ALIREZA TAGHABONI PORTRAYED THREE PRINCIPALS THAT BIND TOGETHER THE CORE THINKING OF NEXTOFFICE WHICH AIMS TO DRIFT AROUND THE PARALLEL LIVES OF IRANIANS
Before we even began asking him any questions, Alireza Taghaboni, architect and founder of nextoffice, started explaining the three ‘aspects’ of practicing the profession of architecture in Iran. The first aspect is a definition of the sense of standing between, with one pillar being the architects and the second the government and the state’s view on the country’s architecture. “If we want our architecture to surpass traditional Islamic architecture, which serves as this big umbrella with its radius spreading over the visions of the people working for the government, we have to know where we stand and find that gap so that we can propose something different.”
For Iranian architects, what is unavoidable but can be understood and criticized is the emergence and omnipresence of mundane architectural creations in Tehran and other cities of Iran. The overly ornamented, lack-of-imagination works are produced only as merchandise that can be bought and sold, worthlessly serving the never-ending supply and demands of Capitalism.
“We need to interpret the western architectural language and apply it to our own cultural context,” said Taghaboni who is now in his forties. “Certainly, we cannot deny it but with the accumulated differences in the lifestyles and culture, we may not be able to share the problems that the west is having. So to pick up western architecture without any interpretation and understanding is something you shouldn’t do.”
The three aspects are derived entirely from Taghaboni’s experiences working in a great number of offices and the tens of design competitions he entered before the foundation of nextoffice in 2010. He recalled the time before nextoffice had the ability to hire 30 employees with several projects ranging from residential to public in his hands, describing that he went through a great deal of self-learning in order to get his ideas across and accepted. Even today, he still thinks that nextoffice will have to come up with solutions for its designs in regards to the three aspects he mentioned earlier, which are themselves dynamically changing, for even the conditions that define and give birth to a government are not always unanimous. Older generations of architects working with the government change their points of view over time, particularly when it comes to political beliefs and movements. One example is the Arab Spring movement that was initiated seven years ago by the Green Movement in Tehran, which was one of the biggest demonstrations the country has seen since the revolution in 1979. But the movement has shifted its direction due to the generation aging and the gaining of a greater understanding of conditions as they choose to live a parallel life between a coexistence of, and the differences between, private and public spaces.
WE NEED TO INTERPRET THE WESTERN ARCHITECTURAL LANGUAGE AND APPLY IT TO OUR OWN CULTURAL CONTEXT
Taghaboni further explained that public space is not among the government’s top priorities, for the physical presence of such space can be associated with the fact that people are being given too much freedom of expression. There are also religious limitations and laws that come into play as it becomes reasonable why Iranians choose to create their own worlds within their own living and private spaces where they enjoy and engage in activities that reflect their interests and identities. But at the same time, they embrace and interact with public spaces like a breath of fresh air.
Sharifi-ha House is among the many examples in nextoffice’s portfolio that bespeaks Taghaboni’s point of view. The terraces of all three floors of the house can be adjusted to face and interact with the outside surroundings at the owner’s wish. With currently underconstruction projects like Safadasht Villa, one can notice an enclosed mass of space where the private area of the house is located. This particular mass whimsically floats above the spacious and airy interior. Even Taghaboni’s earlier works such as Kouhsar Villa is a manifestation of the coexistence of the enclosure and openness of the space through the paradoxical language and form, which the architect reaffirms as the physical representation of his creativity.
As the conversation led us to a discussion about the project of such aforementioned nature, we cannot help but wonder how he’s able to present the idea and concept to the owners of these projects and houses in Tehran, especially when considering their familiarity with and preference for the kind of popular contemporary architecture we see everywhere in Tehran. Taghaboni said that this is the kind of ‘gap’ he’s been talking about and mentioned how important it is for architects to find and utilize such space in order to get their ideas across. His explanation behind the potential for architects to create works using such gap is the importance Iranian people give to education over money. The children who receive the highest education and are the more successful academically are also the most respected and appreciated. With an architect being one of the professions that is widely respected for its expertise in skills and knowledge, an architect’s successful presentation of ideas that are viewed as both practical and suitable for each project’s capacity and potential can eventually result in the actual birth and completion of the project.
TEXT: NARONG OTHAVORN