Contemporary Iranian Architecture: Paradox & Continuity | The Plan
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Contemporary Iranian Architecture: Paradox & Continuity

Contemporary Iranian Architecture:  Paradox & Continuity
By Alireza Razavi -

The past 40 years have witnessed radical changes in Iran, veering from the all-out modernizing zeal of the late Shah to the theocratic regime of the Ayatollahs. In the meanwhile a new generation of Iranian architects has come of age. The projects selected in this issue highlight the remarkable variety and quality of the architecture produced by this young generation not only in Iran but also abroad. This architectural rebirth echoes a no less impressive output by Iranian artists, who burst onto the scene even earlier, largely because art is a more immediate practice than architecture. The emergence of Iranian artists after the 1979 revolution took center stage with the highly evocative early works of Shirin Neshat (b. 1957). She paved the way for the notion of the “Iranian Artist” concerned exclusively with topics perceived as specific to Iranian society. Although Neshat’s view is that of the expatriate, it is important to avoid too sharp a distinction between “Diaspora Artists” on the one hand and “Iranian Artists” on the other. Not all post-revolution artists fit the paradigm of the exiled artist reflecting on their lost land. The outstanding portrait artist, YZ Kami (b. 1956), has more in common with Giacometti, for instance, than any specific Iranian cultural feature. Rather than an Iranian artist, Kami is simply a contemporary artist. This whole topic deserves much closer investigation as it obliges reflection on the infinitely intricate nature of identity, sense of place, and our global cultural heritage. Witnessed from abroad, the emergence in Iran of art works expressing uncompromising opposition to the regime comes as a surprise. It points to the complexity of modern Iranian society and how fringe groups of artists are able to exist and operate despite obvious restrictions. The work of younger generation artists like the Haerizadeh brothers (b. 1975 and 1979) illustrates a wider spectrum of sensitivities and issues. Their treatment of specifics of space and time combines with concerns that make them part of a more global community - and market. Similarly, the architectural works selected for this issue reveal the wide spectrum of interests covered by a generation of architects that either grew up in Iran or abroad: from the digitally centered creations of Farshid Moussavi to the more craft-oriented designs of Ramin Mehdizadeh. This wide-ranging spectrum can be accounted for by the fact that many of these architects were either educated in North America or Europe. Of importance too, however, is the architectural and cultural education received in Iran. Indeed by the late 1970s, strong intellectual and project-based relationships existed between Iranian and foreign architects. Gio Ponti, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Claude Parent, and Kenzo Tange, to name but a few, had either partnered with an Iranian architect or had planned projects in Iran. This, along with a strong will to modernize the country, helped forge an architectural culture best expressed at the local level by the works of modern Iranian masters like Mohsen Foroughi, Aziz Farman-Farmaian or Reza Moghtader - again only to name a few - who placed Iran firmly on the Modernist architecture map. Instead of defining these two groups of architects in terms of opposites, it is perhaps more challenging to try and understand how the concerns of a generation of architects “separated at birth” nonetheless focus for the most part on a global Zeitgeist rather than any East-West divide; for this reason, they successfully avoid falling into the trap of nostalgic reiterations of typical styles and iconographies. A mirror generation, these artists offer many valuable assets not just regarding a particular country but for architectural culture as a whole.

Alireza Razavi
Born in Iran in 1970 and educated in Paris and New York, he lives and works in Paris



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