The contemporary architecture of Iran is predicated on the im-
pact of Europe in the late 19th century and of modernism in
the 20th. Since 1980, the expression of Islam in building has
played a major role.
The Qajar dynasty (1794-1925) maintained cohesion by emphasizing the Persian values of Shiite Islam. The dominant pub-
lie buildings were religious -mausoleums, shrines, and most important, mosques. They formed the foci of the mahalla or
residential neighbourhoods, determined the city fabric, and continued long-standing building traditions. Around 1850, the Persian elite who traveled to the West introduced European-style
Palladian villas into the urban landscape. They began to make
spatial changes by eliminating traditional elements, such as the
hashti (the octagonal transitional space) and by installing indoor
bathrooms and mechanical heating (using kerosene). New mate-
rials, such as steel and concrete, changed the architecture, and
new housing forms, such as row houses, appeared. Persia also
became a focus of study in the West, known through publications such as the American Arthur Upham Pope's eight-volume
Survey of Persian Art (1938).
Discontent with Iran's rulers erupted in the early years of the
century, leading to the *constitutional revolution" of 1905-11, supported by the British and the Russians. After
bloodless coup d'étar in 1921. Reza Shah formed a republic and
launched the country's reconstruction and modernisation. He
established a strong centralised government and, like Acarürk of
Turkey, moved toward secularisation, regarding religion as
force that hindered progress, The traditional Islamic and meta-
physical thought of the late 19th-century Qajar dynasty gave
way to the introduction of Western scientific and rationalise
ideas coupled with new economic and political considerations.
However, unlike Atarlirk. Reza Shah not only maintained
monarchy (he was crowned in the Citadel in 1925) but also
used history for his own ends. In architecture, he revived a consciousness of ancient Achaemenid glory in an interpretation of
the newly rediscovered sites of Susa and Persepolis, He also initiated grand urban projects while demolishing in the 1930s symbols of the Islamic
past, such as the wall and 12
Tehran. Many of the buildings of the Citadel (Arq) were re-
placed with new public structures, such as ministry buildings.
The capital city of Tehran well illustrates nationalist and secularis aspirations. The plan imposed a grid of streets on the dense
existing city patterns and provided separation
of vehicles from
pedestrians. It changed the scale, accommodating new modes
of transport and multi-story apartment buildings. The planners
used the new maidans, or squares, as focal points of axial layouts
and as symbols of modernity instead of as centres of activity for
the neighbourhood’s inhabitants.
From 1921, the state was the most active patron of architecture, which changed with the influx of foreign architects. Among
the first were the Frenchmen André Godard (1881-1965) and
Maxime Sioux (1907-75), who arrived as archaeologists but
soon started to design buildings. Sioux restored historic buildings and designed a number of schools that displayed sensitivity
to climate, materials, and local customs, Godard became the
first director of the Iran e-Bastan (Archacological) Museum
(1929-36) and its architect. He also planned Tehran University
in 1934-the first in the country based on a Western model
and Siroux designed its Medical School. Other works in the
rationalist modern mode followed, including the School of Fine
Arts by Roland Dubrelle and Mohsen Foroughi. Another pioncering architect was Nikolai Marcoff (1882-1957) from St.
Petersburg, who introduced the use of plate-glass-and-steel
frame construction. He designed, among other buildings, several
churches and the Bank Melli (c. 1928) in Tehran. The building
uses the crenellated roof derived from traditional palaces as well
as Zoroastrian symbols, such as the Eagle of Ahura. Marcoff
referred to Achaemenid building again in his monumental
Triumphal Arch (c. 1930).
The mid-1930s marked the beginning of modernism in Iran
with its cubic forms, new materials. and buildings raised 011
pilots (stilts). The Viennese architect Gabriel Guevickian
(1900-70) came to work in Iran in the mid-1930s, having been
the secretary-general at the first congress of ClAM (Congrès
Internationaux 'Architecture Moderne) in 1928. Guevrekian's
buildings for the ministries of foreign affairs, justice, and industry and new building types, such as the Tehran Theatre, were
built between 1934 and 1937. Among the local architects trained
either abroad or in the recently established School of Architecture, Vartan Avanessian (1896 -1982), an Armenian from Tabriz, was perhaps the most prolific. His designs include Reza
Shah's palace at Sadabad and apartment buildings and cinemas
in Tehran. On his return from France in 1936, Mohsen Foroughi (1907-82) worked on a series of buildings for Tehran
University. Other significant architects were Keyghobad Zafar
(1910-), who studied at the Architectural Association in London, and Hoshang Seyhoun, who graduated from the Ecole
des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1948. The latter designed modern
buildings thar also referred to Persian vernacular architecture,
as in the Mausoleum of Nader Shah in Mashad.
