A Blueprint for Unity in Tehran

The traditionalist message emanating from Tehran has largely
obscured Iran’s inner political discord from the rest of the world.

Mina Marefat, in her survey of the city’s history
, argues that
this tension comes from a long and complicated history of Iranian
engagement with the outside world. Through much of the 20th
century, under the strong influence of Western nations, Tehran was
impacted by the economic and architectural trends that the larger
world had to offer. Under Mohammad Reza Shah’s guidance, Marefat
reports, ‘Tehran became an international epicenter for architects’
who were ‘[e]nticed by the lure of Petrodollars.’

Tehran, like many major cities in the developing world, acquired
a kind of bi-polar character: affluent and metropolitan areas
sprouted up in the north, while the south remained a bastion of
poverty and tradition. Essentially a class divide, the difference
between north and south has come to represent, in the eyes of some,
the difference between progress and tradition, liberalism and

Poised directly between these sections of the city is Ekbatan,
an enormous block complex that houses more than 70,000 people.
Intended to be a paragon of massive, modernist housing, the project
was completed just after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Suddenly,
the complex became a hulking reminder of all that the revolution
aimed to leave behind.

The revolution brought with it an emphasis on more traditional
architecture, which today makes Ekbatan stand out more than ever.
New mosques point to a traditional past, while the ’70s era complex
reminds the city of the liberalization that the revolution
foreswore. The result is, Marefat argues, a city that straddles
past and present, global and local.

Writing for
Bidoun, Brian Ackley describes Ekbatan
as ‘its own
self-sufficient neighborhood, providing the same conveniences that
are offered by the city.’ Ekbatan’s residents could live entirely
within the complex, and ‘some even suggest that the city is a
burden on Ekbatan.’

Tehran, Ackley reports, is fraught with ‘resentments and
tensions’ that stem from the class disparities between north and
south. Ekbatan, it seems, diffuses the problems: Its residents feel
tied not to north or south but to Ekbatan itself. Paradoxically,
the isolation bred by such mega-scale architecture is acting as an
antidote to the tensions that an isolated, divided Tehran has
created. As shut-off as Iran seems to be, the city’s complex
history is echoing still today, pointing a way out of its

Go there >>

Fractured Globalization: A Case Study of Tehran

Go there too >>
Super Center:
Life in Tehran’s Largest Housing Development

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