“Right now, the massive trend in Iran is to design and build structures with the goal of being recognized by the media,” says Hooman Koliji, associate professor of architecture, planning, and preservation at the University of Maryland. “Therefore, there is an implicit effort and competition to create forms that look different and, dare I say, sexy.” This approach to modern architecture has garnered great results for Iranian talents such as Leila Araghian, whose design of Tehran’s Tabiat Pedestrian Bridge took home the prestigious 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture, bestowed every three years. Certain elements of Araghian’s bold, modern design (pictured above) incorporate motifs of Iranian architecture dating back centuries. With its close proximity to the spectacular Alborz mountain range, the Tabiat Pedestrian Bridge became an instant viewing gallery for the building’s natural surroundings.
Another iteration of this connection with nature can be seen in the ski resort designed by the Tehran-based firm, RYRA Studio. Located in the mountains just north of Tehran, the bone-white structure blends in naturally with the snow-capped mountains surrounding it. “While the shapes and angles and sizes of structures have changed over time, the importance of nature has maintained a central role in Iranian architecture. You can see that fundamental theme from the Achaemenids dynasty (550–330 B.C.) through the Qajar dynasty (1789–1925 A.D.),” Koliji notes.
Following the revolution, the U.S. imposed sanctions against the country. In 1995 and again in 2006, those sanctions were significantly expanded. During this time period, the financial strains were felt throughout the country—architecture not being an exception. “Since the government funds the large projects, many architects saw their contracts cancelled or, at best, suspended—in many cases, indefinitely—which really hurt firms. So designers turned to smaller-scale projects with private clients.” This, in Koliji’s opinion, was not healthy for the architectural integrity of the country. “Most owners dictated exactly what they wanted, and that’s how the homes were built. For example, in the decade after the Iran-Iraq War, it became popular for affluent families to build homes that were Romanesque in style.”