In razing its modernist buildings, Iran is erasing its past Western influence

Asma Mehan, Politecnico di Torino

Hassan Rouhani’s re-election as Iran’s president has rekindled hope for liberals in the country. During his first term, Iran began edging closer to the West, and his positions on both international and domestic affairs indicate further openness to its influence.

Current battleground issues in Iran include not just social and economic policy but also cultural concerns. Specifically, say architects and historians, Iran must take action to protect its modern architectural heritage before it’s too late.

Iran is known for its magnificent Persian design but, in the late 19th and 20th century, its capital Tehran saw renowned Western architects, including prominent modernists such as Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), build some of the city’s iconic structures.

Today, some have been razed and many more are in danger of demolition or collapse. Without protection, these buildings, which bear testament to Iran’s historic openness to the West, will be reduced to dust, beams and concrete blocks.

A disappearing modern heritage

On January 19 2017, the Plasco Tower, a 17-story high-rise, collapsed in the centre of Tehran killing more than 20 firefighters and injuring dozens.

Collapse of Plasco Tower.

 

The iconic building was designed by American architects – Benjamin Brown and Spero Daltas – who set up shop in Tehran in 1957 during the rule of King Mohammad Reza Shah (1941-1979). The Shah had made it his mission to construct in Iran a “great civilisation”. To do so, Tehran had to become a modern globalised city, with vast avenues and planned design.

Iran’s 20th-century modernisation process coincided with that of many other Middle Eastern countries. Nations such as Egypt Turkey and Iran felt a need to infuse their ancient civilisations with new ideas and influence, including Western infrastructure and educational models.

Tehran’s American-designed master plan called for a series of residential and commercial areas linked by highways.
Self/Wikimedia, CC BY-ND

 

In Iran, the process was fuelled by increasing oil revenue, which helped finance massive new developments that would turn its capital into a modern metropolis. For these ambitious plans, the government hired Western architects, urban planners and other experts to come work in Tehran.

The American planner Victor Gruen devised the city’s 1968 master plan, conceiving of an expansive Tehran with commercial centres and residential neighbourhoods connected by highways.

This golden age of urban development also saw wealthy parts of Tehran bloom with privately financed construction.

That all changed in 1979. After the Iranian Revolution, Tehran turned inward, closing its gates to the West.

Tehran’s short memory

Today, Iranian scholars, architects and intellectuals – including Parshia Qaregozloo, who curated Iran’s pavilion at the 2016 Venice biennial and Leila Araghian, architect of Tehran’s new high-tech Tabiat bridge and Ali Mozaffari, founding co-editor of the Berghahn Explorations in Heritage Studies book series – are raising concerns that the nation may have too short a cultural memory.

Many notable mid-century buildings have been neglected in the past decade, including the ornate Sabet Pasal mansion in Tehran, known as Iran’s Palace of Versailles, which narrowly avoided being demolished in 2015. And the 1966 Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Morvarid (Pearl) Palace, in the city of Karaj, which once belonged to the Shah’s sister, Shams Pahlavi.

The Pearl Palace in Karaj, Iran.
Ararat-tehran/Wikimedia, CC BY-NC

 

Important private residences in Tehran are also at risk of destruction. In the affluent Zaferanieh neighbourhood, these include the former home of Queen Turan, the wife of Reza Shah (father or Iran’s last shah), and a villa frequented by Forough Farrokhzad, an Iranian poetess and film director of the 1960s, as well as the Panahi House, which was designed by the French architect Roland Dubrulle.

Villa Namazee

Villa Namazee is probably the most iconic of all the endangered contemporary structures. Designed by Milan-based architect and industrial designer Giovanni Ponti (1891-1979), one of the leading figures of Postwar Italian modernism (and the founder of Domus magazine), the villa has an open plan, a suspended roof and external openings protected by wide overhanging eaves.

View of the internal courtyard at Villa Namazee.
© Gio Ponti Archive

 

Ponti, who built Italy’s first skyscraper, was known for his value of classical order, integrity of building materials, new production techniques and sensitivity to designing around both human need and environmental conditions.

