Between Fiction and History Biographical Narratives of Architects in Turkey

This study aims to discuss the mediation of the biographical narratives in the relation of architecture to the past. As one of the old and deep-rooted literary genres, biography (life story) is one of the productive ways in the writing of history that has been also widely used in architectural historiography to understand and reconstruct the past. By focusing on an individual, these narratives which can be classified as biography, autobiography, memoirs and travel notes, and whose traces are followed in publications types like architects’ monographs and complete works (œuvre complète) alternate between literature and historiography. In other words, some life stories belong to literature and some to history. Yet, the biographical narrative concerns the dichotomy of fiction/reality, micro/macro history, subjectivity/objectivity, individual/society and past/present in the writing of history. While analyzing architecture from a historical perspective, we frequently encounter some of these dichotomies that also foster the biographical narrative. There have been discussions about the long-standing relationship between biography and the writing of history, and their differences and similarities from antiquity to the present; however, the biographical narrative is still used as a historical method. It seems that the widespread interest in biographical inquiry has emerged lately in Turkey in parallel with recent developments in the international environment. The growth and the increase in the popularity of life stories also affect the field of architecture. This also provides us an opportunity to (re)consider the multi-layered, complex relationship between architectural historiography and biographical narratives. In this context, my intention here is to examine the role of the biographical narratives in architectural historiography through architects’ autobiography. Here, the analysis of the problems related to method, and the expansions brought by the narratives to the historiography in which the individual established his/her own story, are at the center of the study. Based on the analysis of the current literature on the relationship between histor(iograph)y and biography and the theoretical frameworks they offer, the study attempts to provide a basis for architectural historiography and (auto) biographical research in architecture.


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