I enjoy history, old photos, old travelogues, old stones, basically, things that are old and the older the better.
We have come across some old photos of Antakya which clearly depict the extent of the old town, pinned up tight to the skirt of the mountain rising to the south and hemmed in by the Asi (ancient Orontes) River to the north.
In days past – throughout the history of the city – buildings were constructed to the best of local knowledge of construction, and as is always the case, according to available resources. Many of the older buildings made liberal use of, shall we say, pre-existing building materials.
It has been a constant throughout history that old, decrepit, abandoned or damaged buildings have formed a source for building materials – suitable stones, arches, door lintels and supports being readily retrieved and re-purposed.
This ancient tradition goes contrary to our new, modern sensitivities to maintain and preserve these examples of the former. But, throughout history, old buildings were viewed as valuable resources to be exploited.
A stroll through the old quarter of the city of Antakya will amply demonstrate this practice over centuries. Many building will have lower courses of finely finished large stone blocks, superbly fitted together. Then, as you look further up the walls, you see a change to less well finished stones which are not well set together, and, often, the upper sections will be formed from uncut, unfinished field stones mortared together.
If I try to ‘read’ such a building, I may be forgiven for hypothesising that the lowest parts are the remains of the oldest building (maybe 100 years, 500 years, a thousand years….), and people reused the extant old walls in-situ, then, building on top with whatever other stones could be scavenged and reused and finally, the upper courses in the wall consisting of field stone, unfinished and simply mortared into place in the wall.
That is common among the old buildings of Antakya. However, for the past sixty odd years or more, the modern inclinations of the inhabitants has been to abandon these old stone built houses constructed around private courtyards and to build with concrete and to go up in three, four, five, or even six stories, forming modern high rise apartment buildings.
A generation has turned their backs on the old, stone build courtyard houses preferring these ‘modern’ concrete boxes.
Of course, it is possible to accommodate many more people in the same building plot when you build up.
I understand this.
However, when it is considered that this is an active earthquake area and for the past sixty years these buildings, these modern high-rise buildings, have been constructed, er, well, using the knowledge and building methodology adapted from single story buildings, we come to a point of concern.
These high-rises were built to meet an ‘aspiration’ to be modern.
They were built to meet a housing need.
Many were built, simply to turn a profit.
They were built to look nice.
They were built with a form of reinforcing steel, but of a smooth, outdated style which is not now used; the concrete was generally created by a pile of aggregate being dumped in front of the building under construction, water was added and cement dumped on top of the pile of aggregate and then the pile would be hand shovelled and turned over until it was considered ‘mixed’. Then the cement would be shovelled in to old tin cheese containers, and then hand carried on the workmen’s shoulders to wherever the ‘pour’ was happening. If on the top floor, they would lug all the concrete so mixed, trudging up the stairs to where the pour was happening.
There was no quality control on the cement mixture nor the effectiveness of the ‘pour’. It is a sad fact that often insufficient steel was employed and the steel that was used was of the wrong style. When you combine that with the poor quality cement mixes, the result is buildings which looked good (plaster is a master of disguise) but are structurally suspect.
In those days there was less awareness of the building requirements which would enable a building to withstand the powerful forces of earthquakes which, from time to time, rock this particular part of our terrestrial ball.
These apartment buildings were built. People moved in. A generation has been raised within their walls.
But now the modern question is: “What do you do with these extant, existing, occupied structures which are inherently defective and vulnerable to earthquake damage and even catastrophic failure?”
There was an earthquake in 1997 which violently shook Antakya and reminded all citizens abiding here that Antakya has been utterly destroyed by earthquakes numerous times throughout its long history.
This was followed by the 1999 earthquake near Istanbul, which was centred near the town of Izmit, and devastated tens of thousands of houses, high rises and buildings – with over 17,000 fatalities. The images of this earthquake exhibited scenes of rows upon rows of high rise apartment buildings collapsed, leaning over, pancaked and others left standing but being inherently uninhabitable.
What was truly shocking was in the midst of this general, extensive destruction there would be the odd building, built to the building code and standing proud and true in the midst of the great devastation and death.
This highlighted that in many ways this was a man-made disaster.
Especially since that devastating earthquake of 1999, building methodology and practices have been brought into sharp focus.
