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In 2022, YOO Architecture, which was founded by Alparslan Özarpat, Orçun Özkan and Alptekin Yıldız in 2007, left behind its 15th anniversary. We listened to the story of YOO Architecture, which has made a distinguished name for itself with the projects it has carried out and its office located in İnönü Mansion, Maçka, from our founders and had a chance to learn that the secret of their success is based on hard work and discipline through many examples... 

1) The first question that comes to mind when one thinks of YOO Architecture is from where the name of YOO Architecture comes. Could you please tell us the story of this name, and how you 3 architects came together? 

Alptekin Yıldız: The common point of three of us was the construction site of a shopping center opened in Şişli at that time. Thanks to our mutual friends at that time, three of us came together at that construction site due to different topics and works and, asked ourselves why we did not do this work by ourselves.

Alparslan Özarpat: As a matter of fact, I met with Alptekin on the first day of the university. There was an three days orientation program at the stadium in Ankara for the freshmen at Middle East Technical University. And there was an area in the tribunes where the faculties of the freshmen were indicated. I went to the area allocated for the faculty of architecture at METU, and there was only person, who was Alptekin. We met Alptekin there for the first time, and this is how our adventure started.

Our story of founding the company dates back to July, 2007. We got together and talked only ten minutes to establish the company, but it took half an hour to discuss how we liquidate the company. Probably, these are the questions that come to the mind of everyone while establishing a company. We started to work in a 30 m2 area, which was separated from a restaurant, located in Balmumcu. We confined a stairwell inside the restaurant, and by revovating it ourselves, turned it into an office. And our story of 15 years, which we are about to tell, started while we were working for a global luxury retail brand, which was our first project.

2) YOO Architecture is well known in the Turkish Architecture sector, especially by the names of the brands it works with . Within these 15 years, your paths have crossed with many of the luxury retail and high-end hospitality brands entering in Turkey. So, where does this success story come from? How could you manage to work with so many luxury brands simultaneously? 

Alparslan Özarpat: The first years after we founded the company corresponded to a period, during which many shopping centers were being opened, and the star of the retail industry was raising in Turkey. We worked at these shopping centers for a long time and, we have always been in this shopping center culture up until today. This was the first reason of our fast growth at the sector. The second one was that the foreign brands needed experienced teams to do their works when they entered the Turkish market. Among these, the most important factor was the knowledge of a foreign language. This made it possible for us to deliver the projects in a perfect manner and on due time, resulting in a fast growth.

Alptekin Yıldız: Our first project was for a well-known Italian luxury retail brand. Since our first project was for such a luxury company, all the processes of our business were effected accordingly. We started to feel under pressure when we thought of the delivery date and, the number of those inspectors who were to inspect our works during the delivery of the store. Our colleagues working at the same industry were to audit the store and possibly find many aspects to consider. In spite of these drawbacks, we delivered a perfect project.

Alparslan Özarpat: We have two important stories concerning this construction site. The first one is that there was a granite stone named Nero Zimbabwe on the floor. When the stone dried, it got the color gray as expected, but it never dried due to the mortar under it. It absorbed too much water and, thus a stained look under the mortar kept appearing.

Therefore, the stone was always black and stained. On the last two days, we used a blowtorch to heat the stones (a blowtorch is generally used during isolation). When it was heated, the water spread towards the edges, and when the blowtorch was no longer applied, the water appeared again, and the stone got stained. This did not bring us down and we kept going; we spent two days trying to dry the stone. This is a construction site related memory I never forget.

The second one was about strawberry milkshake. We brought a breath of fresh air to the construction site buying strawberry milkshake to all the workers. We needed to please everyone at the construction site and cheer them up. Since the construction site was a stressful, tough and exhausting environment, we wanted to make some changes thinking that we should eat sweet, talk sweet. And once we bought it, they got used to it, they asked again “no milkshake today?” Thereafter, we started to buy milkshake at the same hour everyday for the last 15-20 days at the construction site. It was an entertaining and different experience for us.

