|The Orsi Khaneh project, by Keivani Architects, in Tehran’s affluent Gisha district. Courtesy the Guardian.|
From its iconic Azadi (freedom) tower, which has ridden out a revolution, an eight-year war and innumerable protest rallies, to the elegant museum of contemporary art or the city theatre, Tehran has long been home to a brand of wacky, yet distinctively Iranian, contemporary buildings.
In the few decades leading up to the 1979 Islamic revolution, architects such as Houshang Seyhoun, Kamran Diba and Hossein Amanat pushed the boundaries of traditional Persian architecture by using traditional elements in modern designs; Amanat’s freedom tower epitomises those efforts.
After the revolution, however, the Iranian capital’s architectural scene suffered a serious blow as the country was consumed first by war then by postwar reconstruction. But more recently, with young architects educating themselves in worldwide trends, and the relative stability of the country compared to its post-revolutionary upheaval, a new generation are following in the footsteps of the veterans. The city has embraced a bold, experimental architecture.
Tehran in 2016 “is in a constant mood of reconstructing and rebuilding itself,” according to Mehran Gharleghi, director at London’s Studio Integrate, who has previously worked in Tehran for the prominent architecture firm Mirmiran. “The municipalities accommodate new designs, at least compared to Europe, and there’s a big appetite for new buildings.”
“Tehran has a unique structure,” he adds. “It is more dynamic than any European capital, and at the same time it’s not a typical Middle Eastern city. Its urban scene is quite chaotic at the first glance. But, similarly to cities like Tokyo, this means Tehran is constantly able to renew its visual identity.”
Tehran’s mayors are also influential. Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was one. And the incumbent, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who has run eye-catching projects such as installing Picasso and Matisse billboards on the city’s streets, has presidential ambitions himself – leading, says Ghaleghi, to “the motivation of Tehran’s mayor to commission ambitious projects and improve the urban set-up”.