After Reza Shah's abdication in 1941, his son Mohammed
Reza, the self-styled shah of Iran, furthered the cause of secular
modernism during his reign, which lasted until 1979. Architecture as a profession finally came fully into being. The journal
Architecte. founded by the architect Iradj Moshiri, appeared
around 1937; a decade later, the Society of Iranian Architects
Under the Pahlavi reign (1925--79), Iran experienced a grow-
ing commercialisation of agriculture and crafts, especially car-
pets. The most important economic sector, oil, was nationalised
during the 1951 -53 prime-ministership of Mosaddeq. making
available a tremendous source of income for state projects. The
shah's "White Revolution of 1962 inaugurated a program for
the establishment of new towns and buildings. In 1971, the
Borj-e Azadi, the inverted Y-shaped Freedom Monument close
to Tehran Airport, was built, commemorating the 2,500ch anniversary of the Persian Empire along with lavish celebrations at
Persepolis. Other religions besides Islam also constructed religious edifices, the most impressive of which is the modernist
Armenian Cathedral (1964-70) in Tehran by Mirza Koutchek.
The modernising nation-state, boosted by oil
braced modern architecture with its cubic forms, large windows.
lightweight -steel structures, flat roofs, and thin walls. Small builders, the besaz-o-befarowsh (build and sell), flourished, did major
architectural practices, such as that of Abdolaziz Farman-Farmian
and Associates. The number of architects who built architecturally
significant buildings remained small, and many of them were
trained abroad. Among these, the most distinguished are Kamran
Diba (1937-) and Nader Ardalan (1939-).
Diba's work in Iran, under the name DAZ Architects, consists entirely of institutional works in concrete and brick. Jondis-
hapour University (1968--76) in Ahwaz, the Garden of Niavaran
(1970-78), and the Museum of Contemporary Art (1967-76)
in Tehran illustrate well his concerns. Arguably, Diba's finest
work was that of Shushtar New Town (1974-80) in Kuzestan,
remarkably designed settlement that is spatially and architecturally elegant and focuses on intensifying human interaction.
From 1972 to 1979, Ardalan's Mandala Collaborative produced
number of important works. These include the Iran
Center for Management Studies (1970-73), now Imam Sadegh
University in Tehran, designed when Ardalan was working for
Farman-Farmian, and the Master Plan for Bu Ali Sina University
(1975) in Hamadan with Georges Candilis. Ardalan also wrote
about Iranian architecture, geometric order, and Islam in an
influential publication. The Sense of Unity, coauthored in 1973
with Lalch Bakhtar. Both Diba and Ardalan have worked out-
side the country since 1979.
Other prominent architects working in the shah's Iran were
Djhanguir Darvich, who designed the Farahabad Sports Center
in Tehran; the Aratta Collaborative of Farroukh Essalat, the
University of Mashad: Cyrus Hessamian, an elementary school
in Shiraz: Ali Amanar, the Cultural Heritage Office (1980) in
Tehran; and Mehdi Kowsar, several Brutalist buildings. At the
same rime, many foreign architects, such as Roche and Dinkeloo,
Maxwell Fry, and Jane Drew, realised works all over the country.
In the 1970s, building was spurred even further by the success
of OPEC (the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries),
which was able to reconstruct the vital oil market in its favour.
This caused a worldwide oil crisis, and as building production
slowed in the West, it boomed in the Middle East, attracting
architects from all over the world into the region. Many influentil architects from the West cannibalised preconceived images
of Islamic architecture, sometimes an easier way to satisfy clients.
An increase of rural-to-urban migration and the decrease in oil
income in Iran due to pressure placed on OPEC by the West
aggravated the economic situation, and a major cutback in construction around 1977 brought massive unemployment, adversely affecting the population and architectural production.