3) You have been using İnönü Mansion, Maçka, which is one of the most important buildings from the architecture of the Republic Period in Istanbul, as your office since 2018. What is the story of your office, where did you start first and how you ended up with this building?

Orçun Özkan: Our story of coming to Valideçeşme was very quick. After a short period of time we spent in our small office of 30 m2, we decided to move our office as we started to grow. We found a place on the ground floor of the Ferah Apartment Block, and quickly moved there. We stayed there for about 2 years, during which the number of our employees increased as our company grew. In December, 2017, we made a decision and moved to İnönü Mansion, Maçka in 2018. Once we moved to İnönü Mansion, it was a historical building, but there were also some certain aspects that we wanted to change and make better. We always underlined that we could make the building far better and, this was what we were supposed to do since we were an architecture company. We obtained the necessary permits from the İnönü Family, and together with the respective alterations, we turned this beautiful building, a structure from the Republic Period, into a very entertaining office.

Alparslan Özarpat: It was a coincidence that we ended up with building. While I was walking with our general coordinator Volkan (Kaynak) in Maçka, we chose a very unusual route that we normally never walked on. While we were in a deep conversation, we suddenly saw the rental advertisement on the mansion. It was very important for us because it was a historical building, which affected us a lot. We made a phone call and the things quickly developed. We made a great effort on this building starting from the day one, and we reaped the rewards from it; it was great for us.

4) At YOO Architecture, you have a team of specialists in the fields of, in particular, F&B, hotel and office projects; i.e. commercial buildings. How did you decide to get specialized in interior architecture?

Alptekin Yıldız: At the time we founded YOO Architecture, we had no specific intention not to work in the architectural aspect of the profession. However, we saw an opportunity as many shopping centers were being opened and luxury brands were entering the market in Turkey during those years. The time required to complete a building is different from the time required to construct a store or restaurant, and it was satisfactory for us to quickly finish a project and get the results.

Orçun Özkan: In terms of interior architecture, we proved ourselves once we had completed a few projects in the luxury segment. Thereafter, the fact that we had a deep experience in this respect, the brands could quickly find us when they needed us and, we were able to get adopted to their projects made it possible for us to take firm steps forward.

5) The structures you work on are not long lasting. These are comparatively short-term locations, which could be closed down, easily transformed or replaced by other brands or designs in a shorter period of time. Did you have any dream while your were students or during your professional career? In other words, did you have any architecture-related dream such as designing a building that would last for many years in a different type of structure or working on a very different structure?

Alptekin Yıldız: Education at a university shapes a student during the academic life. For us, METU and ITU were these types of schools. A student gets the culture of modern architecture and analyzes the works of world-known architects, the names and styles of whom they learn. Our point of view for the works was shaped both architecturally and commercially. As a matter of fact, design is the basis of the architecture profession and it brings many new talents to the sector with each passing day. Therefore, each architect may not be expected to be a designer; some of us get specialized as project managers or otherwise, and all of us benefit the advantage of the fact that this profession of architecture has a interdisciplinary culture.

Orçun Özkan: My dream was not to be a great designer and well-known in my country for the projects I carry out; I have always been a modest person since the first day I started to learn this profession. As we got through this profession, the first steps were gradually taken on the way shaping our capabilities. I conceived what I was capable of and always looked for humble ways to achieve these plans successfully. The business conditions at the time we started to work professionally were not easy to handle with. Before starting our own business, we worked for different companies at offices and construction sites to see our potential. And we achieved many things that we had previously planned. As a matter of fact, we did more than we thought we ever could. I have no regret at all in this respect. It was a union of forces for us; we all have different characteristics and, we united them to reach great achievements.

6) An architecture office is in general known for its founder, but it seems a bit different when it comes to YOO Architecture. You have a corporate structure with departments that grows with the design and application teams together. How did you decide on this process?

