Most of them describe this place as a ‘rebel zone’… And they ain’t wrong! There is pessimism in ATOLYE. It feels like you are a part of something quite huge from the first step, and this takes your heart. You feel the comfort of knowing that you are surrounded by people who takes care of you, all over your body. We had a little chat with the co-founders of ‘ATOLYE’ –the first example of step forward sharing office concept ‘creative hubs’- Engin Ayaz and Kerem Alper.
What was the motivation behind ATOLYE?
Kerem Alper: We wanted to meet with people who really want to make creative works when we came back to Turkey in 2013, but there wasn’t any kind of community back then. We ran into such formations in other countries and the question was “Can we do that?”.
You created a brand new concept in Turkey. Did you face any difficulties?
Kerem Alper: We ate lots of humble pies in our first year…
Engin Ayaz: On the other hand, after working on different areas in foreign countries, it was kind of an advantage to be back home. Yet, we could have chosen to work in a good company with our current backgrounds.
Kerem Alper: In fact, we are not the type of guys who were born to be entrepreneurs or die for it. We were working in companies before.
Engin Ayaz: We don’t have any childhood entrepreneurship story… We didn’t even sell lemonades!
Kerem Alper: We quit our jobs in 2010 and backpacked in South America, Africa for 8 months… This was the thing that broke our shells of.
How did you decide to come back home?
Kerem Alper: We were very definite about not to spend our lives in USA, and Istanbul was the rising city… Everybody thought that we are so lucky, so it was kind of obvious… As our come-back crossed with ‘Gezi’, it was an emotional period. We were like “We learnt a lot, it is time to share our know-how…”
What are the things that turn ATOLYE as a necessity in these days?
Engin Ayaz: It is not possible to define a person with one word anymore… If you ask someone what he/she is, you will get an answer like “Mother, yoga trainer, dog walker and a graphic designer at the same time.” There wasn’t any platform for people to show their abilities 10 years ago… Internet made everybody free. Yet, this caused isolation… That’s why ‘community’ became a sweet capitalist word! Cause, there are things that we may not handle all by ourselves, so there is no end for communion. As people searching for meanings instead of happiness, it is not possible to create this meaning alone.
Kerem Alper: Some of them choose ‘freelance’ to have felxibility, but there is always a risk to feel alone as a ‘freelancer’. That need, brought sharing office concept up. We took a step forward concept over and created the first ‘creative hub’ of the city. This is not just a place to be used as a room, this is the place that you may produce together!
How to join the ATOLYE?
Kerem Alper: The applications are online. We make interviews one by one, and make decisions as a team.
What is the essential acceptance criteria?
Kerem Alper: Wish to self-realization and curiosity.
Who are in the organization now?
Kerem Alper: 40 workers in the fields like strategy, design and operation and over 100 members from creative industries, social science, technology and engineering sectors. We work with our members and other corporations also freelancers based on the projects.
Let’s mention about the upcoming projects. Which ones excite you?
Engin Ayaz: There are lots of projects in different areas at the same time. Now we focused on to a Dubai based Project which is related with a transformation of an accelator by its architectural and service designs. We are creating a program that helps different start-ups to became more qualified, spread their product and make collaborations.
Kerem Alper: The adventure started with ‘Acık Kapı’ Project of Private Sezin School, and it still continues with focusing on designing kindergartens and primary schools… ‘İmece Social Inavation Platform’, that ATOLYE is one of its co-founders, started a youth movement where there is an open inovation lab that finds collective solutions to social, cultural and environmental issues which is called ‘imeceLAB’.
Engin Ayaz: ‘Slash’ is another project that really excites us. This is an 18 months process which analysis slash workers’s -people who work on creative economy- personal needs, motivations, difficulties and thoughts and offers them feeds, events and programs based on results with the collaboration of EU and British Council.
Describe a day in ATOLYE?
Engin Ayaz: We experienced this couple of times, there is a mystic image about ATOLYE… The assumption is that; we ask in the morning ‘Who has an idea?’ then we stuck in a room and work all day long… It’s not like that! Members, are spending most of their time for their own business. For the collaborations, we create a choreography for the leisures… There are some routines like, everyday at five o’clock tea time, everybody stop working and starts to share what they are working on. It’s like a chit-chat time! Or there is this ‘introduction lesson’ once in a month, everybody brings their food and give updates. New members present their projects on Thursday nights…
What are your opinions about creativity, when you consider the geography that we live in?
Kerem Alper: We saw way more optimist countries than Turkey. Especially USA… West Side is known by its creativity and ‘everything is possible’ is the motto over there. It is quite opposite in our country. So, not having qualified schools, youth unemployement, lack of substructure, etc are not the main obstacles… It is pessimism that blocks us! It’s part of our culture and in fact it feeds us…
Engin Ayaz: The other thing is focus… You need to preoccupy to say more about what have been said and it is important to be careful what we say no to. Focusing is a must-have to create something new.
Brain drain is like a trend in the country. What would you like say to young population?
Engin Ayaz: If you feel like you are trapped in here, that’s okay to go… But it doesn’t matter which country you live in, both if you can live here and can be intellectually fed from anywhere else or experience different things in different places. It’s not important where you live, it is important where you can go! As most of the countries are directing to authotratical system, it seems like there is no other way. That’s why there is not much to say to people who run away due to political reasons… But the ones who are leaving just for the curiosity, since there is no logic to block this feeling we are wishing the best for them. Hope that, they will be back with brilliant ideas some day…
Let’s talk about your backgrounds… It seems like you went throught quite different occasions…
Kerem Alper: I went to Istanbul Erkek in highschool. My parents insisted me to be an economist, but being a math professor was my goal and I studied theoretical maths in Wesley. I had to work to pay my school debts, so I started to work in Lehman Brothers right on time while they went bankrupt. I saw how those people who gave their 35-40 years to that company went down. I figured that out I don’t have math prodigy and I had a thing about renewable energy, so I turned my career in this direction. Then Engin and I quit our jobs, went for military service and right after experienced that backpacking trip that I mentioned before. We both really like to experience it all and squeeze everything almost to death, so we did local stuff in every station. After this adventure, I made two MAs in MBA and sustainable design areas in USA. This was the time that I realized I would want to make something that I can touch the people, so we developed ATOLYE with Engin…
Engin Ayaz: I skipped to Stanford from Deutsche Schule Istanbul… As I was considering to study in cognitive science, since I’m not that passionate I realized that I don’t have the scientist material. The way that ‘Design of Everyday Things’ book inspired me, I decided to study industrial design. I took classes for a year in Stanford then I lean on to architecture. During that time I also got degree as civil engineer, so I worked in an architect/engineering office for 4 years. As I thought that we were working on sustainability, I realized that we actually were designing complex machines. It wasn’t changing people’s lives either we design zero-energy buildings or not. I discovered interaction design when I realized that I wanted to be more closer to people… After couple of works in digital installation, I applied to a program that researches the integration of technology into art and design in NYU. We started to work on ATOLYE with Kerem, after my two years experience in different projects.