The Cities of Quartz? The image and reality of high rise housing in Turkey

In the run-up to the launch of the CaCHE report “High rise residential development: an international evidence review”, Bilge Serin, one of the report co-authors discusses high rise developments in Turkey.  

High rise residential developments have been proliferated globally, especially in the last two decades. Although high-rise housing is far from being a new phenomenon, its recent expansion in various countries, including the UK, deserves attention. In light of this, our new International Evidence Review, which we are launching tomorrow, investigates the converging and diverging characteristics of high rise residential developments, and the ways high-rise developments are produced in.

Among other countries and case studies covered in our report, the extent of development and increasing media presence of high-rise residential projects in Turkey, especially in Istanbul, draw attention to the rise of this particular type of housing provision. As of 2014, over 800 branded housing projects, most of which are high-rise, have been documented in Istanbul (Milliyet 2014). These new high-rise housing projects aim to accommodate middle classes and higher-income groups, rather than providing social housing as was the case for post-war tower blocks in the UK and many other countries. As a result of their mass development, these recent projects have created a mainstream development type for the housing provision of both middle classes and higher-income groups in Istanbul, and in Turkey overall.

The new high-rise developments present some similar patterns and trends in terms of their spatial characteristics, uses and amenities provided within the developments, and their marketing and branding strategies. These patterns and trends have also generated a controversial image and reality in the last two decades around the idea of high-rise living, and it is one that is likely to be here to stay.

Spatial characteristics, amenities and services

Recent high-rise residential developments in Turkey are either designed as a single free-standing residential block or multiple blocks forming clusters. These projects are designed to segregate the project area from the surrounding area, with little spatial and visual permeability, by using the buildings to form edges. The developments are further segregated via walls, fences and landscaping elements, in addition to access-controlled gates. Residents-only uses and amenities are provided and located in the middle of the segregated project areas preventing non-residents’ access. The developments provide many uses and amenities that can traditionally be found in the neighbourhood centres and the services which are usually provided by the municipalities and councils. These uses and amenities may be parks, playgrounds, recreation areas, car parks, restaurants, sports areas, social rooms, and health and education facilities, and the services provided by the projects are beautification, landscaping, waste management, and security. All of these are provided and managed by the private management companies. This practice raises questions about the commodification and privatisation of accessing these services and amenities, and the unethical implications of the exclusion this practice fosters in urban space (Serin et al. 2020).

Marketing and branding of high-rise living

The exclusionary reality of the recent high-rise developments in Turkey is subject to criticism for facilitating increasing inequality and are prone to problems regarding their management and sustainability in the long term. However, marketing and branding discourse for these developments paint a contrary picture. New high-rise developments have been extensively marketed in the country and abroad.  As the title of this article refers, these projects have been portrayed as cities made up of quartz. Their branding strategies present the projects as places to offer a better place to live and a way to access better amenities and services, as well as agents to provide status, exclusivity and social capital. A key aspect of the marketing and branding strategies is to present the projects as problem-solvers for everyday life issues. To illustrate, the developments offer access to large green areas and parks. For the city-dwellers in Istanbul, a city where the ratio of publicly accessible open green spaces is just above 2% of the total area of the city’s macro form, such claims promise to improve lived experience of the project residents substantially. To put it in context, that ratio is 33% in London, around 25% in New York and almost 10% in Paris (World Cities Culture Forum 2020).

Taking into account these claims and the actual private provision of amenities and services within the high-rise residential projects in Turkey, and elsewhere as our International Evidence Review demonstrates, this practice offers some city-dwellers quick solutions for basic everyday problems that we face in contemporary cities. The question that remains is what happens to the other city-dwellers and the rest of the city?

The CaCHE reportHigh rise residential development: an international evidence review” will be launched on Wednesday 28th April at 9am. Sign up here.



Milliyet (2014) ‘İstanbul’un en “markalı” bölgesi Beylikdüzü oldu’. Milliyet.

Serin B., Smith H. and McWilliams, C. (2020). The role of the state in the commodification of urban space: The case of branded housing projects, Istanbul. European Urban and Regional Studies 27, 342–358. 

World Cities Culture Forum, 2020. % of public green space (parks and gardens).

* The title was inspired by the book The City of Quartz (Mike Davis).


Date: April 27, 2021 10:28 am


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