Istanbul Center Stories: Lara Kok

Lara Kok, M.A in Global Thought, Class of 2018

August 20, 2018

My time as a researcher at CGC Istanbul and Studio-X provided me with a unique opportunity for lived learning. I found a continuity that existed through physically learning and living within context, rather than the well-worn learning from the pages of a book in a library.

As an example, one of my first projects at CGC Istanbul and Studio-X was researching the soot chamber in Mimar Sinan’s Süleymaniye Mosque. By day I was combing research databases, writing to local archives, searching for an original manuscript written in the soot ink from soot chamber.  During the weekends I was visiting the mosque myself, watching Sinan’s magic realized—the whiteness of the tiles, the architecture of the gardens, the view of the Istanbul sprawl from the hilltop. I was standing in the cemetery when I heard the call to prayer ripple over the city and end in the mosque’s own, directly above my head. The Süleymaniye Mosque in its context, provided for a continuity of learning and living that allowed me to open my mind, situating academia within the lived experience.

Reframing Gendered Violence Workshop

I spent the first three hours of the internship at CGC Istanbul attending a symposium on gated communities in Istanbul. My second day featured a pop-up exhibition entitled “new urban domesticity”, a collection of local design students’ interpretation of how urban domesticity can, or must, change through design. On my third day I attended an evening with local academics in the final workshop in the “Reframing Gender Violence” series. My fourth day included a sustainable fashion design forum, with a brief interlude to sample the accompanying sustainable slow food restaurant pop-up. Throughout my time working in Istanbul I edited, wrote, helped translate, organized, and even dappled in legal advice. The breadth of my activities and the events I witnessed demonstrate how CGC Istanbul and Studio-X is a living embodiment of the multidisciplinary, a way of thinking and doing that can concern several ways of life, all coexisting within a cityscape.

Lara Kok

Above all my experience was made remarkable by my interactions with the people, primarily Ege and Eylem in the CGC Istanbul team. Through Ege and Eylem I was able to interact with the city on its multiple levels. They gave advice on where to take my father to dinner during his visit, showed me the cities corners and side streets, and answered my questions honestly and openly, from the smallest to the biggest, including their thoughts on that month’s national elections. Through them I was able to participate in the local culture in a way I otherwise never would have been able to—to celebrate the birthday of one of the exhibitions curators, to meet local architects, to laugh and to talk, to eat börek to take Turkish coffee or çay tea breaks, to live learning and ultimately to make some treasured friends. It was a perfect ending to a year in Global Thought, watching and living the interactions between local and global, the nature of the city, and so many other things we talked about in the classroom—while also providing the time to learn anew.