79 INDIA MAHDAVI. MY TEHRAN
I left Tehran when I was a one and a half years old and returned when I was fifteen. At the time, I didn’t yet see things through the eyes of an architect, and colours spoke to me differently. There were fewer people back then, less traffic, even if the atmosphere was already a bit chaotic. Things got worse due to the population boom and the resulting housing crisis, as town planning was non-existent during the revolution. It’s only in the last ten years that the wellbeing of residents has been considered – by creating gardens, for example. Tehran remains an extremely ‘urban’ city. Building facades are grey, blackened with dust and pollution. All structures are made of brick, concrete or travertine. At first glance, there’s no way you’d call it a city of lively colours. However, the mountains which rise to the north give off an orange light, becoming a reference point and a marvellous sight. Thanks to those mountains, you always know where you are, despite the urban agglomerate which has grown to fifteen million inhabitants. Walking along the city’s streets, you’ll come across magnificent works which revive the metropolitan landscape. This is true of the tiled staircase which Mohammadi covered in a mural of roses, found at the start of the main road which crosses Tehran from north to south. On the other end of the spectrum, in addition to the main tourist attractions such as museums or the Grand Bazaar which you could spend hours in, most architectural relics are from the Seventies. That includes the Enghelab Parsian, one of the city’s first business hotels, which has never been remodelled. The upper part of the building is in line with the aesthetic canons of the time, while the lower part, with its arches, round windows and mosaics, evokes a much more oriental style. Inside, there’s even a large ballroom. The old Coin Museum, designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, is also an expression of this tendency. Its Brutalist structure starkly contrasts with the oval windows protected by wrought iron which look like eyes intent on studying passers-by. Iranians who have travelled brought images and models back with them, which they then integrated into the local culture. This is exactly what I want to show about Tehran: the rich differences within its soul, its patchwork of dissonant components which, somehow, end up blending harmoniously. With Western geometries combined with sinuous, decorative elements which clearly draw inspiration from the East, the rooms inside the City Theatre (built in 1967) are the perfect example of this. In fact, Tehran’s interiors reveal the city’s true colours, as seen at Naderi Café (the local equivalent of Café de Flore in Paris) and its emerald green walls, which are the backdrop to my portrait. In more institutional buildings, like the Imamzadeh Saleh Mosque or Golestan Palace, spaces are enlivened by splendid mirror tile mosaics which make everything shine as if studded with diamonds. A few architects, interior decorators and contemporary artists, including Monir Farmanfarmaian, have placed this traditional Persian technique at the centre of their work. I certainly prefer it over the multi-coloured coatings on Iranian ceramics from the nineteenth century. But again, it’s this commingling of eras and inspirations, of things more or less beautiful, which I love most about Tehran. Fascinating chaos which challenges my usual concept of harmony.
A burst of colours, enlivening the grim urban scene. Centuries and influences woven together like a magic carpet. The Paris-based designer unveils her hometown. The mesmerizing mayhem makes her rethink her idea of harmony mashrabiyya,