Project of the Week: Imam Reza Complex, Tehran, Iran
Multi-use developments are some of the most challenging projects for architects. Ensuring a cohesive vision is established, despite numerous factors, including practicality and cross-generation appeal, can prove difficult.
The Imam Reza complex, designed by local firm Kalout Architect Studio and located in the cultural zone of Iran’s capital Tehran, shows how a central theme can really bring a building to life without compromising on the space’s practical requirements.
Correlations, connections and interrelationships between different social groups and demographics was the main influence on the design of the Imam Reza complex, algonside various religious considerations. Essentially a cultural centre, the building consists of a number of functional zones including:
• A mosque
• An art gallery
• A bookstore/coffee shop
• An amphitheatre
• An IT Centre
The main space, or “Shabestan”, best encapsulates the unifying qualities of the complex. This was “shaped by the idea of interlocking hands as a symbol of unity and social cohesion”, according to the architects. Images of conjoined cogs are also conjured with the innovative glass and brick main space, in keeping with the complex’s central theme.
As this is a religious space, the Shabestan acts as the focal point of the complex’s design. Breath-taking grandeur is still afforded, as a religious area deserves, while providing a space for the community’s worshippers to experience a connection with each other and Islam a whole – highlighting the complex’s theme of interrelationships.
A variety of underground spaces ensures the complex’s above-ground footprint is kept relatively minimal without impacting on styling or practicality. Underground areas were typical of architecture in Ancient Persia, where modern day Iran is now situated, so this keeps the theme of connections in the spotlight. In this instance, the connection is with Iran’s architectural past.
Beautiful Islamic art and writing adorns almost every surface of the Imam Reza complex. Much of the writing is devotional, in keeping with the building’s religious significance. In fact, many of the materials used are to represent Islamic ideals of transference to “fulfil the immemorial ambition to connect with the Creator”.
Kalout used bricks in the corridors, artistically arranged, alongside glass to “express the symbolic ascending movement from earth to light”. The glass covering the main dome is handmade and engraved with religious scriptures. Beginning with prayers at ground level, to forge a face-to-face connection, they ascend skyward to the Shabestan’s peak further highlighting the transcendent importance of the space.
In terms of exteriors, the presence of water allows for greater transparency. Water also adds a sense of tranquillity to the complex, which is ideal due to the philosophical, contemplative and spiritual significance inherent in the space.
The design of the Imam Reza complex is further informed by ideas of shared memories. By utilising traditional art, and old Persian architectural features such as sunken gardens and underground rooms, a connection with the nation’s rich heritage is achieved. Collectively, these small features highlight something much greater – the shared conceptual and cultural elements that permeate Iranian society at all levels.
Architecturally unique, thematically cohesive and ultimately practical, the Imam Reza complex is a totally unique space. Kalout Architect Studio has pulled off a winning combination of form and functionality, in keeping with the building’s main theme – connections – which is makes it our latest Project of the Week.
© Parham Taghiof
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