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Gustav Oelsner

  • Gustav Oelsner became the founding father of urban planning in Turkey, his country of exile. He was also the author of numerous articles for the architectural journal [i]Arkitekt[/i].
  • Gustav
  • Oelsner
  • 23-02-1879
  • Poznań (PL)
  • 26-04-1956
  • Hamburg (DE)
  • ArchitectCity Planner
  • Gustav Oelsner became the founding father of urban planning in Turkey, his country of exile. He was also the author of numerous articles for the architectural journal Arkitekt.

    Word Count: 28

  • Gustav Oelsner with students at the Technical University Istanbul, 1941 (Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg Carl von Ossietzky, Nachlass Gustav Oelsner, NGO:Dd:11).
  • The former building senator of the Prussian city of Altona, Gustav Oelsner was relieved of his duties in 1933. As a progressive urban planner and architect, a member of a social democratic senate and the son of Jewish parents, Oelsner became persona non grata after the National Socialists came to power. Through the mediation of architect friend Fritz Schumacher and at the invitation of the Turkish Ministry of Labour, he managed to emigrate to Turkey in 1939, where he was employed until his departure from the country in 1949 as an expert in national urban development in Ankara.

    Oelsner became the founding father of urban planning in his country of exile. He worked in a leading position on the "Committee for Technology and Urban Planning" [Şehircilik Fen Heyeti] at the Ministry of Public Works, which was founded in 1939, and as a professor of urban planning at the only two universities for the training of architects. He was also the author of numerous articles for the architectural journal Arkitekt and published numerous essays in which he revealed himself to be a consistent advocate of cautiously modernising urban planning.

    In Turkey, Oelsner was confronted with a new challenge: establishing urban design in a country with growing cities and a society in transition. After the abolition of the sultanate, Kemalist Turkey was confronted with the establishment of a new political culture that also demanded new architecture. Oelsner was tasked with restructuring towns large and small according to hygiene and sanitary requirements, finding the best possible locations for schools in the pursuit of literacy, and developing squares in which the old religious centres were replaced by administrative and court buildings, cultural centres and sports facilities. His expertise was also sought after a major earthquake in Erzincan in 1939, when large areas needed to be rebuilt with earthquake-proof buildings.

    Oelsner was intensively involved in the planning of villages and small towns in the province. He studied traditional village structures, and talked to the inhabitants and the mayors to find out what they needed. He looked at traditional, primitive forms of ventilation and sun protection to reflect on what could be adopted for use in the present. His pencil and camera were ever-present tools which he used to record his observations and conversations.

    The first two weeks of each month Oelsner worked in the urban planning office in Ankara, while, during the second half of the month, he taught at Istanbul Technical University and the Academy of Fine Arts Istanbul. In Ankara he rented a flat in central Karanfil Sokak, but letters addressed to him at the Konak Hotel in Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoğlu suggest that he lived there when in Istanbul. The Konak Hotel is the former Grand Hotel Tokatlıyan, built by Alexandre Vallaury, where Trotski resided for some time in the late 1920s. Founded in 1897 by the Armenian Mıgırdıç Tokatlıyan on what was then Rue de Pera, the luxury hotel was taken over in 1919 by the Serb Nicolai Medowitsch, then in the 1940s by the Turkish businessman Ibrahim Gültan, who changed the name to Konak Hotel. Oelsner had a 30-minute walk from the Konak Hotel to Istanbul Technical University.

    As a professor of urban planning, Oelsner had an unique impact on the education of young architects in Turkey for almost ten years. From 1940, he was entrusted with establishing a chair of urban planning at the TU and he worked there alongside colleagues such as Clemens Holzmeister, Paul Bonatz and Rudolf Belling. From 1943, Oelsner also taught at the Academy of Fine Arts. The aim of Oelsner's teaching programme was to raise entire ranks of responsible young urban planners who would serve their country primarily as building officials in rural regions. His teaching was aimed at this future task of the students and was based on his own urban planning practice. Oelsner's teaching was informed by the knowledge and experience gained from his travels through Turkey. It was only through Oelsner's activities that urban planning moved into the focus of architectural education. For many years, there was no awareness of the urgency of a theoretically sound, detailed examination of urban planning. It was only Oelsner's work and the involvement of later important urban planners such as Kemal Ahmet Arû, Orhan Alsaç and Gündüz Özdeş that raised awareness of the problem.

