Spaces of Development: Urban Planning, Architecture and Change

This panel brings to light histories of particular sites of architectural and urban development that took shape, were planned or re-planned during the Pahlavi era, and then changed, in one way or another, after the establishment of the Islamic Republic.

The panel will explore how these sites – hotels, pilgrimage centers, residential complexes, highways – were presented and re-presented, designed and re-designed, before and after the revolution; and how this reflected changing visions of Iranian identity, modernity and development. These visions – based on state-led ideological drives for Westernization or Islamicization, or influenced by capitalism, socialism, nationalism, internationalism or neoliberalism – created dissimilar, overlapping or contradictory trajectories that were expressed in different rationales, ambitions and inspirations in Iranian architecture and urban planning.

The panel focuses on particular sites, spaces and places on the micro-level that embody the developments on the societal macro-level and the ideological meta-level: processes that travel from idea to plan, from vision to policy, from construction to re-planning or to deconstruction or destruction. In doing so, the panel will question dominant narratives of development, modernization and modernity in Iran and in Iranian studies.


by /

This paper explores the development of the new city of Namak Abrud in northern Iran. Namak ‎Abrud is located twelve kilometers east of the city of Chalus in the Mazandaran Province, covering ‎an area of 650 hectares.‎

In this paper, I will look at the development of the plan, from its initial proposal. The area was first ‎nurtured in the late 1950s by the Iranian-American entrepreneur Jamshid Javanshir, whose vision ‎for the resort city was formed after a visit to the Hearst Castle in California. Next, I examine the ‎official master plan jointly proposed by the London-based architectural firm Howard Humphreys ‎and the Iranian DAZ. In the 1970s, Humphreys and DAZ designated a portion of the area into a ‎tourist hub. Bisected by the Chalous-Ramsar Road, the northern side was devoted to private villas. ‎The south of the road, became home to the Caspian Hyatt Hotel (completed in 1974) and a few ‎apartment complexes. ‎

The construction of the city was halted during the 1978-79 revolution and the subsequent Iran-Iraq ‎war (1980-88). During this time the tourist industry in Iran declined, due to both ideological and ‎financial reasons. It took nearly two decades for investors to reboot the constructions. Today the ‎area is matured. Due to strict Islamic rules— prohibiting, for example, co-op beaches or bars and ‎dance clubs— public tourist activities in the area are limited. The city is primarily known for its ‎unique aerial tramway, offering aerial tram tours, which start at the Caspian shore and end into the ‎dense forest of the Alborz heights. ‎

With its long and convoluted design trajectory, Namak Abrud epitomizes the history of tourist and ‎leisure architecture in Iran, during the country’s two commonly assumed conflicting episodes of ‎rapid westernization and strict Islamicization. Despite sanctions and broken ties with the international ‎community, nonconformist Iranian architects create alternative spaces of entertainment by turning ‎inward, devoting attention to the design of the interiors of the villas. By situating architecture in the ‎context of Islamic Republic's neo-liberalist economy, the paper illuminates a ‎lesser known aspect of design practices in Iran.‎

by /

For more than a century, Iranian and Western scholars and theorist have sought to conceptualise terms such as modernity and modernisation and applying them in the humanities, social sciences, architecture, and city planning. This paper is part of a doctorate thesis that offers to nuance the understanding of modernization processes and urban development in Tehran by adapting Timothy Mitchell notion of modernity as an analytical framework. Mitchell carefully disrupts the powerful Eurocentric understanding of modernity by questioning the origins of the geography and temporality of modernity. He argues that “modernity had its origins in reticulations of exchange and production encircling the world, then it was a creation not of the West but of an interaction between West and non-West. The sites of this interaction were as likely to lie in the East Indies, the Ottoman Empire, or the Caribbean as in England, the Netherlands, or France.” (Mitchell, 2000). Therefore, this research uses the term modernity to frame the successive process of urban development in Tehran within different stages of interaction and connection with different places and practices in different parts of the globe.

