Acoustemological Investigation

Sound Diary: #Tehran

Tracing the Origin of Urbanisation in Tehran

This desire to use modern Western style tower blocks and apply Western methods, such as exploring concrete materials, may have originated in Iranian architects as early as the 1930s. The Architect, an early architect’s magazine published in 1946, promoted Le Courbosier’s modern architecture and praised the use of reinforced concrete. Manouchehr Khorsandi, an architect and city planner, mentions that ‘with the influence of Western culture in Iran and introducing Iranians to European modern life all aspects of our living have been revolutionised, and made people aware of defects in Iranian architecture’ in the first issue of the magazine (Khorsandi 1946:3). Vartan Hovanessian (1896-1982), a graduate of Paris’ Ecole Speciale d’Architecture in 1922, was another Iranian architect who strongly believed that old traditional methods of housing construction and city planning should be replaced with new Western modern ideas. 


Hovanessian extensively discusses the need to abandon traditional building materials, methods, and design in the same magazine in an article titled ‘The Architectural Issues in Iran’. Hovanessian dismissed the continuity of past, present, and future in architecture and harshly condemned the attempt to combine old Iranian architecture with new ideas (Hovanessian 1946:4-9). Iranian architecture, with its bold decoration and ornament, was a thing of the past for architects like Hovanessian and Khorsandi, among others. It had no place in modern life or architecture. The modern architecture movement, particularly the Austrian architect Adolf Loos, influenced these architects. This demonstrates how modern architecture, ideas of Le Courbousier and Adolf Loos were and continue to be influential on Iranian architects and city planners.

It should be noted that this tendency toward modernist architecture and urban planning was a manifestation of the rapid pace of modernisation during Reza Shah’s first reign as Pahlavi ruler (1921-1941). As a result, the government launched a major modernisation project in Tehran. Many old buildings, as well as twelve historical city gates, were demolished in 1930 to allow for the modernisation process, with the goal of transforming Tehran into a modern capital (Shirazi 2018:10-11). The Shah’s plan, known as ‘Naghshe-ye Khiabanha-ye Jadid’ or Plan of the New Avenues in 1937, provided justification for the destruction of the old city. This plan called for the construction of new transportation system and new wide boulevards that cut through the city’s old fabric (11-12). As Shirazi points out, ‘the dominant presupposition was that the traditional urban morphology had no logic, but was rather a situation of chaos requiring rapid organization’ (13).

This urban intervention entailed the restructuring and rearrangement of the previous Qajar dynasty’s social and political foundations. The significant result of radical urban intervention divided the city into two opposing groups: one of traditional Ulama (clergy), Bazaries (traditional merchants), and nobles who supported a traditional lifestyle and values, and the other of modern Western norms and lifestyle (14). The tension and conflict between these groups is located between Sonnat (tradition) and Tajaddod (modernity). As Ali Madanipour notes, ‘A tense coexistence of the old and new, in which they constantly struggle for domination, is a hallmark of the modern history of Iran and its capital, Tehran’ (Madanipour 1998:252).

As can be seen, the ideas and concepts of the modernist European movement, without considering the potential consequences for future Iranian cities, resulted in the creation of an architectural landscape that does not share or carry architectural values from rich history and culture of traditional Iranian cities. Visual quality and style are important dimensions of a building; decoration, embellishment, and shape modifications can all contribute to a building’s visual quality. Housing planning is neither a neutral nor an empty container that should only be used by planners, designers, architects, and other agents involved in the decision-making process. In most countries and places, it appears that one method and style of planning has become the universal answer for housing planning. 

As Brown notes, 'there is, accordingly, a growing sentiment to regard cities from other parts of the world not as faraway places with strange-sounding names but as recognizable varieties of a familiar species - the modern urban agglomeration' (Brown 1973:18). Technology and economic imperatives appear to be conspiring to ensure that the world’s cities will look increasingly similar: economic use of limited space necessitates high-rise buildings (18). Deyan Sudjic sees this resemblance, as well as the rise of high-rise buildings in every city around the world, as an American symbol and identity. According to Sudjic, 'Skyscrapers are as much an essential part of America’s identity as the coke bottle, baseball, and the Marlboro cowboy' (Sudjic 1996). In this context, the exposition intends to look at the production of Iranian new urban form and housing architecture, particularly in the Pardis Phase 11 housing project. I consider the architectural production in Pardis Phase 11 to be one way of thinking about the signs of ‘global architecture culture’ and ‘de-localisation’ in Tehran.

Since January 2010, a Turkish company called Kuzu Group has managed and administered the Pardis project. Kuzu Group is a Turkish contractor company founded in 1943 that has worked on housing development projects and mega shopping malls in Istanbul, Ankara, Tehran, and Khemis El Khechna in Algeria. According to the Group’s website, it has completed over 500 construction projects and 100.000 housing units across three continents (Kuzu Grup Blog). Originally, the plan of Pardis Phase 11 was initiated during Mahmood Ahmadinejad's presidency known as Masken e Mehr (social housing) scheme. Pardis Phase 11 is amongst many other housing projects in Iran driven by Ahmadinejad's vision of an egalitarian and just society, the project sought to enable homeownership for the economically oppressed (Hulpachova 2014). Although in reality, this vision became to be known as a failure, as housing prices went very high and made the situation possible for corruption and profiteering. Affordable housing and homeownership have become out of reach not only for the poor but also for relatively well-off (Hulpachova 2014).   

As part of my ongoing investigation of the history of urbanisation in Tehran, I took several walks in various locations in the city, especially in central Tehran where most of the area's fabric goes back to the Pahlavi's Plan of the New Avenues (Naghshe-ye khiyabanha-ye jadid). The recording here is the sonic experience of the present time while I was thinking about the history of the place.

Location: Central Tehran

Duration:  16:38

Audio channels: Stereo

Time of recording: 15.30 PM

Device: Zoom H2N

Sample rate: 48kHz