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Free Content Urbanism of Grandiosity: Planning a New Urban Centre for Tehran (1973–76)

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In the 1970s a grand-scale ceremonial urban centre, with an extensive programme of governmental, commercial and residential buildings, was planned for north Tehran. Construction began in 1975, but was soon halted by the eruption of the street protests that led to the 1979 revolution. This essay analyses the project’s conception, socio-political underpinnings and ultimate failure, by contextualizing it within Tehran’s urban landscape and by tracing its design trajectory. As a grandiose project made possible by the oil boom, the final plan of Shahestan, drawn up by the planning firm Llewelyn-Davies International, not only reflects the megalomania of Mohammad Reza Shah (r. 1941–79) but also reveals the totalitarian nature of the Pahlavi regime in the 1970s. But prior to hiring the planning firm, Queen Farah supported a rival design by the internationally famous architects Louis Kahn and Kenzo Tange, who were indeed involved in the project for a few months before Kahn’s death in 1974. I argue that this duality of patronage, and all the oppositions that it embodies, is echoed in the gendered representation of monarchy in the final plan and signifies how the project subverts a liberal narrative of modernism. Moreover, the new urban centre was not at the city’s physical core but rather at the centre of its northern part – the locus of an expanding upper middle class. The discrepancy between the intended purpose of the project and the social realities of its urban context epitomizes the regime’s paradoxical approach to modernity and modernization.
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Keywords: Abbasabad; Louis Kahn; Mohammad Reza Shah; Queen Farah; Shahestan Pahlavi; Tehran

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Harvard University

Publication date: March 1, 2014

More about this publication?
  • The International Journal of Islamic Architecture (IJIA) is intended for those interested in urban design and planning, architecture, and landscape design in the historic Islamic world, encompassing the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, but also the more recent geographies of Islam in its global dimensions. The main emphasis is on detailed analysis of the practical, historical and theoretical aspects of architecture, with a focus on both design and its reception. The journal is also specifically interested in contemporary architecture and urban design in relation to social and cultural history, geography, politics, aesthetics, technology, and conservation. Spanning across cultures and disciplines, IJIA seeks to analyze and explain issues related to the built environment throughout the regions covered. The cross-cultural and interdisciplinary nature of this journal will significantly contribute to the knowledge in this field.

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