I’m Alper Kokcu. Join my journey where I am exploring cultures and ideas via the connection of art, nature and architecture.

Remembering Anzac Day

Remembering Anzac Day

Our trip to Gallipoli peninsula was quite impressive. I was surprised how an urban-scaled approach can build sensations with such a welcoming way. So by remembering the history, I decided to discuss memorial architecture on a video on my YouTube channel. Below you will find the full text of this video.

Good morning everyone, it’s Alper here and my humble architectural journey.

I told good morning but maybe I should have said good evening, as some of you meet the sun earlier than us. Like my friends from Australia and New Zealand. Yes, good evening to you all.

I guess some of you already got why I started this video with you, because today is 21st of April, so in 4 days we will be remembering the Anzac Day.

Let me quickly summarize what I will talk about today. We will take just three small steps today. First step, we will talk about the meaning of building a memorial. Second step we will discuss how they or even a single object can become an icon and third step we will go for urban and talk about how the memorials evolve over time.

Before we start let’s have a little bit background, just to get the correct atmosphere of the history. But just a little bit. Let’s not get deep into the history and let’s not talk any political effects of it.

Gallipoli (or Gelibolu in Turkish) is a peninsula on European part of Turkey.

Dardanelles strait (or Çanakkale Boğazı in Turkish) connects Marmara Sea and Aegean Sea. This strait is so narrow and this city Canakkale is one of the windiest cities in the entire country.

While passing this strait with a ferry, you feel how the ferry grumbles under your feet and how it shakes your bones. Beside they have a heavy traffic here. So coming so much close to huge ships makes that pass even more exciting.

The battle of Gallipoli was an unsuccessful attempt by the Allied powers to control the sea route from Europe to Russia during WWI. It began with a failed naval attack and then continued with a major land invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula by British and French troops as well as divisions of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps or shortly ANZAC. That invasion started on April the 25th. Now this day is being remembered as Anzac Day.

Ok, let’s start now.

Creating a memorial is an interesting topic for an architect, cause unlike the architecture’s main task it is not focusing on creating a shelter, or let’s say to find a solution for a living space. Instead it is being created to feel and to remember.

Why this is important for us?

Memorials mostly commemorate a loss, a pain, a disaster, a war, something dramatic. In one way memorials are telling us that the pain was not in vain and in other way it is easing the pain of today. Because remembering is also sharing.

By building memorials architecture can help us living with a collective memory which can be passed on through generations. In that sense, memory survives through time.

That being said, memorials may refer only to a particular community. While some nations can have deep feelings over a place, some others may just pass by even without realizing it.

This brings us to the fact of being an icon. This can be discussed on some landmark buildings as well but I’ll stick to the memorials on this video. When it comes to icons, the meaning of that icon is overcoming the form of it. We are not only talking about how the icons look like but how we interact with them. For sure it is caused by its shape too, but let me give you samples to give a little more details.

Photo by Philip Stevens, wikipedia

Photo by Philip Stevens, wikipedia

This is a remembrance poppy, represents a field poppy or corn poppy, as some of you say. It is being used since right after the WWI mostly in UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is inspired by a war poem named ‘In Flanders Fields’ and are often worn on cloths on Remembrance Day, November the 11th to recall the end of the war. By Australian and New Zealanders, they are also worn on Anzac Day, April the 25th.

That poem was written by a Canadian physician who was serving in the army during the war in Flanders, a region in Belgium. He was frustrated by the death and surprised how these poppies could grow in battle-scarred fields.

For sure we saw them in Gallipoli too. This is how just a simple flower can become an icon. For me they were just flowers, now I met them here and the meaning and perception changed accordingly. However, some distant memory showed up slightly in my mind when I was taking these pictures.

I knew I saw them somewhere, but where? Then I remembered: I saw them before on Premiere League and back then they did not mean anything to me. But how can you blame me, right? This is what I meant when it comes to the meaning of an icon or a symbol.

In fact, let’s check some others too:

Nemanja Matic, a Serbian player in Manchester United (for the time being), refused to wear the poppy by saying that he respects those who is wearing and his intent is not to offend anyone, but simply because this reminds him attacks on his childhood in his country.