Consequently, there has been a greater emphasis on the building code (which was good) – and the enforcement thereof (which was lacking).
Additionally, considering the vast amounts of old, substandard housing stock, there has been a real concerted effort to replace the worst, the most vulnerable buildings, with new proper, sturdy, strong buildings.
This national programme is called ‘Urban Renewal’ and it is a government scheme to assist in the tearing down of older, vulnerable buildings and replacing them with new high-rise buildings, built to modern building codes and able to withstand – as much as anything built by man can – the effects of earthquakes.
Of course this is a costly business. All the occupants must leave and be housed elsewhere. The old concrete monolith must be totally torn down and then a new building erected in its place.
Often, from what I’ve observed, a four story building is rebuilt as five stories (five stories rebuilt as six and so on), the contractor having possession of the extra flats created and sells them as part of their fee in doing the work.
Sometimes the existing flats are rebuilt, but smaller, allowing the creation of additional flats that the builder can sell as part of their remuneration for the building work.
And I notice that the age-old process of stripping a building of the valuable bits continues. Near where I am sitting a five storey building has been emptied and is about to come down. There are men removing windows, any and all metal – basically anything of value – before the process of reducing the building commences.
Once the ‘recyclables’ have been reclaimed, then the work of reducing the building in earnest begins.
As this is occurring in many places in the city as I write, I have a general picture of the process.
Firstly the building is isolated by a high fence; a basic metal frame and sheets of corrugated metal.
After the scavenging, men enter the building and, using jack hammers, open up large holes in the floors of the larger rooms – creating voids to allow building debris to fall through the building. They sometimes jack-hammer some of the balconies away.
When the building has been thusly prepared, a tracked JCB with a hydraulic jackhammer fitted on the boom is hoisted to the top of the building. I’ve never been present at this stage, but I assume a very large crane is brought in to lift the JCB to the pinnacle of the building.
How they move down to the next floor, I do not know. I see the machines on the top floors. I hear them hammering away. I see the upper floor shrinking as they destroy it from above. And I see the building getting shorter and shorter. I’ve never been there when the JCB made the transition to a lower floor.
However it is accomplished, in this way the debris falls down, around, in and through the openings in the building. When the building is reduced to a mound of debris two or so stories tall, the smaller machine is replaced by a very large, tracked JCB with a huge hydraulic jackhammer which continues the demolition process.
Finally, they replace the jackhammer with a big bucket and load the shattered debris into dumper lorries and cart it off. The reinforcing steel is separated, collected, and compacted as much as they can with the JCB and then loaded into lorries for recycling.
At the end of the process, a new building plot has been created. The old is gone. What can be recycled, as in the ancient tradition, has been redeemed and removed.
After a suitable passage of time – is it for permissions, or checks or, well, I do not know, planning permission… the rebuilding process commences.
Modern, proper reinforcing steel, modern curtain walls and other structural principles are all diligently applied. The cement is all proper, ready-mix, made to order and quality controlled. The cement is pumped up from ground level with massive concrete pumping lorries to wherever the pour is happening, ensuring a good, continuous pour. Workmen with vibrator devices ensure the cement flows and fills all voids and is a good pour.
The new buildings will be substantially stronger and more resistant to the violent forces released by earthquakes.
When the process is all said and done, the former owners take possession of their new flats. The builder takes possession of the new flats created and sells them. And a neighbourhood which was slowly becoming dowdy, being amply littered with older, sadder, shakier buildings is slowly rebuilt with new, taller, smarter, stronger, stylish buildings.
True Urban Renewal transpires.
This causes me to think that as a follower of the ‘Way’, I have embarked on a process which doesn’t attempt to clean up and strengthen what was in my life, but like ‘Urban Renewal’, actually calls for the removal of the old, the substandard, the weak, and like the rusted and inadequate steel and poor quality concrete – it all must go, it can not be redeemed, can not be strengthened, can not be made right. The only recourse is to demolish right down to and including the foundation and then to rebuild, correctly, from below ground level upwards.
My life is not subject to renovation or improvements – but the absolute removal of the weak and defective and a rebuilding, a making new, from below the foundations all the way up is underway.
With ‘Urban Renewal’ things do always go as planned. If you would like to read a bit more of this blog, there is more below… or you could stop now. The choice is yours… Click Here for a wee bit more…