Brick by Brick: Rethinking Masonry Construction in Iran

Iran’s architecture has long been rooted in Persian culture. From tea houses and pavilions to domestic huts and elaborate mosques, the country’s built environment is tied to these influences, as well as the landscape and its broader context. At the heart of Iran’s more recent projects is a desire to reinterpret history through new spaces and forms.

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© Parham Taghioff

Through a complex cultural past, Iran's architecture has achieved its own distinct vernacular. Monumental mosque design reflects the religiously affiliated architecture of the past, but contemporary architects in Iran are concerned with defining their place in non-secular design. Contemporary Persian architecture shows an aesthetic connected with the past while trying to find its place in the future.

While Tehran emerged as an epicenter of design in Iran, the country’s innovation has extended to developments throughout other cities and sites. Rethinking the role of art and symbolism in architecture, a wave of new projects have been built that are designed around masonry and its application in commercial and residential projects. Architects are utilizing more readily available building materials like clay from the country’s central plateau to rethink historic ideas of scale, geometry and craft.

© Parham Taghioff

Most of the buildings seen in larger cities such as Tehran and Isfahan are constructed using similar brick-laying methods. Bricks are chosen because most of the country is covered by earth, sand and rock, which lends itself to brick or adobe construction. In addition, older Iranian architecture often contained a layer of tiles over the brick. Today, brick facades are increasingly made as vertical elements, including for taller residential towers and private developments. With a wide variety of aesthetic, structural and haptic investigations, the following projects use brick to rethink conventional construction methods and techniques across Iran.

Woof Shadow by Tachra Design

© Parham Taghioff

The “Woof Shadow” building is a 5-story building with 10 apartments located in a middle class block in Tehran. A third dimension was designed on the façade to create a deep surface in the external figure. In designing the form, the surface had to be one piece with no cuts and using origami, a tri-dimension feature was formed by folding the two-dimension surface. The tri-dimension volume was achieved by creating new texture. The elements created “light and shade” to change the façade into a structure in which overlapped shades from the texture. The team chose bricks as a pixel material that fit the design and could be configured with the block texture.

Kahrizak Residential Project by CAAT Studio

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As CAAT states, there is a constant historical principle in Iranian architecture: the richness in details in coexistence with the representation of simplicity in overall scale which merges with the context and function. In Iranian traditional architecture, users built their houses in a sustainable way. These architectural considerations led to a variety of typologies in different climatic zones of the country. Clay modules were constructed with bricks and were produced in a factory nearby. The brick module design was based on Iranian geometrical patterns; each module was designed in relation with the function of the space behind it. 

Termeh Office Commercial Building by Farshad Mehdizadeh Architects + Ahmad Bathaei

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This project is located in Hamedan, one of Iranian historical cities. Hamedan has active urban space which is characterized by squares and an important north-south urban axis which connects them together. This axis cross the site from the western side. The brief was designing a two floor building with commercial functions: a retail in ground floor and a private office in the first floor. The facade is a continuous covering system which made of local bricks that are patterned with local and traditional brick layering techniques in order to match with the context.

Saba Office Building by 7Hoor Architecture Studio + SBAD office

© Parham Taghioff

In this project, the team tried to break normal boundaries of construction and incorporate architectural strategies responsive to its surroundings to create more interactive life-styles by focusing on environmental factors like light, view and topography. The Eastern facade was designed with maximum transparency, as it is the connection of the project to the city and pedestrians can see it from adjacent street. The team added a second brick shell to control sun radiation in the office units. They chose brick as a local material to be used in a modern style, and for its warm color. The arrangement of brick columns is a response to urban openings around the site. Wherever there is an appropriate view, brick columns distance each other and frame the view.

Mahallat Residential Building No3 by CAAT Studio

© Parham Taghioff

The project is located on a residential periphery of Mahallat, 262 kilometers southwest of Tehran with the hot and dry climate. The area surrounding the city is rich with travertine which is mainly because of the two significant travertine local mines called Hajiabad and Abbasabad. The orientation of the geometry to the North provided a different perspective to the environment, whereas the same movements without rotation add a different quality to the South facade. This movement was not only a conceptual movement but also a creative way to utilize the brickwork as an environmental piece, helping to build a cost-effective and environmentally friendly project.

Park Residential by Behzad Atabaki Studio

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As BAS explains, "Standing for such a sense of security would be the curtain, hanging and dancing, symbolizing a home behind. Creating a shared ground between architecture and the city, in this building where the project is a group of “homes”, the curtains swinging with the breeze, the team called up the image of a warm hearth and home, acting both as a representation of security outside and the warmth within, have been used as the façade so as to recall the moment when they, swinging in the breeze along the soft rows of "bricks", have just stepped aside to let the light into the pleasant space of the house they encurtain."

Cloaked in Bricks by Admun Design & Construction Studio

© Parham Taghioff

A key characteristic of Iranian vernacular residential architecture was providing privacy for the residents which in the past was achieved through an introverted architecture often formed around a central private garden with all the openings oriented to that and the windows were rarely exposed on the outer faces. The concept for the façade is inspired from the surrounding neighborhood fabric. The brick texture is a reflection of the context’s chaotic skyline and the openings are located considering the surrounding views.

Saadat Abad Residential Building by Fundamental Approach Architects

© Parham Taghioff

In this project, the design team turned the brick skins towards a nearby crossing, and a soft space was created between the glass and the brick skins that called the expanded border. The created space between the skins is reachable from the inside, and it leads the inhabitants to a sufficient view and also tries to catch the exterior atmosphere and add it to the interior space. The rotation of brick surfaces opened a view to the empty urban space that is made via nearby crossing and because of the long distance between the building and the apartment blocks near the crossing, besides experiencing an open view, the privacy of the interior spaces is preserved. 

About this author
Cite: Eric Baldwin. "Brick by Brick: Rethinking Masonry Construction in Iran" 31 Oct 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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