You can think that he is saying so, because he is not from one of these nations. Then let’s look at James McClean, who is recently playing at Stoke City. He is from Derry in Northern Ireland and also refuses to wear the poppy. He stated that he would do if the poppy was only about world war victims. But he believes that it stands for all the conflicts the Britain has been involved in.

Now we see how an icon can widen its scale. You can think that he is a football player, maybe he just doesn’t feel the heroic parts of the history. Well then let’s check someone military.

RAF veteran Herry Leslie Smith tweeted when he was 91 that he wouldn’t be wearing a poppy neither, since he thinks that it is being used excessively by the politicians. So not only nation by nation, but also every individual can have different ways of views when it comes to an icon. Obviously!

But let’s change our mood and look from a different point too. These flowers in Turkish called as ‘gelincik’. Gelin means bride and -that -cik suffix on the noun, is used when you want to refer something very young or very small. So in that sense, poppies in Turkish are little brides. It is said that it is because the traditional wedding dress is red. Nowadays mostly you see white ones. We can count this as an icon as well, I guess. An international one. So anyways. You see how the story changes completely, right?

This brings us to my conclusion: How memorial architecture evolved over time? We got used to see samples of celebrating victories, heroic sculptures, vast monuments. While still keeping my respect to them, please allow me to say that those kind of approach also limits the aura. It becomes a message only for a particular group of people. As we saw even a sweet flower can bring conflicts, how come not a tangible memorial, right?

So then what architecture can do?

It can talk about loss, rather than memorializing a single event. In that way it can focus on an idea or emotion. But how architects can achieve that? 

Well, there should be tons of ways, but what I could learn from Gallipoli was that by using more abstract symbolism and also some elements of nature to use as our spiritual space. In fact, when you check recent samples of memorials, you will see that they became more of a landscape than a single object.

This was exactly how I was feeling in this quite place. Memorials here are built on peace of simplicity. Yes, there are some rising monuments, but let’s be fair. Mostly they are abstract and let’s not forget that this region is huge. Some of them should be considered as visual objects from far. 

Here the memorials silent relationship with the nature is adorable. They are welcoming rather than pointing their massages in your eyes. With such approach, we are not talking about victory or praise. We are feeling the sadness and sorrow. And that moment this story becomes to all of ours. To feel this pain, you don’t have to be from a particular group of people. Any visitors here will be involved in this peaceful atmosphere.

Don’t get cheated by the beautiful view of Aegean Sea and nicely shaped hills. In the middle of nowhere you can get that feeling too. Since this is a huge area, we did not mark all memorials on our map. We discovered some of them just coincidentally. A specific one was quite impressive for me. It was getting darker and we were heading to the hotel already, after our all day long journey on Gallipoli.

On left side of the road we saw yet another sign which points to another cemetery. But where it is facing there was only a path. A narrow road with long trees on both sides, like it is inviting you to a secret place. We couldn’t resist, turned our car back and get through that mysterious tunnel, which brought us to Redoubt Cemetery.

It was a typical memorial as other Anzac cemeteries in the peninsula. But slightly bigger and those trees in the yard, especially the one in the middle makes this place more dramatic. That tree underlines the emptiness, the tranquility.

This silent yard is like a summary of whole Gallipoli. For sure coming here through that uncanny road unexpectedly made me more sensitive but seeing that architecture can build sensations even without walls is worth to think about.

That’s why I liked this place, the whole national park; I liked how an urban approach can shape an emotion on this level but most importantly such a welcoming way.

When we were there it was a usual day, not as crowded as it would be on Anzac day. Your experience may be different but if you are there now, or will be in the future, please let me know about your feelings. How is it to be there? Do my thoughts here make sense with what you are experiencing?

Write me about this. Let’s talk architecture!

Further Reading:



DISCUSSIONS ON MEMORIALS in Gallipoli Peninsula (both in Turkish)


CONTROVERSIES on Remembrance Poppy




Redoubt Cemetery

Redoubt Cemetery

Bauhaus Archive

Bauhaus Archive