Tehran’s Ecological Corridors

Last week I have interviewed Sara Kamalvand at the radio. The purpose of my telephone call was to discover how Tehran, one of the biggest city between Istanbul and Mumbai, has experimented the export of the american urban model.

Indeed, its expansion was designed in the 1960‘s by Los Angeles architect Victor Gruen. His Modernist master-plan placed a grid of over three hundred kilometers of inner city highways omitting systematically the topography and erasing a thousand-year old urban heritage based on water management.
The city had evolved in the axis of a central waterway becoming its spinal cord before it sprawled into a territory seven times its size in a short time span of thirty years. In fact, before its Modernist expansion, Tehran like all other Iranian cities in the desert, was dependent on its adjacent mountain for water. An ancient irrigation network called the quanattapped water from the foothill at the bed of the waterways creating a linear network between mountain city and agricultural plain.
In 2005 a new master-plan was commissioned by the state to architect Hadi Mirmiran which offered an opportunity to revise the city but this time through a local vision, grounded in persian culture and its focus the art of the garden as an archetype. The new master-plan which has now become an official document, is a strategy to rethink the city through its watershed by the irrigation of five urban corridors which borrow the traces of the old rivers and cross the site from the mountains to the desert.
BSG, the firm created to produce the master-plan, analyzed in detail these waterways and their relationship to the urban and ecological context. The proposed corridors offer the opportunity to create an ecological network where nature and urban space come together to restructure the city in an imbrication of scales. A hybridization of uses positioned in strategic points in relation to the flow of water will create new passages between restrained urban archipelagoes of the highway-scape. But unfortunately today these corridors are no longer regarded as an architectural project on water the way it was originally intended by Hadi Mirmiran. The architect’s passing away in 2007 in a long struggle against bone cancer has left the project without a strong direction. But the vision is still there and perhaps a new generation of architects, landscape architects, and urban planners concerned with environmental issues will acknowledge the relevance of these corridors and work to implement this ambitious and very poetic project in their city.

Sara Kamalvand is an architect and urban planner based in Toronto Canada. She worked as head of the design team with BSG and Hadi Mirmiran in Tehran, after which she published “Tehran 2050” an award winning academic thesis at ESA Paris. Her project was recently part of the Hydrocity exhibition in Toronto.

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