Turkey Beckons Architecture Student Jordan Matthews

May 18, 2010 — When Jordan Matthews embarked on her college tour, her parents told her if she wanted to study architecture, she needed to consider the University of Virginia.

"I took one step on the Lawn and my decision was made," said Matthews, who was impressed with the power of the architecture but had no idea her studies would lead her to another country and a different culture.

After four years of architectural exploration, she will receive her bachelor's degree on May 23.

Then it's off to Turkey.

Matthews has garnered a Fulbright Fellowship to study "Transformations of Public Space in Turkish Ottoman-Byzantine Cities: Istanbul, Bursa and Iznik."

The award is an independent study and research initiative funded through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Each year, about seven U.Va. graduating fourth-year students, graduate students, recent graduates and faculty receive Fulbright scholarships.

Matthews' project will involve fieldwork, photography, collages, maps and drawings to create a visual picture of the processional trade routes that have been an integral part of Turkey's history for centuries.  She will look at what original architectural elements remain and what has been modernized during different historic periods, including today.

The culmination of her research will be an exhibition and, she hopes, a website.

"Visual communication is a powerful tool, as it allows information to flow regardless of language," Matthews wrote in her Fulbright proposal.

"Visual documentation can capture the personality and dynamism of a space – the play of light and shadow, the impression of smooth and scaly textures – that cannot be conveyed through words. Studying urban form in context is essential and cannot be done successfully off-site; human interaction with architecture is vital and requires all five senses."

In Turkey, Matthews will be affiliated with the Istanbul Technical University, which has a curriculum that is design-related, and Kadir Has University, which has a focus in the fine arts and history, she said.

The university affiliations will allow her to gain access to archives to add another dimension to her research.

In each of the three cities, Matthews will work with Turkish university students to create a database and map their hometowns based on their explorations. She will also lead them in seminars to discuss their findings. Matthews will visit each city for 10 weeks for the urban analysis.

Then she will spend six weeks synthesizing and comparing her research findings and preparing her final presentation.

The emphasis of the Fulbright program is on cross-cultural communication, Mathews said.

As trade centers, Istanbul, Bursa and Iznik all are steeped in cultural exchange. Matthews will look at issues through the lens of "globalization": How did each intervention over time respond to the existing surroundings? And, today, how do they integrate McDonald's and other modern conveniences into their fabric?

Istanbul is Turkey's largest city and the country's cultural and economic center. It was the capital of the Roman and Ottoman empires. The city, located on the Bosporus Strait, links Europe and Asia. Matthews will study the route from the harbor to the city walls and its change over time from a transportation pathway to a commercial zone.

Iznik, known for the beautiful blue tiles and pottery, is a preserved walled city. Much of the city's urban fabric, including some of the nation's oldest religious complexes, will provide research contrasting ancient and modern construction methods. Over time, much of the redevelopment incorporated the reuse of older architectural elements in newer construction.

Bursa was the city at the western end of the Spice and Silk roads. Today it is one of the culturally and industrially modern cities in Turkey. Bursa's largest mosque, Ulu Cami, is an example of Ottoman architecture.

Matthews has been preparing for this journey for more than two years. She has drawn on numerous courses to help formulate her plan for her research in Turkey.

She was introduced to the layering of the history and regimes in the region through a class on Italy, Spain and the Ottoman Empire with architecture history associate professor Cammy Brothers. Matthews was drawn to the connections between Venice and Istanbul and communications between the cities.

A course on the rise of civilization in Mesopotamia and pre-classical civilizations with associate professor Patricia Wattenmaker, who has been involved in a long-term archaeology project in southern Turkey, added to Matthews' knowledge of the region.

A seminar on Mediterranean cities with assistant professor of architectural history Sheila Crane helped frame the way Matthews looks at cities – the infrastructure, trade and regional connections and monuments – and provided a resource for investigation of city archives.

The School of Architecture's summer program in Vincenza, Italy, with its emphasis on drawing and observation, also provided a foundation for her program of study for next year. It will be her first visit to Turkey, but Turkey native Barack Erdim, a former faculty member and Architecture School alumnus, helped her develop some connections there.

In addition, Matthews has been conducting non-credit independent research about Turkey over the last two years.

Shortly after Matthews received word that she had been awarded the Fulbright, an unexpected e-mail arrived. It was an announcement about a critical language scholarship offered by the U.S. Department of State. Matthews applied immediately and was among six U.Va. students to win scholarships to study languages overseas this summer.

Since U.Va. does not teach Turkish, the immersion program in Ankara, Turkey, the nation's current capital, where she will study Turkish five hours a day, will be invaluable for her Fulbright work, which begins in the fall.

"I never thought when I applied to U.Va. that it would lead down all these different roads and opportunities. The student support and the generosity of the University has been tremendous," Matthews said.

Matthews has no firm plans after her stay in Turkey, but expects to continue in architecture with an emphasis on design with history and preservation tied in, she said.

— By Jane Ford