The notion of expressing an Islamic identity through archirecture for stares with majority Muslim populations spread in
popularity around the same period, becoming, a political and
cultural rallying cry to distinguish Islam. This usually meant the
secular West. Islamic and regional modernist styles vied with
each other for recognition as the "authentic" expression for architecture in several countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Equating the country with the religion reinforced the notion of
Islam as a cultural force as well, intertwining the realms of the
religious with the secular.
Opposition to the shah's regime by Ayatollah Khomeini's
followers, beginning in 1977 with the slogan "Independence,
Freedom, Islamic Republic," led to the Islamic Revolution of
1978-79. The grievances behind the revolution were as much
socioeconomic as cultural. The social historian Nikki Keddie
wrote in the American Historical Review (no. 88), 1983. Far
more than the Qajars, the Pahlavis were perceived as tools of
Western or Westernized powers, chiefly the United Stares and
there developed amongst the alienated a search for
roots and a return to authentic' Iranian or Islamic values.' The
Iran-Iraq war that lasted several years, beginning in 1980, reinforced parodic/Islamic ideas but adversely affected the building
Iran questioned the symbols of modernism, denigrating
everything from the shah's time and promoting "Islamic' architecture. In the mid-1980s, this unfortunately led to a pastiche
of badly interpreted elements, such as the dome, the arch, the
enclosed courtyard, and even stained-glass windows. The school
of architecture in Tehran thar had promoted modern architecture succumbed to the stylistic modes of Postmodernism, high-
tech design, and traditionalism and became the purveyor of an
eclectic design approach. Architecture for new buildings paid
lip service to historical Islamic building in formalistic terms and
use of materials but without any real interpretation of its intrinsic
principles. Architects and teachers alike discussed at length issues
of identity and culture but built very little of note despite the
explosive growth of the cities.
Tehran's population reached 10 million by the mid-1990s.
New major infrastructure works were undertaken: expressways,
subway, and sewage system. The old maidans were rede-
signed, and myriad small urban plots turned into gardens with
curious fountains and murals depicting revolutionary themes.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, the architecture seemed to convey
sense of celebration and populism. The mausoleum dedicated
to Imam Khomeini and built on his death in 1989, with its iron
structures and onion-shaped domes covered with glazed tiles, is
the most obvious expression of this Postmodern atmosphere. A
design competition for Farhangistan, the Academies of the Islamic Republic (science, medicine, and language), drew on stereorypical Islamic architectural elements, especially the chahrbagh (the quadripartite garden) in the winning project by the
Naqsh-i Jehan/Pars Consulting Group, headed by Seyyed Hadi
Mirmcian. Another competition project for the Great Historical
Museum of Khorasan, Mashad, by Dariush Mirfenderski, refers
to Kalat-1 Nadiri, a palace-fortress built by Nadir Shah at the
end of the 18th century.
Reflecting a different aspect of contemporary architecture in
Iran, Ali Saremi, a modernist of Tajeer Architects, abstracts past
elements and archetypes to produce modern buildings. The Afshar Residence (1976) and the Jolfa Residential Complex
(1985), using both concrete and brick, illustrate his approach.
The Bavand Consulting Group, headed by Iradj Kalantari and
Hossein Sheikh Zeyneddin, one of the largest architectural practices in the country, designed in the same vein the Faculty of
Engineering, (1984-90) at Imam Khomeini University in Qazviti. Faryar Javaherian used similar approach in an apartment
building at Farmaniyya. The Al-Ghadir Mosque (1988) in Tehran by Djahanguir Marloum is among the most successful syntheses of tradition and modernity.
The architectural profession has very little influence on deci-
sions in building and operates in an atmosphere of uncertainty.
The struggle continues between a symbolic "Islamic architecrure" referring to some notion of the past and the desire to be
"modern." The social and religious aspects of architecture and
urbanism dominate the rhetoric of the politicians and the professionals. The production of high-quality architecture is impeded
by the complexity of procedures, by speculation, and by OUE-
dated technology applied to new building types. In general, the
architecture in Iran remains in a state of great flux, although
few struggle to do interesting work, and a sense of idealism exists.
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