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Iran's Architectural Awakening
In 2016 Iran signed a progressive nuclear agreement which involved scaling back their nuclear program in return for the lifting of many strict international trading sanctions. Despite claiming their research and investment was for peaceful purposes only such as energy generation, the government has agreed to decrease their uranium stockpile by 98% over the coming years. In return, the country is now allowed to sell their oil on the international market, opening up over $100 billion of assets. This injection of capital has galvanised many industries, including an increase in the investment in Iranian architecture. Alongside increased trading, the country is as peaceful as it’s been in four decades, which has brought many positive aspects. Tourism has boomed, citizens are demanding a higher quality of life and therefore more internationally acclaimed architecture, which can be less defensive and more ambitious due to confidence in Iran’s long term stability. As a result of these factors, in the last two years many interesting and exciting projects have sprung up, mirroring the optimism of many Iranians and their reformist government, elected in 2013. I am going to outline some of my favourite projects from this architectural awakening, and hope to see many more similarly impressive designs in the future.
Bagh-Janat, Isfahan, Bracket Design Studio
This timber slatted home is surrounded by apartment blocks, making privacy a major concern. To combat this issue, the slats continue over the home’s windows but are openable when the client desires. Due to the spacing between the timber, diffuse light and air can still penetrate the building to create a comfortable and fresh environment. The plain facades strengthen the striking geometry of the building, with intersecting planes and angled surfaces contributing to the architectural interest.
The Thermeh Building, Hamedan, Farshad Mehdizadeh
The name of this dual function building refers to a traditional cloth that is known for its undulating form. The ground floor houses a retail space, with large glazed panels allowing passers by to see the products on sale inside. Whilst this space is fairly standard, the stairs which ascend into the office box above are completely atypical. The stairs and wavy wall create a public space on which people can sit and relax, with the brick pattern reflecting other nearby traditional buildings. This design would unlikely be allowed in England, which I think is unfortunate. It is testament to the ambition and freedom of current Iranian planning policy that projects like this are being encouraged.
Ashfarian's House, Kermanshah, ReNa Design
ReNa design were approached with a difficult challenge at the advent of this project. The client, a couple with a son and daughter, plan to split the building up in future to provide individual apartments for their two children. To achieve this flexibility, the architect used a simple cubic form with a cavernous slice through its centre. The cut accentuates the building entrance and adds a sculptural aspect to the house’s street facing facade. The ground floor already holds a self contained apartment, along with the garage, and there are plans to add an extra two storeys onto the building to provide more apartments which will be independently accessed via a communal lift and staircase. The sloped ground floor facade allows planting beds to soften the street border, connecting Afsharian’s House with passers by which is a precious and important Iranian tradition.
Saba, Tehran, TDC Office
Saba is an apartment block that attempts to reconnect high-rise occupants with a sense of community through the use of a communal garden to the rear. Deep balconies on both the street facade seen above and the rear allow plants to be a major part of the occupants’ homes. On the rear facade, planters are incorporated into the balcony railings with a drip watering system maintaining the greenery. Other sustainable systems include rainwater collection tanks and solar panels which power the lighting. My favourite part of this design is the street facing facade, I admire its absolute symmetry and proportion. The wavy shutters add playful personalisation, with their rotation and positions able to be configured by the inhabitant of each apartment.
Orsi Khaneh, Tehran, Keivani Architects
This project is my favourite in Iran, and was the inspiration for the writing of this post. The apartment block uses many traditional techniques in a contemporary way to modernise the Iranian vernacular. The orsi window is a sash window with a timber lattice and coloured glass which is used to reduce sunlight and heat, as well as repel insects, in Iran’s hot climate. The window inspired the building’s name. Planting on the facade and travertine window funnels also reduce heat flow into the building. The roof of the block contains a terrace and garden which looks equally as stunning as the exterior. As a side note, the night-time photograph of this building is stunning, one of my favourite architectural photos. Its coloured glass and strong illuminated window funnels are wonderfully bright and engaging, and I was audibly amazed when I first saw the photo. I want to conjure similar responses with my own buildings when I finally become a qualified architect, what an exciting prospect.