Architect Renzo Piano designed the new Istanbul Modern Art Museum

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Italian architect Renzo Piano designed the new Istanbul Modern Art Museum

Italian architect Renzo Piano designed the new Istanbul Modern Art Museum, as it reopens in a new building, which first opened in 2004 as Turkey’s “first museum of Modern and contemporary art near the Bosporus, Istanbul, Turkey.

Istanbul Modern, which first opened in 2004 as Turkey’s “first museum of Modern and contemporary art”, officially, reopens, on June 20, 2023. The 10,500 sq. m building has been designed by the high-profile Italian architect Renzo Piano. “The new building’s transparent and accessible design reflects the ethos of the museum.” The museum provides space for a dynamic range of exhibitions, film screenings and an extensive collection showcasing over 280 works by Turkey’s foremost exponents of modern and contemporary art from 1945 to the present day as well as internationally renowned artists.

The new space—covered in 3D aluminium panels “evocative of fish scales”—incorporates a museum library, education and event spaces across five floors. Istanbul Modern was first unveiled almost 20 years ago in a former warehouse in the Karakoy neighbourhood, overlooking the Bosphorus. After five years of construction—during which the collection has been temporarily shown in a nearby 19th-century building—the new venue opened on the museum’s original site.

Istanbul Modern’s new building was constructed with the joint support of the Eczacibasi Group, the museum’s founding sponsor, and Dogus Group-Bilgili Holding, its principal sponsor. The building’s open staircases — a Piano signature —invited visitors to the upper floors from the lobby and then again to the rooftop, where a reflecting pool has already become a popular hangout for the chatty Bosporus seagull crowd.

For Renzo Piano, the Istanbul Modern was all about its location, and he wanted to celebrate the building’s scrappy origins as a warehouse in his new design, with its facade of aluminium panels, along a waterfront area that has been transformed in the last several years with restaurants and luxury hotels. But the inspiration came more from the natural setting. “I love a building by the water because water makes things beautiful,” Mr Piano said, “And the Istanbul Modern is about a dialogue between the building and the water.”

There were also some very practical considerations, including safety in an earthquake zone — a design element made even more urgent since the devastation in southern Turkey and northern Syria from February’s earthquake. A model of the building’s construction, on display in a room on the first floor, depicts the complicated way it was anchored with bendable giant pillars at the core of the building to absorb the impact of a major earthquake. “We had to make a solid building that will be there for centuries, especially based on what happened several months ago with the big earthquake,” He added.

“When you make a place for people for art and music, accessibility and safety are fundamental elements.” From the start, a sense of community has been the mission of the museum, and its opening appears to have gathered momentum — perhaps almost as a distraction — in a country that has been grappling with uncertainty surrounding its democratic future. The focus of the museum is squarely on Turkish art, at least for now, in the opening shows.

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