A New Megaproject in Istanbul Features an Underground Cruise Ship Port

The next big idea in urbanism may be right under architects’ noses, as demonstrated by a just-completed urban renewal in Istanbul. 

On paper, Galataport has many of the features of everyday megaprojects: 400,000 square meters of construction, 250 retail units, enough parking for 2,400 vehicles, a 177-room Peninsula hotel, a Renzo Piano–designed museum, a Salt Bae restaurant, and 1.2 kilometers of new coastline that renovated a section of town inaccessible to the public for 200 years—all bundled in a $1.7 billion price tag. On paper, it’s Turkish Canary Wharf or Hudson Yards or whatever other Pudongulous eyesore. But the reality is that Galataport has transcended megaproject design by embracing an about-face on pomp. It’s the world’s first underground cruise ship port, projecting 15,000 passengers a day and 25 million annual visitors.

Post Office building at Galataport.  

                   Photo: Sefa Yamak

As ships dock, patches of sidewalk lift 90 degrees to reveal ramps that descend into customs and passport control (the raised sidewalks double as security barriers). 

“We tried to find a system to open up the view,” said Figen Ayan, Galataport’s chief port officer. “We thought of building down like a parking lot because, really, what do you do in a terminal building? You handle luggage. You board buses. Customs. It’s not really fancy or sexy. So, do they logistically need something extravagant? No. This can be done underground.” She called the project “not just an expansion of our city, but also an expansion of our knowledge.”

There were plenty of engineering challenges, said  Galataport Executive Board Member Erdem Tavas: “We didn’t build it beside the sea. We built it in the sea. It was lots of engineering innovation.” He flagged that such construction sidestepped archaeological concerns in the historic port town that was the terrestrial endpoint for the ancient Spice Road and has been the capital of two of the world’s most influential empires. “There’s no Atlantis there,” he joked. 

A rendering of Galataport.

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