This paper, instead of imposing a western definition of modernization, development, and planning on the Iranian context, has tried to investigate and bring to the fore the ways in which the Iranian planners, technocrats, municipal decision makers understood and interpret these terms and defined the trajectories of development in the process of rebuilding Tehran. This paper present an interactive narrative based on a series of interviews conducted in 2014 in Tehran with politicians, administrators, urban planners, and urban sociologists who were involved in various urban development projects in Tehran during the last three to four decades. The paper focuses on punctuated master plans; one is a continuation of the 1968 Victor Gruen master plan, and the other the Abbas Abad Hill redevelopment plan. Both these plans were among the most long lasting plans in the history of Tehran’s urban development, since their implementation process have continued until today. Furthermore, this study looks at two recent urban mega-projects that were both inaugurated in the last two yeas: first, the Sadr two-level highway, and the Tabiat pedestrian bridge.

Ultimately this study aims to offer grounded insight into contemporary urbanism and urban development processes in Tehran to revisit the “challenge of theorizing cityness in the face of a great diversity of different kinds of urban experiences” (Robinson, 2013).

by /

This paper is looking for how modern middle-class housing morphology (re) shaped based on both imported international domestic life and indigenous dwellings; and how the discourses and practices for being modern and have modern citizens by reformers in fronted with the fact of traditional dwellings in the process of making mass middle-class housing. This paper by focus on four middle-class housing belongs to four different decades (from 1946 till 1975) as case studies will try to show how the adaptations and conflicts of modernization process accrued in Tehran housing morphology. The four cases are ‘Chaharsad Dastgah’ (1946), ‘Narmak’ (1952), ‘Kuy-e Farah’ (1961), and ‘Ekbatan’ (1975). The first three cases constructed by Bank-e-Sakhtemani with cooperation of ‘Association of Iranian Architect-Diploma – AIAD’ (Anjoman-e-Architect-ha-ye-Diplom-e-ye-Iran), while Ekbatan constructed by private sector. Each case introduced new models and specific way of adaptation while their source of interpretation (depends on the architect background and is very different from each other. In case of Chaharsad Dastgah, which is the first designed middle-class neighborhood in Tehran, a new interpretation of Iranian courtyard houses and Belgian-British neighborhood style occurred. While in Narmak, the combination of Iranian interpretation of Garden City with pre-fabricated French houses named as KALAD structured the middle-class neighborhood. In case of Kuy-e Farah, which is the typical row-single family house of Tehran, we will see how the new imported household commodities in 1960s mostly from America designed the interior rationality of the houses and how neighborhood structure started to fallow the automobile flow and domination of car-life. And the case of Ekbatan will illustrate that how combination of Iranian, American and Korean design team created the mega neighborhood and new pattern of housing morphology. It shows how Marcel Bruer (German-American) U-shaped model for New York neighborhoods in 1940s, becomes the source of inspiration for Tehran 1970s middle-class housing and how it interpreted differently by Iranian and Korean architects. By analyzing these four cases we also can see how the middle-class dwelling transformed rapidly in four decades and how modernization process was not always a top-down approach but was also about the adaptation, interpretation and emendation of imported models.

by /

Mashhad is not only a megacity for religious tourism (nationally and internationally), but also a major source of revenue for the government of Iran. Mashhad's potential to become a more economically lucrative city for the halal-conscious tourist has sparked expansive development by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The government in its halalization of the city is investing money into a wide array of tourist-related establishments, including hotels, to become members of a global halal-certified business and to take advantage of the rapidly growing religious tourism industry.

To issue halal certification, in 2014 the Iranian government established the Halal National & Regional Research Center as a new division in the Agriculture Research Institute. From an economic perspective this is a sound investment for the Iranian government with a prospect of lucrative economic rewards. Halal certification in Iran is also a timely project since, according to recent studies, halal tourism is among the fastest and more lucrative form of travel among Muslim travelers. Mashhad has without doubt the potential of becoming one of the most significant Shi`i halal pilgrimage destinations in the world. With already over 2 million visitors annually coming to this city, the halal certification makes it even more attractive for international Muslim halal-conscious tourists.

This paper also discusses the expansion and many improvements in infrastructure, park maintenance, public art projects and many other beautification projects in Mashhad to attract tourists in even greater numbers not only for religious purposes but also to enjoy the city itself and all it has to offer.

While Iran is investing heavily in making Mashhad a destination for the halal global religious tourist, it is also striving to be the second largest Muslim pilgrimage destination for the Shi`is in the world (after Mecca). At the moment, Iran can easily attract Shi`i pilgrimages into a country deemed safe when compared to other Shi`i tourist destinations such as Syria and Iraq.