The Balyans: Ottoman Architecture and Balyan Archive

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Virtual talk by Büke Uras with commentary by Arsen Yarman. This webinar is organized by the Promise Armenian Institute at UCLA and the AGBU Armenian Virtual College and co-sponsored by the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), and the Ararat-Eskijian Museum.

Thursday, May 18, 2023
10:00 AM - 12:00 PM (Pacific Time)

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The Balyans is a prominent family of architects who designed and built architectural works for the Ottoman sultans for three generations and achieved a unique interpretation of the Ottoman local architectural language, thereby shaping the architectural taste and preferences of the palace and marking the last century of İstanbul as an imperial capital. The Balyan architectural practice, participated by various family members, especially Krikor (1764-1831), his son Garabed (1800-1866) and grandsons Nigoğos (1826-1858), Sarkis (1831-1899) and Hagop (1838-1875), was formed by the personal histories intertwined with the Ottoman social life as well as the professional knowledge passed down through generations and the expectations of the palace.

The Balyans never wrote down texts revealing their architectural thoughts. In the absence of such texts, which would have helped us in understanding their design philosophy, the Balyan architecture was evaluated only in the light of their constructed buildings for a long time, beginning from journalist and author Viscount Alfred de Caston, who started the Balyan historiography. This book provides a comprehensive review and description of the drawings reflecting the design processes of imperial constructions, most of which belong to the Balyan Family Architecture Archive recently opened to research, and aims to introduce a new approach to the history of the Balyan practice through the unconstructed buildings, as well as the constructed buildings.

Among the achievements of the study are the identifications of architectural documentation in the Balyan Archive, such as the drawings of Beylerbeyi, Çırağan and Fer’iye palaces, the extension project for the Yıldız Palace’s Büyük Mâbeyn Kiosk and the decoration project for the Şale Kiosk’s Dining Hall, where the Çırağan Palace’s doors with mother-of-pearl inlay were reused, the renovation proposal for Bâb-ı Âli, the plan of the Esma Sultan Mansion in Kabataş, an important plan for the Ottoman museum history about the repository of old weapon collections at Hagia Irene, projects for industrial facilities such as Dolmabahçe Gasworks and Imperial Fez Factory, and the drawings from the design process of the Aziziye Mosque, a little-known masterpiece of Sarkis and Hagop Balyan, which was the only selâtin mosque ordered to be built with four minarets after centuries.


Architect and Author Büke Uras was born in 1976, in Istanbul. He studied architecture at La Sapienza University in Rome. Following his studies, he lived in New York City, working for Daniel Romualdez Architects and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. After moving back to his native Turkey, he started his own practice as an architect and taught at Bahçesehir University, and periodically contributed to various magazines and newspapers. Büke Uras currently lives in Paris.

Büke Uras has been collecting architectural drawings and documents from Ottoman era and early Turkish Republican Period for over ten years. In time, his private collection has become one of the most comprehensive of its kind.

In 2013, Istanbul Research Institute exhibited “Edoardo De Nari, The Architect of Changing Times, 1874-1954”, where a long forgotten Italian architect’s rightful place has been reinstituted in Istanbul’s architectural past due to Uras’ singlehanded discovery of a lost collection of architectural drawings and personal documents belonging to De Nari. Büke Uras worked closely with the institute in the curation of the exhibit and prepared the exhibition catalogue.

In 2016, he collaborated with academic and art historian Prof. Dr. Baha Tanman on “The Şişli Mosque”, a book about the first major Republican era mosque in Turkey. He researched and published the work of a major painter-decorator of Ottoman palaces; Bedros Sirabyan as a series of articles. In 2017, he curated his second exhibition “Nazimî Yaver Yenal: The Imaginary World of a Paper Architect”, again writing the exhibit catalogue.

In 2021, he published his most comprehensive publication to date, “Balyans, Ottoman Architecture and Balyan Archive”. The Mayor of Istanbul financed the 3rd and 4th editions of the book and decided it to be the official diplomatic gift of Istanbul Municipality, a first in Republic’s history for an item of Armenian subject.

In September 2023, Buke Uras will publish his new book on the history of the main island of Istanbul which until 1920s was the favourite summer resort of Ottoman cosmopolitan bourgeoisie, “Büyükada, Moris Danon Collection”.


Born in Istanbul in 1949, Arsen Yarman completed his primary education at Istanbul Mekhitarist School. He has received his secondary and higher education in Italy. In addition to Turkish and Armenian, he is fluent in Italian and French.

Arsen Yarman, who was also a member of the board of directors of the Surp Pırgiç Armenian Hospital Foundation (1997-2001), has published articles in many different publications, as well as had contribution to many historians and researchers.

Arsen Yaman has prepared very important books such as Armenians in Ottoman Health Services and the History of Surp Pırgiç Armenian Hospital, Internationally Renowned Sivaslı Aziz Vlas. The book named "Sivas 1877" has been published by our publishing house. He has conducted a comprehensive research and a good presentation in this book. "Sivas 1877" was included in the list of 80 books that left a mark in 2008 in terms of sales figures, popularity rate and the controversy it caused, and drew attention with its sources and documents.

The HAYDJAR Association of Architects and Engineers initiated and sponsored the publication of The Balyans: Ottoman Architecture and Balyan Archive. Arsen Yarman and Kevork Ozkaragoz served as project coordinators and sponsors.

This book is the product of a vast collaboration involving many contributors and supporters, primarily Armenians, as listed on the data page. In the foreword, Arsen Yarman explains that the aim of the publication was to reveal the hidden realities of the Balyan archive to those interested in history. The archive provides evidence that the Balyans, who were previously thought of as mere entrepreneurs, were actively involved in both project and implementation as architects. According to Yarman, few people are aware that for over a century, the Balyan Amiras constructed various buildings such as palaces, barracks, kiosks, mosques, tombs, schools, and churches, and played a crucial role in the country's industrialization and urban development. The publication of this book was considered a duty rather than a mere desire.

Sponsor(s): Center for Near Eastern Studies, National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), Ararat-Eskijian Museum.