A whole history remains to be written of spaces which Would at the same time be the history of powers. (Foucault 1980:149)
It appears that rapid urbanisation has washed away the distinctiveness of different regions and countries all over the world. Places with notable people and costumes and religious and political ideologies have lost some of their uniqueness and authenticity. Although no one can deny the diversity of natural wonders that each country has to offer, we cannot say the same for the urban landscape, which reveals increasing similarities and uniformities. King considers this uniformity an 'invention and selective appropriation, worldwide, of particular signs of modernity - especially, the high-rise tower - whether in the urban context in the West or outside it' (King 2004:3).
Most cities around the world have traffic congestion, and the rural poor and farmers now live in shantytowns near massive construction sites. The old city limits have merged into what were once far-flung suburbs, and these suburbs have grown into major urban settings. There is a growing loss of authenticity and identity in contemporary Iranian cities’ construction and housing architecture. Colonisation by vast complex shopping malls and massive Western-style tower blocks has rendered Iranian cities indistinguishable from any other location. This research project intends to conduct a critical examination of Iran's current housing architecture, which appears to have been heavily influenced by Western architecture design. Iranian cities have a thousand-year, rich history of urban civilisation and architectural tradition. It is a tradition that has coexisted with the topology and geographical conditions unique to that region. However, it appears to have lost its identity and interest in reviving and reflecting on some valuable aspects of that tradition, and has merged with the characteristics of other global cities. Carl Brown points out:
The old city boundaries merge imperceptively into suburbs which are themselves major urban agglomeration in Cairo as well as in London and Paris. The mushroom city knows no East or West. Casablanca in this regard may be set alongside Huston. In Aleppo and Alexandria just as in Glasgow and Marseilles, substantial and architecturally interesting quarters are now so antiquated that the bleak prospect is either destruction and urban renewal or restoration at a forbiddingly high unit cost (Brown 1973: 18).
Brown is implying that a distinct place experience with a specific history becomes a non-place and characterless. I intend to investigate and understand the production of Iranian urban form and housing architecture in this context, analysing the materiality as well as the physical, spatial, and symbolic elements that buildings and architecture represent. There have been numerous studies dealing with Iranian culture, history, and politics, including Ervand Abrahimian's Iran Between Two Revolutions (1983), Modern Iran Roots & Results of Revolution (Keddie & Richard 2003) and Isfahan and Its Palaces by Sussan Babaie (2008). However, there have been few scholarly works and artistic research focusing on the Western impact on the urban form and housing architecture of Iranian cities. Many of these studies describe the histories, palaces, and the lives of cities’ founders without any critical discussion of the cities’ urban forms, architecture, and domestic practices. For example, in Iran, A Modern History (2019), Abbas Amanat discusses the historical and political impact of Western infiltration in various regions of Iran, but he does not necessarily explore how this influenced the physical fabric of Iranian cities and housing architecture.
There is a significant gap in the literature, visual studies, and educational research regarding the explanation of these cities’ spatial practices and architecture. However, some works, such as George N. Curzon’s Persia and the Persian Question (1966), Arthur Upham Pope’s Persian Architecture (1979), Abdulaziz Javaherkalam’s History of Tehran (1978), Ali Madanipour’s Tehran (1998), Masoud Kheirabadi’s Iranian Cities (2000), and Reza Shirazi’s Contemporary Architecture and Urbanism in Iran (2018), examine cities and how their physical fabric, as well as, in some cases, the local handicraft sector and jobs, have vanished as a result of Western influence. The work of all the researchers mentioned above has been invaluable in providing deep insight into Iranian society and culture, without which further research and work would have been difficult if not impossible. However, I believe that there is still a significant gap in the interdisciplinary approach to exploring and researching a sensorial method on Iranian urban phenomena.
Furthermore, I intend to investigate the mini-city of Pardis as an example of post-revolutionary Iranian housing planning and methods in the context of their anti-western and anti-capitalist slogans since the 1979 revolution. I examine the impact and influence of the Western model of urban planning and housing architecture as a dominant force in various cities. It appears that the traditional Iranian concept of planning and the Western model are incompatible. This incompatibility is referred to as ‘structural conflict’ by Stefano Bianca, who suggests:
The method and standards of modern physical planning were established as corrective to the shortcomings of the new development concept and are an outcome of the administrative and institutional framework produced by secular industrial civilizations. It is therefore not surprising if they should fail when transferred to the context of traditional societies which obey different prerogative. (Bianca 2000: 196-7)
What Bianca is implying here, in my opinion, is that modern rational planning arose as a result of anomies and inner logic within European societies. Transferring these methods and concepts to a different society with a different inner logic and belief system may result in structural conflict. Different concepts of community structure, planning, and architectural forms are examples. As an instance, today’s Iranian house architecture and urban design are nothing more than imitations of modern Western-style high-rises, tower blocks, fast food chains, and shopping malls. Hundreds of planned mini-cities on the outskirts of major cities are crammed with high-rise concrete apartments, monotonous colours palettes, and little imagination or reference to previous architecture and history. This is based on my own observations and field research in cities throughout Iran, including Tehran, Isfahan, and Kashan. According to Iranian architect Hossein Amanat in an interview with Aini Bahai TV, ‘Iranian architecture has been highly influenced by Western ideas of modern architecture without paying attention to the rich history of traditional Iranian architecture’.1 Another Iranian architect, Bahram Shirdel, stated in an interview with Shargh Daily newspaper that ‘Iranian architects and architecture are generally suffering from “Westoxification” (Gharbzadegi), and mostly are influenced by Western modernism and Western celebrity architects’ (Bianca 2000: 196-7). Shirdel sees ‘copy and paste urban design and housing architecture not as a sign of progress but rather increasing our dependency on the West’ in the same interview.
The newly built residential constructions in the city of Isfahan can also be mentioned as another example of Shirdel’s above-mentioned ‘copy and paste urban design style’. At the time of the reign of Shah Abbas (1588-1629) during the Safavid dynasty (1050-1722), Isfahan was the capital of Iran; it is a city in the middle of the Iranian plateau, at the crossroads of south and north. The historical architecture, bridges, tiled mosques, and minarets of the city are well known. Although the city has preserved some of its former glory’s grand monuments, contemporary housing architecture and city planning are also influenced by Western modernist concepts. For example, the mini city of Sepahan Shahr (Sepahan City), located in the southwest of Isfahan, is made up of Western-style building blocks erected on barren land that was once part of a military compound.