Iranian Architecture – 2 Modern Architectures that strive to shine during and after economic sanction
If you are not a big fan of historical architecture (which Iran possesses), please don’t be let-down by this, because Iran still manages to display overwhelming contemporary architecture around the country. Contemporary Iranian architecture begins with the advent of the first Pahlavi period in the early 1920s, which could be seen in the National museum of Iran that were a reminiscent of Iran’s historical architectural heritage. Rather than displaying a total modern architecture, Iranian architects elevate to a higher level to fuse traditional and modern architectures together, harmonizing into the city.
Impact of economic sanction on Iranian architects
In response to Iran’s continued illicit nuclear activities, alongside with the United States, other countries have imposed unprecedented sanctions to censure Iran and prevent its further progress in prohibited nuclear activities, as well as to persuade Tehran to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program.
Due to these reasons, many Iranian architects faced difficulties in obtaining funding and resources from companies originated from other countries, holding a delay on their designs. In an interview with Leila Araghian, she expressed her views on the sanction that it posed two faces on a coin that due to sanctions, there is no international competitors and hence with a space to grow. But the downside of it is the delay of authorizing a project with an overseas software company. Companies might have to analyse the project for a long time to make sure that the project is not related to any development of nuclear bombs. In some extreme cases, companies will just reject architects right away, stating “Sorry, we’re not interested to work with Iran because of the sanctions.”
(Iran and U.S. diplomats discussing about the nuclear weapons issue (left); Rioting in front of the U.K. embassy in Iran (right))
Modern Iranian architectures
Despite of the drawbacks of economic sanctions to Iranian architecture, we still manage to admire number of masterpieces hanging around Iran. the following two are my favourites among all that I know – knowingly to be inspirational and aesthetic.
The Tabiat Bridge
Tabiat, meaning “Nature” in Persian language, is also the main feature Leila Araghian, the architect of this masterpiece wants to bring out from the art. Definitely my favorite among most of the contemporary architecture in Iran since the bridge brings a meaningful aim behind. In the speech brought by Araghian in the World Economic forum, she delivered the reason and the aim of the design of the bridge. She designed the bridge to be a curvature since she wanted to conserve the nature and hence found the space with minimum trees and columns with minimum footprint on the nature of the site. It aims to entice people to stay and enjoy being on the bridge with benches and corners, rather than regarding it only as a place to pass.
(Overlooking at the Tabiat Bridge during daytime (left) and night (right))
Another element of the bridge is that she wants people to be and feel like an explorer on the bridge – allowing them to find and take different route on the bridge by providing different paths for them to go through on the bridge, but also a good tactic for attracting re-visits. It also provides three levels within the bridge, with one for walking, running and biking, and a third platform for viewing the highway below and one for cafes. Different from other bridges which connects two pathways separated by waters in Iran, this structure is built above a highway to take care of the cars, so that they can go faster.
(benches available for enjoying the scenery surrounding the bridge (left); a cafe available on one of the three floors in the bridge (right))
She wants to bring a deep message from her art piece as well – social justice and sense of belonging. The bridge has designed with wide pathways to be more user-friendly, especially for disables so that they could feel the equality that they are not any different from the others. Due to its geographical location, the bridge provides a great opportunity to admire the nature of Iran by facing the Alborz mountains, which towers beyond the skyline of Tehran. She hoped citizens in the city could admire the nature and beauty of Iran beside working at most times. Since the entrance to the bridge is free for all people, she wants to bring a message that all citizens should have a right to enjoy the space of the bridge which she believes is important for them to understand that they have an equal right to enjoy any part of the cities and a right to share the good quality spaces in the cities, regardless of their income. People should be well-resected by the built environment and she hopes that in the future architectures are built for the people but not for the cars.
(Tabiat Bridge with the mountain landscape of Alborz mountains behind)
2. Niavaran Residential Complex
Designed by Mohammad Reza Nikbakht, Niavaran Residential Complex is located in north Tehran. This 2013 residential building was specifically designed to ensure that no trees were cut down during its construction. The site where the complex is – Shemiran, is spread along Alborz Mountains slope, where it used to be a summer resort of Tehran due to mild weathers and magnificent gardens, until 40 years ago. Presently, still a good number of old trees exist in Shemiran area. When the architect presented his artwork to the public, conservation has been the first priority in designing the complex as the parcel of land allocated to him accommodated a number of old trees of the area The residential complex is designed with a combination with existing trees at the site tried to bring the trees closer to human lives. “We’ve seen too many times in Tehran that 150-year-old or 200-year-old trees are cut for creation of new flats,” he said. “In my project, we faced a total of 128 trees with an average age of 70 years.” The initial plan required around 40 trees to be cut, but Nikbakht redesigned and persuaded the municipality to preserve all of them. “We tried to protect them by covering them up during the construction. One tree dried up and another caught fire – the rest remained intact,” Nikbakht says. The residential complex has two blocks and each have five floors. “After this project, many people have become conscious about preserving the trees and the authorities have also increased the cost of cutting trees for the purpose of constructing new houses or offices.” Alongside with the green conservation and preservation, the project provides 30 residential apartments from 80 to 300 square meters, has been designed in 5 levels, each accommodating 6 flats, and 3 lower floors for common facilities. The ground floor has been allocated to the entrance lobby, building managers office, ceremonies and gatherings hall. The first basement is mainly for a parking lot and store rooms, while the second basement, in addition to a parking lot, includes central heating room, swimming pool, Spa and the gym.
Rather than being a commercial tool, architecture is one of the way for Iranian architects to express their feelings and to deliver a message to the public. The above two are successful examples which manage to infuse their idea into citizens, providing them an opportunity to rethink about their lives, their society and their country.
Cherie Tam is currently in her final year reading law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and before that she was in the United Kingdom for four years. She is a frequent traveller to Japan but is now exploring all places with symbolic meaning or sites which have stories to tell, hoping that one day she could travel around the world listening and seeing them with own senses.