Students of The World
For the New York School of Interior Design, a trip to Turkey was truly a delight
Judith Gura -- Interior Design, 2/1/2010 12:00:00 AM
Over two hectic but rewarding weeks, New York School of Interior Design professor Mehmet Özpay took students to architecture and design sites in Istanbul and on the Aegean coast of Turkey in order to explore the intriguing mix of East and West, ancient and contemporary. NYSID's study-abroad program had never before ventured outside Western Europe, and the trip reflected the school's commitment, under president Christopher Cyphers and dean Scott Ageloff, to expanding students' knowledge beyond the classroom. Ageloff's choice of Turkey in particular was timely, as President Barack Obama included it in his first official trip overseas, and Istanbul is a European Capital of Culture for 2010.
NYSID's nine students ranged from 20 to 60 years in age, and almost all had previously been abroad, but even the most well traveled among them hadn't anticipated the variety of experiences in the intense schedule. Özpay, a trained architect who's also an assistant VP in the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's corporate real-estate division, planned the itinerary with what he called a hidden agenda: to allow his charges "to experience real Turkish life and culture, not just see the sights."
To that end, he recruited old classmates and acquaintances from Istanbul's Robert College high school to give an up-close view of their country through personal introductions and behind-the-scenes visits. "Every day, they met at least one local person—some days, more," he says. "And it was important to meet as many professional women as possible, since most of the students were women." (The lone male, as it happened, was Turkish.)
As the group explored Istanbul on foot as well as by subway, tram, minibus, and taxi, Topkapý Palace was the unanimous favorite among the big-name destinations. Its cluster of human-scaled pavilions was surprising for a sultan's residence, especially for Western eyes accustomed to the ostentation of palaces such as the Château de Versailles. Also on the schedule were Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, of course. For balance, one of Özpay's classmates arranged an excursion that included a private tour of the Jewish Museum and a service in a synagogue.
Visiting the Grand Bazaar, the students shopped for kilims, leather, jewelry, and brass lamps. The peak moments of the trip were unquestionably the more private experiences, the unexpected ones. From historic landmarks and neighborhoods, the itinerary moved on to contemporary hotels, restaurants, shops, and even design studios.
At Autoban, which specializes in trendy furniture, restaurants, and hotels, the group took note of how a young firm can brand its interiors through product development. The experience was very different at Tabanlýoglu Architects, a prominent family-owned firm with the stature of a Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Murat Tabanlýoglu, the current partner, collaborated on the design of the ultracontemporary Kanyon shopping mall; his father built Istanbul's Atatürk Cultural Center in 1969. And a breakfast meeting with a dean and instructors at Istanbul Technical University was followed by a tour of a student exhibition, study rooms, and model-making studios. NYSID's visitors were impressed to learn that all of the university's interior design students are required to take classes in architecture.
Perhaps the most unexpected, most memorable day in Istanbul involved a seven-hour Bosporus cruise on a yacht lent by one of Özpay's classmates and captained by another. From the water, the students were treated to a vista of sites previously visited on land as well as of waterfront houses that are hidden by walls from the street. Many of these are 18th- or 19th-century summerhouses, or yalý, converted into modern-day residences behind timber facades preserved by law. Disembarking from the yacht, the group visited a waterfront villa by Interior Design Hall of Fame member Mica Ertegun—a yalý-style house elegantly furnished in the late Ottoman style, with large sofas, colorful pillows, and low tables.
Down in Bodrum, a Monte Carlo—like resort, the tour featured a visit to Ertegun's own villa, which she'd decorated with locally made furniture and accessories. Another day, architect Ahmet Igdirligil personally accompanied the students to a pair of new boutique hotels by his firm, Sans Mimarlýk. One of the hotels, suitable for just two or three privileged guests, was in a 17th-century tower constructed like a fortress, complete with drawbridge, to defend against pirates. The other was built just a few years ago to suggest a secluded castle. Finding the students good company, Igdirligil actually joined the group for the next couple of days.
The dense schedule allowed for just a single day off, and it happened to be a rainy one in Bodrum. Some evenings were free, too. Back in Istanbul, several students managed to fit in an extracurricular expedition to one of the most celebrated discos, Reyna.