Iran beyond Iranians

Architecture is the art of living which is documented sometimes in the heart of a rock or it is molded as a mud brick or raised in the shape of a dome. Studying the architecture of a nation gives one insights on its people’s personality and their characteristics. Iranian architecture is humble, pragmatic, and progressive as much of its creators the Iranians.

I am not talking about the bad copies of Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, or Le Corbusier’s master pieces in northern Tehran. I am talking about the architecture of the old fabric of Yazd, Isfahan, Shiraz, Boushehr, Kerman, Mahan, Semnan, Kashan, Zanjan, Tabriz, and so on.

The humbleness of Iranian architecture comes from where it respects the nature rather than fighting against its forces. The building material is being provided from near the location of the building. The building itself is in accordance with its environment and appears as the continuation of its surroundings so it adapt to the environment so then be adopted by it.

Finally, while it bows to its environs it doesn’t forget its main responsibility to provide shelter and comfort to its occupants for the longest time throughout years and seasons. The combination of building’s form and the brilliance of its architect make it easy to be preserved for years to come by and generations to live in. Also it makes it easy and inexpensive to maintain.

Yazd a 5000-year old city with one major and consistent problem, water scarcity, for as long as its ancient mind remembers, been wrestling with water problem. Since it is located at the heart of Iranian’s greater desert it comes as no surprise to the visitors that water is the most valuable commodity in its daily transactions.

However throughout the years, its architecture and people have learned how intelligently deal with this chronic pain. As a result they have the most advanced and efficient architecture to preserve water. This might come as a strong claim out of proportion but I argue if the architecture wasn’t the most efficient then the city would not live for thousands of years.

Pragmatism is not just a word in Iranian architecture, it is a holly ritual, a sacred secret, and a radical philosophy of life. Comparing Iran with the United Stales one can easily recognize why Americans have their reasons for celebrating Thanksgiving. United States is the most advanced country in the world because of many reasons but one important one that she possesses the most of essential resources in the world which are massive sources of water and unlimited amount of land.

However if one look at the geography of Iran it notices that it is a collection of scarcity. Resources are so scarce that they are treated as sacred. That’s why in Iran, the words scarce and sacred are often conjoined. This is also the reason why Iranian architecture is pragmatic. In original Iranian architecture there is no room for “beauty for the sake of beauty”. There is always a practical intention behind every beautiful thing that one can find in Iranian architecture. Now I dare to say that in Iranian architecture there is function behind every single form.

I would like to call Iranian architecture as an organic architecture. Because as I said it flows with its surrounding environment, promotes coexistence with the forces of the nature, and it provides shelter to its inhabitants all in all while being sensible and pragmatic.

However if you google the words “organic architecture” you find a Wikipedia link as the first result that shows a picture of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, the Kaufmann House or so-called “The Falling Water” house. Frank Lloyd Wright worked as a draftsman for Louis Henri Sullivan and Dankmar Adler. Sullivan is the one that started the whole movement of skyscraper fever in late 20th century in Chicago. He is truly the father of all skyscrapers school of architecture, and whole sets of inventions and “original ideas”.

Sullivan like any other smart pioneer needed to justify his crazy ideas for the public opinion so he tried to relate them with the nature. He started making architectural forms that resembled the natural world. For example he used some pieces of terracotta that the shapes of vines with leaves were engraved on them, and then he put them way in the sky in the middle of the building. Then he called them the organic elements. Ironically he is the owner of the famous statement of “Form follows function”. In simple word he believed that there should be a specific purpose of use for every single architectural element in the building.

Later Frank Lloyd Wright was fired and started his own architectural firm. He took on Sullivan’s idea and advanced the organic architecture school further by studying Japanese architecture. But it is not hidden from the readers that Japanese architecture is greatly inspired by Iranian architecture and the concept of Persian Garden, the inner house and the outer house one inside of the other.

Back to Sullivan, one of his famous landmarks that it is still standing is the Auditorium Building in Chicago on the magnificent mile. The building was the tallest, most massive and expensive building in the world at the time. It was housed to 4800-seat live theater, and many hotel rooms and business offices. This was the first building that used reinforced concrete for “first time” and used cooled air draft over the crowded seats of the theater in the middle of hot Midwest summer for hours.

Without going into much of detail he used the same concept of Iranian underground water reservoir to pass the cool air over the ice and into the auditorium. His concept of reinforced concrete wasn’t as original either since Iranians years before had the secret recipe of combined gypsum with ash and hey.

Please don’t take this as I try to underestimate the genius and hard work of my hero, Sullivan and other American modern architects but as I try to say that science and art are the results of incremental processes not the quantum leaps.

Iranians are inspired by humble architecture for thousands of years. As a result we are humble people. It is in our blood. We are so modest that we even sometimes don’t believe in ourselves, that we invented the modern medicine, that we funded the modern chemistry, the modern math, the modern postal system, the modern civic planning, and so on. We don’t dare to talk about it and we let other people claim our achievements in their own names. We let them run over our heads and then look up at them and smile.

For example, Albert Einstein’s general relativity was discussed 200 years earlier by Sadr-ol-Motalehein Molla Sadra not in physics lab but in small house in desert while in exile. Molla Sadra published his theory under the name Harekat-e-Johari, the Inner Motion. There, he clearly argues that everything is relative due to its constant inner displacement.

This and numerous other examples in Iranian history exist and show how Iranians’ head been run over by horse, carriage, tricycle, bicycle, motorcycle, automobile and more recently by nuclear energy, depending on the time of the history. I’ve heard that above the main entrance of Iranian nuclear energy complex in Tehran’s Amirabad-e-Shomali’s complex there is this Saadi’s verse: del-e har zareh ra keh beshkafi, aftabeesh dar mian bini.

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