Islamic versus non-Islamic or simply Western style architecture is an issue in many parts of the Middle East where locals, kingdoms and sheikdoms refuse or steadfastly hold onto their identity.
Look at the Arab Gulf States like Dubai where giant, glass fronted skyscrapers dominate the skyline.
These futuristic structures are being called cheap and anonymous by prominent architects like Frank Gehry. In Saudi Arabia the king there is attempting to wipe historic holy sites off the map by developing over them. ISIS too is wiping history off the map with their own agenda.
But Iran is very different than the rest of the Arab world right now. And legistlators there are trying to buck the trend of modernism.
The Iranian back end story
Architecture in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which for centuries followed a more traditional style of environmentally green designs gave way to more modern styling during the 53 year period of the Pahlavi monarchies; especially during the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who reigned from September 1941 until February 1979.
During his 38 year “off and on” reign, Shah Reza Pahlavi made great efforts to introduce Western culture into the country, which also included dramatic changes in Iran’s architectural styling.
Although modern architectural styling continues to change the face of Iranian cities like Tehran, efforts are now being made by Iran’s Supreme Ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is slow down the pace of contemporary architecture by issuing criticisms against modern high rise structures as being “un Islamic” and not in accordance to religious fatwas or edicts. Sustainability issues are not on the table.
According to an essay article written by Mojtaba Nafisi, during Iran’s rich architectural history “the spatial layout of house design in Iran reflected the patriarchal structure of the society through the rigid segregation between private and public space, known in Persian architecture as the andaruni and biruni.”
Putting a veil on shameless and erotic buildings
This architectural concept has now been compromised, he writes, by more contemporary architectural designs which “are also considered erotic because, unlike the spatially introverted pre-modern architecture of Iran, faces outward with windows that shamelessly offer strangers a peek at the buildings’ private parts.”
Religious edicts or fatwas against modern building styles were published by Center for the Study of Science and Technology of the Islamic Iranian Architecture and Urban Planning, which is said to have close ties with the Supreme Ruler, who appears to prefer more traditional or Patriarcial building codes.
This doesn’t mean that Khameni is against all forms of modern innovations; as Nafisi says Khamenei “appears to like other Western innovations, from smoking pipes to ballistic missiles.”
Major efforts have been made to change architectural styling that was introduced during the reign of Iran’s last Shah, the late Reza Pahlavi. These include a number of buildings that were designed and constructed by large Israeli construction companies prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
One of these buildings, at Tehran’s international airport (see photo), was still reported to have Israel’s national emblem, the Star of David, still noticeable on the building’s roof. This symbol, which has been described by Iranian media as a “symbol of evil”, lays evidence to cooperation between Israel and the Pahlavi regime, when airlines of Israel’s national carrier El Al, made regular flights to and from Tehran and Tel Aviv.
Other Israeli structures include the former Tehran Hilton hotel, now called the Parsian Esteghlal International Hotel, and the Elkan Towers residential project (photo top).
Judging from the current political atmosphere, regarding the state of relations between these two countries, these remaining symbols of past Israeli – Iranian cooporation have undoubtedly been a part of Khamenei’s “un-Islamic” building design thoughts as well.
More articles on Middle Eastern and Islamic architecture:
Extraordinary Fish Bowl Architecture Photos by Iran’s Mohammad Domiri
Dubai’s Skyscrappers are Cheap and Anonymous Says Architect Franky Gehry
Islam’s Environmentally Friendly Architecture – Where Did it Go?