In 1957, he was commissioned by the wealthy Namazee family to design a residence in the affluent Niavaran district to the north of Tehran’s foothills, in collaboration with Fausto Melotti (1901-1986) and Paolo De Poli (1905-1996). The house has sliding doors and internal windows that offer full cross-views, and it demonstrates the same inventive joie de vivre style as Ponti’s projects in Caracas, Venezuela (the Villa Planchart and the Villa Arreaza).

Facade of the Villa Namazee.
© Gio Ponti Archive.
Interior of the Villa Namazee.
© Gio Ponti Archive.

 

In 2007, Villa Namazee was registered as national heritage, but it was acquired by a new owner four years ago and removed from the list, paving the way for the construction of a 20-storey luxury hotel.

Porti’s other work in the Middle East was the office of the ministry of planning in Baghdad, built in 1957. Its enormous outdoors portico and greyish blue ceramic tiles were partly destroyed in the Iraq war.

Why do we need to save modern heritage?

When the government removes historic structures such as the Villa Namazee from its national heritage list, it demonstrates a worrisome privileging of certain moments in its past over others that also have cultural value.

Many Iranians remain attached to these modernist symbols, and there have been significant efforts to save them in recent years. Some Iranian activists, calling themselves the People’s Committee for Conservation of Historical Houses in Tehran, have launched a website defending Tehran’s landmarks.

Public outcry against the plan to raze the Villa Namazee has been fierce. Petitions to save it were circulated globally and supported by UNESCO and the Germany-based International Committee for Documentation, and the Conservation of Buildings and Sites and Neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement, among other international organisations. This well-publicised case may also help save other modern buildings in the future.

An anonymous group has started a conservation effort to protect historic homes in Tehran.
THHC

 

The ConversationThe destruction of such structures erases all signs of contemporary Tehran’s modernist heritage. Mid-century residences and office buildings are not only physical links to a time when Iran opened its doors to the West, they are also memories of the aristocrats of the past regime, and of radical poets and writers and intellectuals, whose ways of life are much less visible in Iran today.

Asma Mehan, Research Fellow at Deakin University and PhD Candidate at Politecnico di Torino, Politecnico di Torino

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Is Democracy Dying?

War is never a good thing; its impact is always catastrophic no matter what the purpose is, and yet the warring parties still view war as a “solution”. To us, the main reason why the world still witnesses war is because we humans are still territorial beings. The territory itself is much more than just geographical; it stretches to politics, economy, technology, and religion. When any territory is felt threatened, people respond in many ways, and often irrationally. So we agree with John Steinbeck, one of the greats in American literature, who once said,”All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.”

Following the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, globalization seemed to be embraced as the way to world peace. Along with it, democracy and sense of freedom seemed to flourish everywhere. Today, democracy is still at center stage, but it is viewed and practiced as a mechanism that divides rather than unites people. Democracy respects and upholds diversity within the frame of unity. So if the frame transforms into disunity, is democracy still relevant to our lives?

France, reaffirming her national identity:
liberté, égalité, fraternité

[Jakarta, LttW]. After months of uncertainty and anxiety, the French people have finally spoken, and the world hears their voice loud and clear! Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric Macron forged a historic and landslide win in recent French Presidential election, not only because he leads the youngest political party (En Marche!) to a victory, but also becomes the youngest President of France ever. What’s more, Macron defeated the much-feared far right thoughts and movement led by the Front National Party’s candidate Marine Le Pen.

Since the establishment of En Marche! Macron has received numerous political endorsements coming from array of supporters that include the eco movement party Écologistes!, centrist political party Mouvement Démocrate (MoDem), socialists, and also the French Muslims. Even so, Macron is yet to assemble majority support in the Parliament to implement his campaign promises. Macron himself, in his victory speech, promises to reunite the divisive France.

As for Europe, another battle between the globalist and nationalist is going to take place once again in Germany’s federal election in September, 2017. After two major wins in Netherlands and France, we’ll see if the globalist can do the same in Germany.

