PLAN 81: Article
Alums Bring Turks And Armenians Together For Joint Initiative

Professional Workshops Focus on Environmental Sustainability

In December, two SA+P alumni conducted a workshop in Istanbul that brought together 24 young architects, planners and engineers – half from Armenia, half from Turkey – for a weeklong series of lectures, discussions and site visits focused on environmental sustainability.

While the primary aim of the workshop was professional development, the organizers hope to create a cross-border network of faculty, students and young professionals that will foster human bonds and enhance understanding between the two estranged countries.

Turkey and Armenia have a long history of painful disagreement – their border has been closed for years and they have no diplomatic relations – but when Turkish native Birgul Colak (PhD '01, Architecture) and Armenian Alen Amirkhanian (MCP '97) re-established their friendship after graduating from MIT, they came up with a promising idea.

Amirkhanian had become a lecturer on sustainable urbanism at the American University of Armenia and Colak was an associate professor of computational design at Istanbul’s Yildiz Technical University.

Tapping the expertise of their Turkish and Armenian faculty colleagues, as well as practitioners in the field, the two set out to create a joint program on energy efficiency and clean energy in urban design and construction.

The topic is a major concern for the building and city-design professions. And Turkey's recent mandate that all new buildings in Turkey be rated on their energy efficiency made Istanbul the perfect location for a workshop on the subject.

'Istanbul is a hotspot of new construction,' says Colak, 'not only in Turkey but globally. An estimated 30 million square meters of new buildings are under construction here.'

'In Istanbul,' adds Amirkhanian, 'we can see in real time how experts and practitioners are grappling with the new standards as they are being developed worldwide and locally.'

During the workshop, participants visited buildings that were designed using green architecture standards, including the Siemens and Wilo headquarters near Istanbul and the newly built Nanotechnology Center at the Sabanci University, all of which have received LEED certification from the US Green Building Council.

'A week is not a long time,' says Amirkhanian, 'and the topics of energy efficiency and clean energy are expansive. But what we hoped to accomplish was to plant the seeds of the latest thinking and practice on these topics. And more importantly, to begin the establishment of professional networks in a field that is of critical importance beyond borders. The issue of the natural environment and its fate,' he adds, 'is not limited to any national boundaries.'

Organized with the help of Civic Forum, an Armenian NGO – in cooperation with Yildiz Technical University and Izocam, a manufacturer and distributor of insulation materials headquartered in Turkey – the workshop was so successful that Colak and Amirkhanian hope to develop a series of such projects bringing students and young professionals together from both countries to work on joint projects in sustainability. Future projects may take place in Armenia, in Turkey, or in other countries.

Funding and support for the effort is provided by the Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF) in Armenia, which administers the Support to Armenia-Turkey Rapprochement Project for the US Agency for International Development. The project’s goal is to support Armenia-Turkey rapprochement through the development of new business partnerships and professional networks, the engagement of civil society in alliance-building, and the establishment of a favorable environment for state-to-state dialogue and interaction.

For more information contact Alen Amirkhanian ( and/or Birgul Colak (

See a TV interview about the program (in Turkish) with Colak and Amirkhanian here: