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The Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW)–designed Istanbul Modern debuted on May 4 in the continent-straddling city’s historic harborside Karaköy district. Encompassing roughly 113,000 square feet, the museum is Genoa-based RPBW’s inaugural commission in Turkey. Established in 2004 as the first institution dedicated to modern and contemporary art in the country, Istanbul Modern was previously housed in another building located at the same site near Clock Tower Square and was temporarily relocated in 2018 to a landmark 19th-century building in the Beyoğlu district while construction was underway. The new Istanbul Modern is part of a larger waterfront redevelopment scheme underway in Karaköy.


The multi-level museum includes temporary and permanent exhibition space, a library, auditorium, and more. Photo © Cemal Emden

Flanked by a promenade along the Bosphorus Strait, the boxy, stacked form of the multi-level new building is meant not only to be reminiscent of a maritime vessel but of a “creature of the sea that has leapt from the Bosphorus on the shore,” per the museum. The building facade, wrapped in 3D-formed aluminum panels that shimmer in the changing light like “iridescent” fish scales, further accentuate the oceanic-inspired design.


View of Floating Islands,Istanbul Modern’s most comprehensive collection exhibition to date. Photo © Meltem Sar

While the museum’s interior is decidedly less evocative of the site’s seafaring heritage, RPBW’s airy, translucent design continues to draw a connection between inside and out. Featuring expansive views of the Bosphorus and Golden Horn, the ground level includes a library, education and event spaces, and visitor amenities including a café and museum shop. One floor up, visitors will find galleries dedicated to photography and smaller temporary exhibitions, additional event and education spaces, and a destination restaurant with outdoor space for taking in the surrounding views. Above that are the museum’s permanent collection galleries, showcasing modern and contemporary art from Turkey and farther afield, as well as the main temporary exhibition gallery. Other major elements include a 156-seat theater hosting film programming and other events and a sprawling terrace at the top of the building that looks out over a reflecting pool covering the entirety of the structure’s roof.


The museum's rooftop reflecting pool is envisioned as an extension of the Bosphorus. Photo © Cemal Emden

“The new building's transparent and accessible design reflects the ethos of the museum: a multifaceted experience offering visitors audience-oriented exhibitions and programs inspired by the artistic diversity of the present day,” a press statement reads.

In addition to the Istanbul Modern’s opening exhibitions, visitors to the new museum will find site-specific installations from the likes of Richard Wentworth and Olafur Eliasson as well as a trove of sculptures populating the building’s expansive outdoor spaces. Also on view just outside the museum library to coincide with the opening is Renzo Piano: Genius Loci, a survey of the Pritzker Prize–winning Italian architect’s   cultural projects that also includes an in-depth look at Istanbul Modern’s design.