Iran is on the verge of a new era for architecture according to local architects.
The emerging contemporary architecture scene in Iran is evident in several recent projects, including the new 270-metre-long Tabiat Bridge, which was designed by Iranian architect Leila Araghian when she was just 26 years old.
The project is Iran’s largest pedestrian bridge and is located in a northern area of Tehran known as Abbas Abad – an area originally earmarked as a residential zone for the military, that has since been populated with libraries and museums.
Tabiat Bridge is one of three Iranian developments – more than any other nation – shortlisted for this year’s Aga Khan Award. The award, which comes with a prize of $1 million (£700,000), acknowledges excellent architecture and infrastructure design that responds to the needs and aspirations of societies where Muslims have a significant presence.
Such architectural achievements are a far cry from Iran’s recent past, which was mired by a lengthy war with Iraq in the 80s.
“Construction after the war between Iran and Iraq was more user/shelter based and in terms of architecture and art, indefensible,” explained Mafakher. “Hence the rupture in architecture and construction in Iran can be seen greatly between 1980 and 2000.”
“In the past decade however, the architecture has found its direction again,” he said.
Numerous residential projects, as well as a small cafe in Tehran that was designed to promote the congregation of people in spaces previously heavily guarded by police, highlight the changes taking place in the country.
“I believe for anyone living outside Iran it is normal to sit along the sidewalk and drink coffee, but there are many social and political factors that make this almost impossible in Tehran,” architect Ghaemmaghami told Dezeen last November. “By designing the cafe we tried to bring people out of the closed interior to the street.”
The emergence of a young, highly educated and increasingly connected generation is the driving force behind many of the new projects, according to architect Alireza Taghaboni of Iranian studio Next Office.
“The young generation are working, they are penetrating the economy and business,” said Taghaboni. “They want modern, new things and a higher quality of life, so they design better projects.”
Iranians are backing reformist policies in their quest for a higher quality of life, which helped secure Hassan Rouhani’s election as president in 2013. One of Rouhani’s main election pledges at the time was to ease the crippling economic sanctions placed on Iran by the international community.
In July last year, world powers hammered out a deal with Rouhani’s administration, which promised to scale back Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting the sanctions.
This move, according to Mafakher, promises to accelerate the architectural changes in the country by boosting outside investment.
“In recent years, due to the blocked transactions between Iran and other countries, no investment emerged,” he told Dezeen. “After the agreement the presence of foreign investors – especially in the construction of hotels and tourist entertainment centres – has increased dramatically.”
These investors are hoping to cash in as the number of tourists heading to Iran looks set to dramatically increase following the thawing of political relations with the west.
Masoud Soltanifar, vice president of Iran, has said that the Islamic republic is preparing for a “tsunami” of tourists in the coming years, and unveiled a package of measures designed to further boost numbers including the construction of hundreds of four and five star hotels.
Increasing investment, a growing economy and more wealth in the hands of the Iranian people is fuelling new residential projects as well as hotels and infrastructure. Next Office created a private house in Tehran with rotating rooms on its facade, allowing its residents to open up rooms in the summer, or turn them inwards during winter.
Brothers Nima and Sina Keivani of Keivani Architects based the design of their seven-storey apartment block in Tehran on elements commonly found in traditional Iranian architecture. This includes a reinterpretation of the orsi window, a type of sash window with latticed woodwork and coloured glass typically used to help reduce sunlight and heat, and repel insects in the hot climate.
Architects Sara Kalantary and Reza Sayadian of TDC Office included deep balconies with modular flower boxes on the rear facade of their Saba Apartment block, to reconnect residents with the Iranian tradition of urban gardens.
“This project was the result of our efforts in revitalising this lost heritage and giving a new interpretation to the old concept,” they told Dezeen.
Other challenges faced by architects on a day-to-day basis include the “severe filtering” of information, a shortage of modern technology in construction, traditional building codes and expensive land values in big cities, says Mafakher of Xema Architects.
There has been an increased awareness in the west of these issues and what Iran has to offer architecturally, largely due to the lifting of economic sanctions. But a lack of wider media interest in issues beyond Iran’s political situation has, according to some architects, led to a situation where many of the country’s achievements have been overlooked.
“The USSR – the Communist Russian regime – had very good movements in art, such as the Constructivists, but the western media blocked them,” said Taghaboni. “I think in a similar way Iranian artists have suffered something like this.”
“Iran is mysterious at the moment because of the blank of news and lack of communication,” he continued. “But now I think there is a very high demand to know what is going on in Iran. This can help us.”