This book analyses the use of the past and the production of heritage through architectural design in the developmental context of Iran. It is the first of its kind to utilize a multidisciplinary approach in probing the complex relationship between architecture, development, and heritage. It uses established theoretical concepts including notions of globalism, nostalgia, tradition, and authenticity to show that development is a major cause of historical transformations in places such as Iran and its effects must be seen in relation to global political and historical exchanges as well as local specificities. Iran is a pertinent example as it has endured radical cultural and political shifts in the past five decades. Scholars of heritage and architecture will find the cross-disciplinary aspects of the book useful. The premise of the book is that transposed into other contexts, development, as a globalizing project originating in the West, instigates renewed forms of historical consciousness and imaginations of the past. This is particularly evident in architecture where, through design processes, the past produces forms of architectural heritage. But such historic consciousness cannot be reduced to political ideology, while politics is always in the background. The book shows this through chapters focusing on theoretical context, international exchanges made in architectural congresses in the 1970s, housing as the vehicle for everyday heritage, and symbolic public architecture intended to reflect monumental time. The book is written in accessible language to benefit academic researchers and graduate students in the fields of heritage, architecture, and Iranian and Middle Eastern studies.
This chapter foregrounds the driving argument of the book, that development prompts divergent forms of historical consciousness, which in turn inform, among other things, the theory and practice of architecture. The product of this consciousness, and its various forms of expressions through design, is a kind of heritage. Therefore, there is a nexus between development, design, and heritage, one that has remained hitherto neglected. It justifies the significance of the period under discussion and provides a brief survey of the terrain of architectural thought and scholarship in the 1970s and at present. Referring to existing literature, the chapter identifies the lacuna to which the book responds, especially in heritage studies and architecture. The chapter also provides sufficient historical and theoretical background and identifies core motifs such as tradition and nostalgia, which are addressed in the rest of the book and underpin analyses of each chapter. The chapter concludes by outlining the logic of the book and the description of chapters.
This chapter discusses nostalgia as the theoretical concept central to understanding the cultural transformations of this period. It teases out the meaning and nuances of the concept by referring to the scholarship on nostalgia itself and on its political implications in Iran. This concept, in its various forms, has prompted three other discourses pertinent to cultural production, namely, authenticity, civilization, and tradition. While addressing the Iranian context, the chapter notes that all these concepts were informed by and conveyed a global currency. It elaborates the meaning and formations of these concepts while referring to historical contexts that sustained them. Thus, while elaborating on manifestations of nostalgic authenticity, it also engages with notions of civilizational discourse and anti-Westernism that were on the rise in the 1970s. It also critically engages with ideas of tradition, which range from Traditionalism, expounded by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, to critiques of the invention of the traditions thesis. These are significant for developing a critical understanding of the nexus between development, design, and heritage in Iran. In the end, the chapter illustrates the concepts at work by referring to an example from the architect Nader Ardalan in the design of the Iran Centre for Management Studies (ICMS).
The international congresses of architecture in Iran and the transnational search for identity
This chapter examines the content and consequences of international exchanges and debates that took place under the aegis of three architectural congresses held in Iran between 1970 and 1976. It provides the international context for the congresses, showing their relationship to the of global discourses of their time. The congresses facilitated the circulation of global ideas into Iran but also became a catalyst for propelling new approaches and thoughts back onto the global stage. The topics of discussion, revolving around tropes of tradition, the vernacular, and their contemporary relevance, indicate official Iranian concerns for reconciling development and culture. They also suggest a genuine quest for identity, based on an acute awareness of the role of heritage. The chapter presents the relevant debates, their international context, and their critical reception in Iran. It also examines some of their outcomes, such as the Habitat Bill of Rights, which clearly indicates the Iranian contribution to the global scene, a contribution that was prompted by development in the first place. The ideas discussed through these congresses formed the bedrock of architectural thought and production before and after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. They appear in the examples discussed in the following chapters.
