Building Ties

America's architectural footprint in Iran


Building Ties
by Fesenjoon

During the 1960s and 70s, before any of the Marg bar Amrika (Death to America) banners of Iran's religious right, and before the bastardized quasi-soviet housing projects that mushroomed all over Iran's landscape, there existed a healthy balance of architectural exchanges between Iran and the United States, many of which resulted in some familiar landmark sites, facilities, and buildings, still seen today in Iran. The builders of some of these buildings in Iran are of international stature in recent architectural history. They most certainly deserve a mention.

Perhaps the most architecturally elegant of all buildings constructed by Americans in Iran is the Morvarid ("Pearl") Palace, a gem designed by Wesley Peters and a team of American engineers outside Karaj. His opulent Pearl Palace designed for Shams Pahlavi, the sister of the Shah, remains an articulate example-to the intimate and inviting. The building was taken over by Basiji paramilitary forces after 1979, and (to the best knowledge of this author) has sadly and slowly deteriorated to ruins. He also designed Damavand College in Iran. The facility was later called Madreseh-i Ali-i Damavand, and finally became one of the branches of Payam-e Noor University. Peters third landmark, the Mehr-Afarin Villa in Chalous, was designed for Empress Farah Pahlavi in 1970 (Spencer, 260), and was also said to be occupied by local Police forces after 1979.

Another bigshot American architect was Minoru Yamasaki, whose buildings still stand towering over Shiraz today. His Pahlavi University (Shiraz University) student dormitories (Darton, 120) were also partially completed due to the revolution. Yet the dormitory buildings today are still in use, and are a reminder of the bygone days of Pahlavi University's once grandeur and stellar ambitions. Yamasaki of course, is the famed architect of the unforgetable World Trade Center towers, which were destroyed in 2001.

William Pereira was another famous American architect, who was responsible for the campus and buildings of The Imperial Medical Center in Tehran. (Steele, 245) Pereira's most iconic building is the famous Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco. The Imperial Medical Center was only partially completed due to the revolution in 1979, and was dragged into the Iran-US tribunals court. (Adlam, 203) The facility was later finished and became the Iran University of Medical Sciences, with its Milad hospital along Chamran Expressway, a familiar sight to many Tehranian commuters. Since October 2010, the University has become part of Tehran University Medical Sciences and Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences.

Pereira was also responsible for the original terminal of The Mehrabad International Airport (Edwards, 72) and The Bell Operations Training Facility, built in 1976. But even today's Imam Khomeini International Airport was the original design of an American firm called TAMS in the 1970s. (Antoniou, 41)

Yet another hotshot architect that built in Iran was Welton Becket, master planner of UCLA in the 1960s. His most important building in Iran is the Sheraton Hotel (later called Homa Hotel) located in Vanak, Tehran. (Clute, 65) His firm Welton Becket and Associates built many of the buildings of Mayo Clinic, the Dallas and Houston skylines, and the Los Angeles Capitol Records building. Even though he passed away many years ago, his firm continues on today, The Qwest Field in Seattle and The Kingdom Centre tower in Saudi Arabia being two of their latest works.

In urban planing, American city builders were also active in Iran for many years. The first phase of the Ecbatan project in Tehran, was the work of Jordan Gruzen (now Gruzen Samton LLP) for example. He was also the designer of The Farahzad (today Shahrak Gharb) towers (known as Hafez, Khayam, etc) in northwest Tehran. He also built residential communities in Isfahan. Another master planner was Victor Gruen, whose firm produced the general master plan for modern Tehran from 1963 to 1967.(Hardwick, 220) Tarh-i jam'ah-i Tehran was his brainchild. (whose report can be seen in the Library of Congress archives)

And last but not least, one can recall Ian McHarg, the great Penn scholar and landscape architect, whose work in Iran lives on today in the form of Pardisan Park in Tehran. (see report "Pardisan: plan for an environmental park in Tehran: for the Imperial Government of Iran, Department of Environment")

Numerous other smaller firms were also active in Iran, planing for modern Iranian cities. With the advent of the Islamic revolution, and the hostile anti-American policies of Khomeini's regime, many designs were never completed, and some never even left the drawing board.


Adlam, JC. Iran-U. S. Claims Tribunal Reports: Volume 5. Contributor E. Lauterpacht, Cambridge University Press, 1985. ISBN 0-521-46439-0

Antoniou, Jim. Construction in the Middle East. Volume 55 of EIU Special Report, The Economist Itelligence Unit. Publisher Econmist Intelligence Unit, 1978

Clute E, Whitehead RF, Reid K, Cleaver EL. Progressive Architecture. Published by Reinhold Pub. Corp., 1976

Darton, Eric. Divided we stand: a biography of New York's World Trade Center. Publisher Basic Books, 1999.

Edwards B. The Modern Airport Terminal: New Approaches to Airport Architecture. Taylor & Francis, 2005. ISBN 0-415-24812-4

Hardwick MJ. Mall Maker, Victor Gruen, Architect of an American Dream. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8122-3762-5

Spencer, Brian A. The Prairie school tradition. Whitney Library of Design. Milwaukee Art Center. Prairie Archives. 1979.

Steele, James. William Pereira. University of Southern California, Architectural Guild Press, 2002


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by Fesenjoon on

u didnt fully read the article: Out of everything mentioned, only 2 buildings were palaces. The rest was infrastructure, many of which I didnt mention (to avoid getting too boring). 

Iran's higher education system itself was laregly an American product

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

These buildings

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


are fine and add to Iran and its architectural treasures. However I would add that we did not need more palaces. We had plenty. We needed more universities and research buildings. So my many thanks for building The Imperial Medical Center in Tehran. But next time hold off on the palace.

Maryam Hojjat

Thanks Fesenjoon

by Maryam Hojjat on

Great Info.