Turkish delight: meet Sinan, the ‘first starchitect’

Outside view of ceramic shop window
‘Sinan: The First Starchitect’ has just opened at the Building Centre in London exploring the work of Ottoman era architect Mimar Sinan. Photography: Benedict Johnson
(Image credit: Benedict Johnson)

London’s Building Centre has just launched an exhibition exploring the work of Mimar Sinan (1490-1588), the famous architect of the Ottoman Empire era. And while the show, entitled ‘Sinan: The First Starchitect’, offers, as expected, plenty of rich, historic material of the master’s work in Istanbul and beyond, it also gives its own inventive, modern twist to the tale.

Sinan was a contemporary of Palladio and Michelangelo, point out the organisers Turkishceramics and the Architects' Journal, yet his work goes largely unnoticed outside the academic community and the geographical regions where his buildings can be found. This show, curated by Rory Olcayto, sets out to right this and explore how he helped define the look and feel of the Istanbul of his time and beyond, revealing how his work served ancient and contemporary communities alike.

A group of London-based architects – including Ian Ritchie Architects, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, DSDHA, Reiach and Hall Architects, Sam Jacob Studio and Bureau de Change – travelled to Istanbul and Edirne a few months ago to study Sinan’s oeuvre. Drawing on their experience and the architect’s legacy, they developed a series of individual research projects around his work, brining his legacy to the 21st century.

The result? A show that balances old and new, Sinan’s aesthetic achievements and masterful use of ceramics, with his indisputable engineering skills – his portfolio ranges from high profile work in the former-empire’s capital to infrastructure work, spanning domes and minarets, bridges and aqueducts.

A publication celebrating Sinan’s work, as well as these contemporary interpretations, is also available at the Building Centre in conjunction with the exhibition.

White sculpture of mosque in glassed box

The show presents research studies inspired by Sinan's work, by London practices an Ritchie Architects, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, DSDHA, Reiach and Hall Architects, Sam Jacob Studio and Bureau de Change. Photography: Benedict Johnson

(Image credit: Benedict Johnson)

Interior design and structure of Istanbul mosque

The architect's work spans lots of work in Istanbul and beyond, from domes and minarets, to infrastructure such as bridges and aqueducts. Photography: Ben Blossom

(Image credit: Ben Blossom)

Exterior of mosque

Sinan helped define the 'look and feel of historic Istanbul', say the organisers. Photography: Ben Blossom

(Image credit: Ben Blossom)

Coloured image of mosque interior patterns on pages of book

A publication celebrating Sinan’s work and these contemporary interpretations is also available at the Building Centre

(Image credit: TBC)


‘Sinan: The First Starchitect’ is on show until the 10 June. For more on the exhibition visit the Building Centre website (opens in new tab)


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Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture Editor at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018) and Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020).