Alparslan Özarpat: It was not a preference but the consequence of our characteristics. None of us thought of becoming famous and then raising alone. We are three of us. Our story started with our surnames and then proceeded accordingly. Thereafter, we loved our name and, the sector also loved and embraced it. We created our company gathering together behind this name. When founding other commercial companies, we saw and learned about other dynamics in respect of the commercial aspects of the business. There are many different departments within our organization, and we need all of them. Our business goal was always to be a team expanding from Turkey to foreign countries and, applying what we have learned and experienced here in different geographies.

7) YOO Architecture brought to life many brands in many different industries from e-commerce to the production of store furniture in the luxury retail sector, from chain facility management to information technologies. How do you consider the process of establishment of all these companies, each of which is the product of a certain necessity? Is it possible to say that as architects and businesspeople, you have different points of view on the sector?

Alptekin Yıldız: We need to talk about why we were interested in our businesses other than architecture. While we were working in this sector, we were thinking of what we could do in another sector that is not project-based. At that period, after YOO Architecture, our second company was The story of founding the company is that it was intended to meet certain needs. We were supplying office materials for all the construction sites from different points. We made research to see if there were any companies that would do it centrally, we saw that there was a gap in this area. And we asked ourselves: why not us? And the company was founded. After was founded, we also founded arcoglobal, which serves in the luxury retail sector for the architectural aspects of the business and, Servis365, which offers Multi-Point Facility Management. In brief, we have an understanding and interest of an entrepreneur. We were not contended with one business and proceeded with to further improve ourselves. We thought that we could do business in different industries abroad and, acted to achieve our goals.

Alparslan Özarpat: We are actually brave. We always discussed among ourselves and, thought one step ahead. All the companies we founded are the solutions for our own needs. We never gave up, persisted and worked hard to the best at all times. After YOO Architecture, we founded, which taught us commerce and how we should have a view on the business world, and we started to work on a more result-oriented approach. Thereafter, we founded Servis365. We saw the needs in this area. This sector was not common in Turkey, and we saw great opportunities. And then arcoglobal came. As a result of our progress in our own industry, we started to manufacture store furniture for many foreign luxury retail brands.

8) It is very interesting that you have offices in New York, London and Dubai. What are you doing and what is it you are up to in foreign countries as a global architectural office.

Alparslan Özarpat: This story started with the capacity of arcoglobal, a group company serving in the luxury retail sector, to offer services for the entire world. As architects, we are aware of the fact that what creates the true identity of a store is the furniture that exhibits what the store has to say. “Is it possible for us to do that for the entire world?” we asked ourselves. I could say that this was what triggered our global offices. In line with the requirements of arcoglobal, YOO Architecture opened an office in London and another one in Dubai in order to offer commercial services to companies in different geographies, be a player at the sector and able to engage in marketing activities there. And the last step we took in this respect was our office in New York, which is one of the most important markets for us.

The USA has very different dynamics both culturally and commercially than the other geographies we operate in. The business structure established in the USA is very different, and anyone who wishes to do business needs to learn the rules on site. Currently, we are working for two luxury Far Eastern restaurants in Washington D.C and, for one luxury retail brand in New Jersey. We feel hopeful about this processes developed by the two group companies together and, this new market in which we are operating.

9) During this period of 15 years, what are the things you always remember with the bright sides such as “We are happy that we did it; we are lucky that we had that project; we are blessed that we have founded that company” etc.? Do you have any common memory you like to remember and never forget during this period of 15 years?

Orçun Özkan: There are countless memories. We have learned a lot while doing all these businesses during this period of 15 years. I am of opinion that the thing about which we feel lucky was the story of meeting that luxury retail brand we mentioned. That was the process that smoothed the way for us, that caused us to meet the right people and understand the true identity of YOO Architecture. In other words, we could never get the experience we gained during this project even if we had completed twenty different works and spent five or six years. During those years, we worked for other foreign projects too. We shaped all the projects based on the experience we gained from that first one.

