Based on reports in media, the minister of Housing and Urban Development a couple of years ago demanded Iran’s Construction Engineering Organization not to confirm the constructional designs on contrary to Islamic-Iranian architecture. He enlisted the following items as instances of Islamic-Iranian architecture style: construction of “Andarouni” (interior) and “Biruni” (exterior), absence of open kitchen, and observance of Iranian-Islamic architectural aspects in the building façade. These statements were also uttered by the same minister during the vote of confidence session in Iranian parliament and many authorities have also emphasized and issued instructions during the recent decade in this respect. However, the slightest success has not been acquired in establishing such architecture and urban development.
During the last three decades, different governmental documents have repeatedly implied to construction of novel buildings in accordance with traditional architecture values and an item with analogous title has been included in most architecture competitions. But in practice, no result has been achieved or the attempts have led to generation of worthless architecture.
The reason for failure in realization can be sought for in the approach of dealing with the subject. During the recent years, the endeavors to return the modern architecture to traditional architecture have been made with three main approaches or methods: 1-utilization of traditional architecture forms or elements, 2-utilization of traditional architecture models or patterns, and 3-utilization of traditional architecture concepts.
In the first method i.e. utilization of traditional architecture forms, past architecture elements such as arch, dome, and capital are directly imitated from historical samples. Shapes and elements of traditional architecture were natural product of materials and construction technology at their own time, which have been totally transformed today. For example, once brick was the principal element of construction and the whole building used to be constructed with brick or adobe. As a result, use of bricked arch or dome was inevitable in covering large openings and frames, and, arch and dome were regarded as the major structural elements. Yet, in the modern period that the structure and skeleton of new buildings are made of steel or concrete beams and pillars, role of brick has diminished to construction of thin internal walls or decorative coverage of external view. Therefore, application of dome or arch is no longer needed to cover the large openings. If anyone intends to use such forms, the only choice is to resort to decorative exterior finishes which are incompatible with the building and the structure system. That is the reason why decorative arches and domes seem so artificial as compared to their historical and original counterparts.
In the second approach however, it is attempted to take use of traditional architecture models instead of elements and shapes. The respective method takes into account patterns in architecture such as inner yard around which all main rooms are organized and a network of passages and neighborhoods and cul-de-sacs as a model of traditional urban planning. However, use of such patterns and models has never been popularized in the modern architecture and urban development because most of application contexts of traditional architecture and urban development neither exist nor can be generated. For instance, the inner yard model can be only applied in single-unit house construction in one or two floors. In traditional houses, the inner yard is an absolutely private space where nobody is allowed in except for house residents and there is no dominance over from outsides. It is impossible to build single-floor houses in large cities. In addition to economic constraints, a city like Tehran would occupy an area equivalent of a large province in case of following such construction pattern. Therefore, utilization of inner yard model in most of modern cities is totally implausible, and, if such a model is executed, the result will be an absolutely non-private central open space with terrible lighting and view, which is in contrast with the philosophy of using inner yard.
Spatial patterns of traditional city had been mainly formed based on passer-by movement and their deployment is impossible in modern cities where the transits mainly take place via vehicles, bus, or subway trains.
We don’t zoom on the fact that even the vehement proponents of repeating traditional architecture in modern constructions rarely accept to live in such old fabrics. Impossibility of vehicle access is only one of the problems in the respective fabrics.
Among more than hundreds of small and large urban development projects carried out during the last 50 years in Iran, New Shoushtar Town is the only nearly successful example erected with inspiration from traditional urban planning models. The project became feasible because population density of New Shoushtar Town was considered extremely low and such density is not anymore accepted these days due to multitude of reasons.
Left: after command – Right: Before command
After inefficiency of the two former approaches were proved, the third method i.e. utilization of traditional architecture concepts was considered by some architects to attract the consent of their governmental client. They forcibly tried to adopt a new language for explaining their plans and designs. For instance, when a vast internal space is incorporated within a completely modern design, the architect would explain that traditional architecture tends to spatial expansion and this design is continuation of the same tendency. This method is more effective than the two previous ones but the major problem is the fact that anything can be related to anything else in architecture with such justifications without any relevance in reality.
Of course, my intent is not to defend lack of identity or neglect national and local identities in architecture but I mean we cannot define our present national identity solely based on the past. The past architecture elements cannot be repeated in absolutely different contexts without paying attention to their ambient circumstances because architecture of each period is the product of the contemporaneous mental, economic, social, and technological conditions. The identity must be created based on reality and with a realistic and rational perspective to the past, present, and future. Our ancestors benefitted from turquoise tile as a significant expressional element in the context of Iranian architecture. Can turquoise tile undertake the cultural burden of Iranian civilization forever?
How is it possible to build Andarouni (interior) and Biruni (exterior) in a 60-70 m2 flat? (The paradigm proposed by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development for mass house construction).
Are the individual and collective features of Iranians the same as Iranian features in thousands of years ago? Are the present economic measures and methods and our daily lifestyle similar to those of our ancestors? Do we still build houses with adobe and mud? Are the social roles of our society’s women the same as their social roles a couple of centuries ago when they scarcely could step out of the interior of the houses? It must be accepted that traditional architecture models are not sacred and eternal but they were simply products of their eras; the era which have passed away long times ago.