In the meantime, saluer les gens de France pour défendre sa véritable identité nationale :
la liberté, l’égalité, et la fraternité ! et félicitations monsieur Macron ! It’s time to replace the Front National’s campaign motto “On est chez nous” with “C’est notre véritable maison!”
Keep marching En Marche! (desk)

How electro and techno could help to revolutionise school music lessons

Pete Dale, Manchester Metropolitan University

For many British children, the music they grow up listening to with friends, family, parents and relatives is often not reflected in school music lessons. So while their teacher is trying to get them to listen to Mozart, Bach or Beethoven, back home in their bedrooms the radio is often tuned into a very different station. The Conversation

Improving access to classical music for children from deprived backgrounds has been a priority for music education and rightly so. Because there is no good reason why the daughter of a brick layer or the son of a shop assistant shouldn’t be enthralled by Mozart.

But it is likely that for a lot of these students, rather than Chopin or Vivaldi, they will be much more familiar with a musical education in hardcore electronic dance music (EDM).

For these young people, this is “our music”, and overlooking this in school music lessons misses an opportunity to help these pupils engage with something they are already naturally interested in.

Hardcore electronic dance music has great potential for student engagement.
Pexels.

 

For a lot of these kids, they’ve grown up with this music – their aunties, brothers and friends are into it, too. And their parents were probably ravers in the heyday of “acid house” or the subsequent years when “happy hardcore” and other forms of harsh, repetitive EDM provided the soundtrack for the lives of countless young people.

School music lessons, however, very rarely even acknowledge the existence of such music within British culture. In many schools, coverage of dance music might stretch from the Galliard or the Pavan to Disco via the Viennese Waltz, but no further in most cases.

Modern music making

Serious engagement with rave and post-rave EDM in the classroom is rare in the extreme. Even your classic mainstream dance music seems to be way off the agenda in most schools.

This much was clear to me when I provided training on using DJ decks in music teaching for a group of Teach First trainee teachers back in 2013.

Teach First sees young graduates recruited into tough, under-performing, inner-city schools for their first teaching placements. And yet despite the strong prevalence of youth culture and niche music scenes in many of these cities – grime in London or bassline in Sheffield – none of these young teachers had seen such equipment used in the schools where they were on placements.

Bassline in Sheffield.
Facebook

 

This was with one exception: one trainee admitted that his school had DJ decks but, disappointingly, he explained that they were never removed from the cupboard where they were gathering dust as “nobody knows what to do with them”.

Face the music

I, too, had little or no experience of using DJ decks when I became a secondary school music teacher in 2003. MC rapping was alien to me and I had never been much of an enthusiast of EDM.

But because of the inner-city character of the North East of England school I was working in, I soon realised that a large minority of the learners were passionate about a form of happy hardcore EDM known as “makina”. This is a sub genre of hardcore techno – which originates in Spain. It is similar to UK hardcore, and it includes elements of bouncy techno and hardtrance.

The bulk of the pupils that were into this type of music at my school were considered to be some of the most disaffected and “at risk” learners. But I actually learned much of what I now know about DJing and MCing from these young people.

A makina rave in Newcastle.
Monta Musica Facebook

 

I also made a little effort to learn from expert local DJs and MCs about this form of music-making and the attendant skills so that I could give it coverage in my lessons.

I have seen first hand the transformative effect the use of DJing and MCing in the classroom can have upon learners. And yet the creative use of DJ decks coupled with MC rapping – an international musical tradition for around 40 years – is barely recognised as a musical discipline even in many of the inner-city schools.

Conversations with the large US provider of music education Little Kids Rock have indicated that a similar situation pertains across the US.

Lost in music

While this kind of music gets some coverage in pupil referral units and youth clubs, and some schools employ visiting specialists for extra-curricular learning, it is extremely rare to find it employed in mainstream classrooms for everyday lessons with the regular music teacher. But given the availability of more affordable technology such as “DJ controllers” and CD decks, this situation may hopefully begin to improve.

Making our classrooms relevant to students is vitally important, because if
school feels culturally alien and alienating – as indeed it does for a significant minority of typically inner-city youth – then as educators we are leaving behind a whole group of keen and passionate music lovers.

Engaging pupils with music they know and love is one way to make school feel more familiar and more welcoming. And it could even help to change a few stereotypes about what “types of people” listen to “what types of music” in the process.

Pete Dale, Senior Lecturer in Popular Music, Manchester Metropolitan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.