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July 12, 2018

Karam House Istanbul |Sara Naja | MArch ’19

by snaja

Landing in Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, I was both nervous and excited about my upcoming internship with Karam Foundation. I had never been to Turkey and was curious about the culture and environment. Istanbul turned out to be a bigger city than I had imagined, spread across the Bosphorus with an Asian side and a European side. The Karam offices are located on the European side, quite a commute from touristic areas and the Asian side. Overall Istanbul has over 15 million inhabitants and I could certainly feel them around me at all times. The amount of people is truly overwhelming, and I say that having grown up in a dense and crowded city.

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Karam Foundation is a non-profit organization based in the US and operating internationally. One of their many projects is Karam House, a STEAM based workspace for refugee kids. There is a Karam House in Reyhanli, Turkey and the organization is soon going to launch Karam House Istanbul as part of a larger plan to expand to Jordan and Lebanon too. Before my arrival, the team had already located a building to be transformed into Karam House Istanbul. The building is a four story house that is classified as a historic building, meaning modifications are limited to the existing structure and spaces. I have been helping design the space and prep it for the upcoming launch. The internship started out by visiting the building with the team to assess the space. Going room by room, we allocated the required functions within the spaces and discussed where some construction is needed. During the course of the first couple of weeks, we met with the landlord and lawyer to get approval on the changes that were to be done. We also visited furniture stores to get an idea of prices and manage the budget and our expectations appropriately. Simultaneously, I worked on developing the drawings of the building and organizing the spaces. Interviews were also being conducted for staff positions as well as construction staff, in which I participated at times. It has been exciting to be a part of the team that works on different aspects of Karam House at once. The pressure has been significant with the launch scheduled in September, however the people and the city are both inspiring.

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For the time being, I work out of the office with the team. They are mostly Syrians that have been living in Turkey for the past few years. They work in a positive atmosphere despite the pressures of adapting to a new culture and the stress of constant work. They have been very welcoming and helped me fit right in, even offering tips and suggestions on important places to visit in the city and how to navigate it efficiently. Over the weekend, I took some time to visit some architectural landmarks. I visited the Blue Mosque as well as the Haghia Sophia. As an architect, I was fascinated with the structure and the attention to detail during the design of these mosques. I also spent some time walking the busy streets and the famous Istiklal Street, where I found plenty of inspiration for both Karam House and my ongoing work at RISD.

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