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Design Narrative : Architecture Developments

International Architecture Discussion by Lee Miles

7 Sep 2010

Design Narrative


Design Narrative, Architecture Designs: Lee Miles
Lee Miles


The first project of two is Tehransar urban development, Tehran. A western fringe area of Tehran the area has a profound history of industry and enterprise. The design produced is by Dr Armin Daneshgar as his studio considers the best manner in which to regenerate the area as a new social and economic enterprise.

Tehransar Project, Tehran, Iran
Daneshgar Architects
Tehransar Project Tehran
picture from the architects

The Tehransar project represents a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of Iranian design, and add another chapter to its long lineage, I hope its potential is reached and its native culture is retained, rather than overwritten. The project itself looks hugely ambitious, but also very realistic. Credit is surely due here to the architects for finding the correct balance between the idealistic, and the pragmatic.

In this sense it is a progressive piece, one that hints at the future of Tehran as growing city. And for this reason alone the project is absolutely vital. Visually the sinuous sweeps and angular landscape create an interesting and dynamic language. Aesthetically pleasing I’m sure this would provoke a sense of pride and joy from the residents, and envious glances from its neighbours.

Aside from the lack of regional relativity the design as explained seems to hinge around principles of modernism. The zoned areas appear like mechanical components of a great machine. But to consider an urban, inhabited, environment, as a mechanical entity has its perils. Throughout the 1950s oil rich South America appropriated the ideas of Le Corbusier, and CIAM, and applied them to their cities. Years later as urban living changed this met with disastrous results.

Cities such as Brasilia are now burdened by this preference; the great spans of distance too far for any pedestrian to traverse, a dependence on the automobile, and zones of development too static and fixed to adapt to change. The Tehransar urban design should refer back to this perhaps, and reflect upon the lessons learned. In terms of logistics it seems well served by cable car and footpaths, and the geometry of the buildings is powerful and inspiring. But the large scale spans of land, the divide created by adding water, and the zoned top down approach, could be better refined to better create an epitome of Iranian urban design.

Iran has far greater heritage and history than most of its more famous, younger, Middle Eastern cousins. With a pre-history that narrowly supersedes the cradle of civilization that was ancient Mesopotamia, the republic has substantial architectural heritage. To neglect this would be a shame, and I am surprised to see this level of regionalism omitted from the project. The resulting visuals imply a distinctly generic style. In such sensitive projects emphasis must be upon a controlled dialogue of cultural exchange. Adopting a westernised approach is one way of handling the design; it is of course very valid and may appease the aspirational tastes of residents. But to really capitalise on the unique opportunity, and to empower the population with a unique identity may require a more organic and regionalised philosophy.

The most prominent and foremost observation, I feel, is it’s unfortunate lack of cultural identity as communicated via the visuals. The renders present an ambiguous environment, it is difficult to perceive how such benefits as high standards of living, working, studying & entertaining manifest, but also exist within the daily society of Tehransar. This unfortunately undermines the true valuable nature of the project. I am certain consideration has been paid to keeping the design relevant and contextualised, but with such a culturally significant site, the potential it represents is too incredible to go underused.

In an area as rich and animated as Tehran perhaps a more sophisticated and sensitive approach is needed, or at least portrayed through accurate visuals. However I feel this is a firm step forward, with strong conviction. To paraphrase Walter Gropius, architecture is often a great barometer of democracy. Architecture of this scale has the power to invoke real optimism, and I really hope the project is implemented with due consideration to the cultural identity it seeks to synchronize with, and further develops the urban landscape of Tehran.

Tehransar Project


The second project is that of the Kuokkala church. A simple yet elegant design overseen by Lassila Hirvilammi Architects.

Kuokkala Church, Finland
Lassila Hirvilammi Architects
Kuokkala Church Building
photograph : Jussi Tianen / Mikko Auerniitty

The Kuokkala church project succeeds in fulfilling one of the most important elements of what can be rationalised as good architecture: it appeals to the most primitive senses of the inhabitant; it connects with them at an emotional level, provoking thought and meditation. In a structure as transcendent and ephemeral as a place of spiritual reflection this is undoubtedly a major requirement. But so much can be said about the project that adds to its position as a premier example of modern evocative architecture.

Competing against the formidable shadow of Alvar Aalto, the great grandfather of Nordic Modernist design the project does sufficiently well. It certainly makes no attempt to gravitate consensus towards a new methodology of design, especially when you consider the architectural merits of both the Kuokkla church and Aalto’s own prominent Imatra church are very similar. But when austerity and subtle elegance are high up the wishlist of both stakeholder and designer, it is inevitable the qualities of both projects will overlap, and comparisons will be drawn. Although they are both Lutheran in mission the Imatra is largely asymmetrical, whereas the Kuokkala is far more balanced and evenly distributed, but both appear significantly radical and unique.

Within much of the Western world churches have often been utilised as showpieces for structural and technological development, from the craftsmanship of stained glass windows to the vast spans made possible by barrel and groin vaulting techniques, modern design owes much to the development, and reintroduction, of structural elements popularised through churches. Few spaces receive such financial backing, or are created to provoke such strong feelings, as churches or ecclesiastical buildings. The Jyväskylä church continues this tradition of subtle innovation.

The tightly engineered wooden membrane creates a continuous and wide void, reflecting perhaps a modern update of fan vaulting techniques. Admittedly perhaps the great vertical chasm is not as tall as its Romanesque predecessors, but glulam timber is still a somewhat underappreciated entity in the structural palettes of most designers. The potential of this material particularly when combined with CNC cutting technology, will possibly lead to a new mainstream structural system. Not only can the elements be precision cut and crafted, but also they can be implemented and fitted with ease.

But to assume the project is thoroughly modern or even perpetually yielding of new technology or elements of design would be a misconception. As modern as the piece may seem, as the architects themselves has noted, it adheres crucially to established traditions and conventions, some of which are incredibly understated and slight. It is this fine balance struck between referencing the past, and suggesting the future, that adds to the allure of this scheme.

The fact that materials have been locally sourced, and painstakingly applied to fit within the correct historical context, adds so much depth to this project. The silhouette of the building develops from the established modest model of Finnish Lutheran churches, but also distorts it slightly. The intentional discrepancy between exterior form and interior volume is an interesting facet, with voids created where the unexpected soft arch sits inside the angular exterior frame. The irregular shapes also breaks from the conformed perception that order and harmony in churches are of paramount concern.

The implications of the church long-term upon the local and larger society will be fascinating to observe. In a country whose theological subscription swings heavily between a large Evangelical Lutheran majority coexisting alongside a rapidly rising contingent of those declaring themselves of no religious affiliation, the role this church will play is important.

Will it galvanise other institutions to follow suit and adopt a slightly more controlled, but nonetheless creative approach to creating sanctuary? Or will its toned down moderation be interpreted as sign the church is willingly or unwittingly being diluted, or simply just more reverent, of other denominations and faiths. If modernism stripped out all romantic notions of sensibility and tradition in design, what becomes of the most precious and emotionally engaging spaces? The Kuokalla church, and the projects that agree to follow or choose to reverse its template, will provide a sound indication of this.

Kuokkala Church

Design Narrative : Architecture Developments Discusson by Lee Miles, Architect.

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