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[IMGCAP(1)]At one time the capital of the Byzantine, then Roman and then Ottoman Empire, and still the only city to bridge two continents–Europe and Asia–Istanbul certainly has longevity. Now it increasingly will have sustainability.

Now the city will be home to the first LEED-certified projects in Turkey, with the construction of a VARYAP Meridian, a $1-billion mixed-use development in Atasehir, an up-and-coming district in the city. Developed by VARYAP and designed by New York City-based RMJM, the project will include a 60-story tower, 1,500 residential units, a five-star hotel, offices and conference facilities.

“We’re thrilled to have this opportunity to create a landmark community in Istanbul’s up-and-coming financial district,” says Chris Jones, RMJM design principal who leads RMJM’s new Istanbul office. “RMJM’s design not only addresses Istanbul’s culture, climate, architectural heritage and cosmopolitan attitude but also sets a new standard for sustainable design for Turkey.”

The 372,000-square-meter [four-million-square-foot] development, which is expected to serve 20,000 people, is scheduled to be completed in 2011. The designers carefully analyzed the local site conditions and embraced the topography, climate and surrounding context to maximize the site’s natural potential and inform building orientation and landscaping. This also ensured panoramic views of the Strait of Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara beyond the site, while minimizing solar heat gain to the building facades.

Active ‘green’ design features include rainwater collection sites and facilities to optimize water usage and reduce energy consumption, wind turbine technology powering one elevator in each tower, cooling water pools that enhance the external landscape and a co-generation plant that will produce electricity for the development. The result should save 10% to 20% of energy costs, Jones estimates. In addition, facades will reflect Istanbul’s culture, including a spectral tiled facade, ranging from terracotta to blue to white.

The Turkish government plans to transform the Atasehir district, on the Asian side of the city, into the country’s new financial district and business core. The location itself also has green characteristics, situated at the intersection of Sabiha Gökçen Airport and Istanbul’s new subway projects, and at the intersection of the two main roads between Istanbul and Ankara. The Mass Housing Administration (TOKİ) is directing the planning of the center.

“Our aim is to ensure that we leave a better world to future generations and we believe that the VARYAP Meridian project will raise the standards of the Turkish real estate market generally,” said M. Erdinç Varlibas, CEO of VARYAP, in the project announcement. “The unique design reflects our cultural heritage as well as a true consciousness of the environment, which we strive for in all our projects.”

[IMGCAP(1)]Though it is the first to use the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standard, VARYAP Meridian is not the first “green” project in the country. Redevco Turkey’s Erzurum shopping center project, schedule to open in the third quarter of this year, has been awarded a BREEAM Certificate, with a rating of “Very Good”. It will be the first BREEAM-certified project in the country, and served as a pilot project for the ICSC’s and BRE’s BREEAM Europe Retail standard. Redevco Turkey’s Gordion shopping center in Ankara, also opening later this year, will be built to BREEAM certification standards as well, according to Redevco.

“Sustainable design standards, such as LEED and BREEAM, are a relatively new concept to develop in Turkey and architects, developers and environmentalists are debating which standard to follow,” Jones told GlobeSt.com. “What is not a trend is the very idea of sustainable design. Turkey has a rich tradition of sustainable features in its historic architecture. Tokapi Palace, which inspired us in our design, is filled with sustainable features, such as using water to cool spaces.”

RMJM opted to use the LEED standard rather than BREEAM because the project was designed from the firm’s New York office. But future projects may use the British standard, he notes.

“What standard Turkey will ultimately follow is the subject of lively debate in the architecture community here. BREEAM is more in accordance with Turkey’s aspiration to become part of the European Union and Turkey’s national building code is guided by European standards,” Jones says. “Other architects, developers and environmentalists also find more benefits with the LEED standard. A third option may be a hybrid of the two standards.”

Regardless of what standard ultimately evolves, green commercial building is taking hold around the country, according to one expert.

“In many ways, green building in Turkey has reached an unprecedented peak. Unheard of several years ago, now major commercial developments advertise an awareness of environmental issues, or a design premised on sustainable principles,” wrote Duygu Erten, a professor at Sabanaci University outside Istanbul, a director of the Clinton Climate Initiative in Istanbul, and the founding vice president of the Green Building Association of Turkey in the article, “Financial Incentives to Accelerate the Construction of Green Buildings in Turkey and Global Best Practices.”

Solar-powered houses have been built in Turkey since the mid-1970s, the article says. However, sustainable building has now come to the commercial sector as developers have brought in international architects.

“Sustainable design is no longer a trend but a necessity,” Jones said. “Our client VARYAP embraced the idea from the start.”

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