This chapter focusses on model housing design as one of the tangible outcomes of the architectural congresses. Focussing on Kamran Diba’s Shushtar Now housing project, the chapter examines it as an opportunity for introducing interpretations of the past into the design of contemporary housing in the developmental context of Iran. This was inherently a heritage process, one with rich visual and corporeal expressions but also with intangible social aspirations. The chapter performs a close reading of the design and its origins – Shushtar Now was informed by international experiences elsewhere – through the critical concepts introduced in the previous chapters and referring to the development–design–heritage nexus. Discussing the function of the image, the project is seen in terms of an assemblage of nostalgic images, suggesting how nostalgia has been positively utilized towards mitigating the cultural effects of development as well as the formation of identities through place. The chapter also discusses the experience of Shushtar Now through empirical fieldwork conducted with the participation of residents in 2015. It is suggested that the complex fosters a sense of experiential authenticity, by which residents perceive and experience the place in relation to their traditions regardless of it being a new development.
The search for a culturally appropriate housing model continued in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution and was circumscribed by an intense ideological rhetoric of Islamism. This rhetoric was propped up with nostalgic references to an Islamic tradition and with the desire to assert an authentic identity and reimagine heritage. Beyond the revolutionary rhetoric, however, the practical solutions proposed for housing reveal a remarkable continuity with the pre-Revolution period, and in some instances, a direct link to Shushtar Now. This chapter refers to the earliest post-Revolution collection of public housing competitions conducted by the Ministry of Housing between June and November 1985 and published in 1989. It analyses some of the competition entries and refers to interviews conducted during fieldwork to examine the strands of pre- and post-Revolution continuity. This examination shows that the same traditional motifs that informed discourses of identity and authenticity before the Revolution continued to operate with more official force after 1979. The intention was clear: to produce an Islamic citizen through social engineering. This is apparent in the jury statements. For architects involved, however, pandering to such rhetoric was not always a matter of conviction, but at times, a practical survival mechanism.
Public architecture lends itself to official identity discourses and thus to the design of heritage. The Shahyad Arya-Mehr, a tower with a museum underneath, is arguably Iran’s most iconic monument, and has led a double life before and after the Revolution. Acknowledging the scholarship on this monument, this chapter analyses the edifice in terms of an urban ensemble in connection with middle-class housing estates as well as Mehrabad Airport in its vicinity. It is argued that through its specific design, the monument embodies a heritage arising from the dynamics of development and culture. Drawing on interviews and photo elicitation, the chapter elaborates the scalar function of the monument and its entanglements with heritage at local, regional, and national levels. The monument is polysemic and ambiguous as suggested in its career of signifying the monarchy as well as the revolutionary regime that replaced it. However, it is still a source of discontent at certain corners of the Islamic Republic. As a result, the museum underneath is slowly committed to oblivion while the dominance of the edifice in the urban space is directly challenged via the new 72 Tan Mosque. Here, various forms of nostalgia and heritage clash at an urban scale.
This chapter examines the relationship between development, design, and heritage at an urban scale. It focuses on a large swathe of land north of Tehran within the Abbās Ābād district. Prior to 1979, this area was allocated to a new administrative centre for the capital, which was planned to contain iconic buildings, including the National Library and the City Hall. However, after 1979 and following several master plans, the area was earmarked as the country’s cultural centre. As such, it incorporates among other structures, the Iranian Academies, the National Library, the Sacred Defence Museum, the Book Garden, and most importantly, the iconic project of the Grand Mosallā of Imam Khomeini. The first three projects were the subject of significant post-Revolution architectural competitions in the 1990s as was the Mosallā. The chapter closely examines the evolution of this site before and after the Revolution and the competitions for the National Library, the Academies, and the Mosallā. This examination shows that official heritage-making after 1979 is increasingly channelled to sites of religiosity while in most other sites the past is committed to oblivion. This has been concurrent with the waning of public space while the masses are directed to controlled places such as the Mosallā.
Design as the mediator of development and heritage
In this chapter, the various strands of discussion within the book converge. Revisiting the development–heritage–design nexus, the chapter expands on the idea of development as an ‘engaged universal’ following Anna Tsing. It comments on how development, as a process of historical change, was entangled globally while responding to and creating local specificities. It also elaborates on the meaning and formation of heritage as a corollary of this process, and the mediating role of architecture. The examples in the book suggest a curious scalar dynamic between design, heritage, and development, which is examined in this chapter. The chapter reinforces the driving arguments of the book including the fact that like any other form of cultural production, architectural production in Iran has been at once a local and global endeavour. The examples in the book have shown how and under which circumstances heritage is produced, at least in its architectural manifestation. As such, interpretations of architectural production between the 1970s and 1990s in Iran that are couched in terms of resistance, or the in-between, fall short of explaining the larger processes at work.