79 IN­DIA MAHDAVI. MY TEHRAN

Living - - English Text -

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,

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