    Although Oelsner was recognised and in demand as an urban planner in Turkey, he intensified his contacts with his homeland from 1946 onwards. A lively correspondence developed between him and old political companions and colleagues, and finally Oelsner decided to remigrate to Hamburg as a consultant for reconstruction planning (Wiederaufbauplanung) in 1949. He did not return to Turkey until 1955, when he was invited to sit on a panel of judges for the “City Plan of Ankara” competition. In the summer of the same year, he received an honorary doctorate from Istanbul Technical University. Gustav Oelsner died only one year later, in Hamburg.

    Word Count: 818

  • Gustav Oelsner’s essay “Yaşayış Şekillerini kuvvetlendirmek lüzumludur” [The need to improve living conditions] with his own drawings, in Arkitekt, 1946, p. 132 (Private Archive).
    Gustav Oelsner, House with two storage areas and shop, c. 1946, study (Hamburgisches Architekturarchiv). Oelsner used this drawing for his essay “Yaşayış Şekillerini kuvvetlendirmek lüzumludur” in Arkitekt magazine, 1946.
    Gustav Oelsner. “Köyler.” [Villages] Arkitekt, no. 11-12, 1944, p. 269 (
    Gustav Oelsner, Traditional village structure in Amasya, undated photography (Hamburgisches Architekturarchiv).
    Gustav Oelsner (third left) in the apartment of Kemal Ahmet Arû, far right, Rudolf Belling, 1955 (Arû 2001, 69). Oelsner visited Turkey one more time, in 1955, and received an honorary doctorate from Istanbul Technical University.
    Gustav Oelsner's I.T.Ü. Mimarlık Fakültesi Şehircilik II. Notları, undated [before 1945], cover page (Archive Kemal Ahmet Arû, Istanbul). Oelsner's TU Istanbul urban planning lecture notes, translated into Turkish by Arû.
    Grave of Gustav Oelsner at the Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg, where the architect is buried in the Old Hamburg Memorial Cemetery (Althamburgischer Gedächtnisfriedhof) with the graves of notable Hamburg citizens (Photo: Burcu Dogramaci, 2020).
  • Arû, Kemal Ahmet. Bir üniversite hocasının yaşamının 80 yılı. Yam Yayınları, 2001.

    Bartels, Olaf. “Gustav Oelsner in der Türkei 1939–1949.” Architektur in Hamburg. Jahrbuch 1990, edited by Hamburgische Architektenkammer, Junius, 1990, pp. 142–147.

    Bartels, Olaf. “Gustav Oelsner in der türkischen Emigration.” Der Architekt Gustav Oelsner. Licht, Luft und Farbe für Altona an der Elbe, edited by Peter Michelis, Dölling und Galitz Verlag, 2008, pp. 222–231.

    Dogramaci, Burcu. “Leben für das Bauen – Bauen für das Leben: Gustav Oelsner (1879–1956) zum 50. Todestag.” Exil, no. 2, 2005, pp. 53–68.

    Dogramaci, Burcu, editor. Gustav Oelsner. Stadtplaner und Architekt der Moderne. Junius, 2008.

    Dogramaci, Burcu. Kulturtransfer und nationale Identität. Deutschsprachige Architekten, Stadtplaner und Bildhauer in der Türkei nach 1927. Gebr. Mann, 2008.

    Dogramaci, Burcu. “‘Ewig schönes Istanbul – Daima hasret ediyoruz’. Ernst Reuter und Gustav Oelsner als Urbanisten im türkischen Exil.” Ernst Reuter. Kommunalpolitiker und Gesellschaftsreformer 1921–1953 (Reihe Politik- und Gesellschaftsgeschichte, 81), edited by Hans Reif, Dietz, 2009, pp. 203–238.

    Dogramaci, Burcu. Fotografieren und Forschen. Wissenschaftliche Expeditionen mit der Kamera im türkischen Exil nach 1933. Jonas, 2013.

    Istanbul Teknik Üniversitesi, editor. Ord. Prof. Dr. Ing. h. c. Gustav Oelsner. Istanbul Teknik Üniversitesi, 1957.

    King, Charles. Midnight at the Pera Palace. The Birth of Modern Istanbul. W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.

    Oelsner, Gustav. “Şehir inşacılığında ekonomi mülâhayalarına uymak.” [The adaptation to economic considerations in urban development] Arkitekt, no. 7–8, 1943, pp. 171–173.