Alptekin Yıldız: A memory that I still remember is that three of us needed to keep watch for a housing project in different times. There was a problem with water in a project we were working on and the roof was leaking from somewhere we failed to locate. And thus we needed to spend time in the house where the project took place and make observations when raining etc. It was my time to keep watch for the first fifteen days. I went to the house where the project took place so frequently that as if I became a family member. I took the kids from school, helped for their homework assignments and had dinner on their table together. It was an unforgettable memory for me. During these 15 years, as a matter of fact, while meticulously and devotedly working on these projects, we made friends with those we worked with.

10) YOO Architecture is closely followed by students due to the Internship programs and Scholarship programs it has recently announced. What are the properties an architect candidate needs to have to work with you? What are your recommendations for young architects working at the sector?

Alptekin Yıldız: There are two topics we may focus on: how much this young architect is idealist and, how consciously they approach to this profession. There is a place each profession shoots out and, young people need to enter that arena. Therefore, it is very important for them to gain experience abroad while practicing their profession in architecture.

Alparslan Özarpat: There are many architects and faculties of architecture in our country. I have been practicing my profession in the USA for the last 3 years. When the project architect steps on the site, you feel the energy as if the earth moved. This means you are working in a geography where the demand is high but the supply is low. It could be a good start to discover new geographies and serve there as an architect reaping the rewards of your efforts.

My second recommendation is that they need to learn a foreign language no matter which profession they choose to practice. For someone who lacks the skill to speak a foreign language, the media they could reach is one percent of the total media throughout the world. This means that you are not able to reach the whole depository of knowledge and, fail to improve yourself to be a global player and have a common understanding with other people. If you fail to speak a foreign language, it is not possible for you to go and see those places to gain experience and then serve in your country based on the new skillsets you achieve to get in this way. I recommend that all students learn to speak a foreign language before it is late to do that.

Orçun Özkan: To me, the most important thing is that one should know themselves, understand what they are capable of and discover what they could do. During the adventure we embarked, we went adrift and it took us to the right place to be. One could say we were in luck, but what I am trying to explain to young colleagues is that they need to know themselves and understand their skills in order to draw a road map and consider how educational life shaped them and act accordingly. An architect should understand what they are capable of and the limits of their capacities and shape themselves accordingly during the education period. The first signs of a good designer are seen during the academic life of that person. The gusto of an architect is always different and we have always used this gusto.

The new generation getting ready for taking places in the sector is far better than we are. They start to receive their university education with a significantly higher level of knowledge. Since it is much easier to reach this knowledge by making use of all the technological facilities and social media in an efficient manner, they can carry out their own research with the materials they have and to the extent of their own capacity and, get ready for their own adventure.

11) How would you describe the place of YOO Architecture in your life?

Orçun Özkan: YOO Architecture has become a life style for me. I have scheduled my life according to YOO Architecture. I have always planned my life based on my business and, my priority has always been my works at this company. The rest in my private life has been shaped in the areas that have been left outside it. This was my choice. I do not think that I could change this in the rest of my life as long as YOO Architecture is and takes a great place within our lives. This is briefly what YOO Architecture means to me. There have been perfect projects and there have been tough times we had difficulties. However, it was YOO Architecture that has triggered this entire story.

Alptekin Yıldız: From an external perspective on YOO Architecture, I could say it was YOO Architecture, a flagship, that caused the establishment of all the other companies. To me, it is an assuring and reliable company at the center of the group. All of us could easily say that YOO Architecture brought life to the other group companies.

Alparslan Özarpat: As a matter of fact, YOO Architecture was like that I overcame a difficulty. We achieved to do something that was hard to do and, we are continuing in the same way. It is the place we rush to when we wake up and, it is the place for which we still come up with new thoughts to make it better. We have discovered ourselves in YOO Architecture.