space and its resources. Furthermore, we are planning to organize events with Istanbul Design Week, including an Art Hack Day. With the small space and the events, we hope to attract publics and students, and also get a chance to iterate spatial configuration, facility offerings and community engagement methods.

As the next step, we hope to get additional investment and expand space and facilities with fabrication, classrooms, storage, cafe and retail offerings. Rather than taking full responsibility for all these project components, we hope to engage in partnerships with various experts in each of the domains. To support operations, we plan to select and enroll Atolye Fellows, who would be students from various surrounding universities and would be paid on a per diem basis to help operate the machinery while having the ability to develop their own projects.

As Atolye's scale grows, we plan to invite collaborators from various international organizations for workshops and classes and thus expand the stakeholder group. Finally, we want to engage organizations of varying scales for specific workshops on making, creativity and empowerment, all of which would support Atolye's income streams.

In the longer term, we envision Atolye as an agent of change in Istanbul and beyond, proving that a self-sustaining for-profit post-educational creative community platform can be developed. Our approach is not to scale or replicate this model, but establish is as another pattern among the myriad approaches from around the world.