    Oelsner, Gustav. “Iktisadî Temel Kaideler.” [Fundamentals of economic efficiency] Arkitekt, no. 9–10, 1943, pp. 206–210.

    Oelsner, Gustav. “Şehirlerin Bakımı.” [The care of the cities] Arkitekt, no. 11–12, 1943, pp. 254–257.

    Oelsner, Gustav. “İskan Semetleri ve şehir inşacılığı.” [Settlements and urban development] Arkitekt, no. 1–2, 1944, pp. 25–26, 34.

    Oelsner, Gustav. “Köyler.” [Villages] Arkitekt, no. 11–12, 1944, pp. 269–273.

    Oelsner, Gustav. “Şehircilik.” [Urban planning] Arkitekt, no. 3–4, 1945, pp. 71–74.

    Oelsner, Gustav. “Tabiatın ve Şehirlerin Yeşilliği.” [Nature and urban green] Arkitekt, no. 7–8, 1945, pp. 169–174.

    Oelsner, Gustav. “Şehircilikte Abidevlilik.” [Monuments in urban development] Arkitekt, no. 11–12, 1945, pp. 265–270.

    Oelsner, Gustav. “Yaşayış Şekillerini kuvvetlendirmek lüzumludur.” [The need to improve living conditions] Arkitekt, no. 5–6, 1946, pp. 131–136.

    Oelsner, Gustav. “Modern Iskan Semtı ve Şehirlicik.” [Modern settlements and urban development] Arkitekt, no. 7–8, 1946, pp. 168–170.

    Oelsner, Gustav. “Şehirlerde sürekli bahçeler.” [Allotment gardens in the cities] Arkitekt, no. 9–10, 1946, pp. 226–227.

    Oelsner, Gustav. “Şehircilikte tabii Cevvı ve sıhhî şartlar.” [Natural life and hygienic conditions in urban development] Arkitekt, no. 3–4, 1947, pp. 92–96.

    Oelsner, Gustav. “Çarşı holleri.” [Market halls] Arkitekt, no. 9–10, 1947, pp. 233–234.

    Timm, Christoph. Gustav Oelsner und das neue Altona, Kommunale Architektur und Stadtplanung in der Weimarer Republik. Ernst Kabel Verlag, 1984.

    Word Count: 403

  • Hamburgisches Architekturarchiv, Hamburg.

    Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg Carl von Ossietzky, Estate Gustav Oelsner.

    Word Count: 14

  • This entry is dedicated to the memory of Kemal Ahmet Arû (1914–2013), who shared his knowledge of Gustav Oelsner with me and provided me with materials from his collection. My deepest thanks go to Sabine Kock from Hamburgisches Architekturarchiv and to Jürgen Neubacher from Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg Carl von Ossietzky, who gave me permission to reproduce the works of Gustav Oelsner. The digital issues of Arkitekt magazine on the Mimarlar Odası website were an important source for this entry.

    Word Count: 81

  • Burcu Dogramaci
  • Istanbul, Turkey (1939–1949).

  • TU Istanbul, Gümüşsuyu, Istanbul (workplace); Konak Otel, Istiklal Caddesi (now Tarihi Tokatlıyan Iş Hanı ve Pasajı Istiklal Caddesi No. 76), Beyoğlu, Istanbul (residence).

  • Istanbul
  • Burcu Dogramaci. "Gustav Oelsner." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 20-06-2021.
  • Rudolf Belling

    As a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts and Technical University in Istanbul from 1937 until 1966, Rudolf Belling taught his students the technicalities of form, material and proportion.

    Word Count: 28

    Fashion IllustratorGraphic Artist

    The Turkish graphic designer Kenan was a popular artist in the Weimar Republic. He returned to Istanbul in 1943 to take up a position at the Academy of Fine Arts.

    Word Count: 29


    The architecture magazine Arkitekt was an important platform for emigrated architects and urban planners such as Bruno Taut, Martin Wagner, Wilhelm Schütte, Ernst Reuter and Gustav Oelsner.

    Word Count: 28

    Mimarî Bilgisi

    The architect Bruno Taut published his textbook Mimarî Bilgisi in 1938, only two years after his emigration to Istanbul, where he was appointed professor at the Academy of Fine Arts.

    Word Count: 29

    Leon Trotsky

    Banished by Stalin, the revolutionary politician Leon Trotsky and his entourage arrived in Istanbul in 1929. He settled on Büyükada, one of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara.

    Word Count: 31