The south elevation of the rejuvenated building.
The south elevation of the rejuvenated building.

Studio Davazdah transforms a 1960s home into a cultural hub in Teheran

Now housing the Kaarmaan Business Club, the renovation project exemplifies contextually-sensitive design

Iranian architecture practice Studio Davazdah, run by Niloofar Niksar, has recently completed the renovation work of a once abandoned home located in Tehran’s Shemiran neighbourhood.

While the Kaarmaan Business Club now consists of numerous spaces open to the public, such as a library, presentation hall, atelier, events spaces and a café, it was originally built in the 1960s and designed using elements of traditional Iranian architecture including orosi (stained glass window), pointed arches, vaults, panjdari (a five-windowed, large room facing a courtyard), and a howz-khaneh (a shallow and centrally positioned symmetrical axis pool positioned in the middle of a living space).

The pop-up space. 

“Although the architectural plan of the house and the function of its spaces follow the prevalent typology of the time, its figurative form offers an alternative portrait of such functions, addressing us in its own particular language,” said Niksar. “Focusing on this language in terms of form and content, we tried to construct an architectural narrative. This approach not only encouraged and motivated the design and execution teams, but also immediately guided our architectural ideas towards the demands of the project.”

Niksar added that as the house was converted into a public space, its zones changed in definition and function – the concierge’s room became the café, the terrace became the library, the garage became the reception and the boiler room became a common room for staff. Due to neglect over the past few decades, the building’s mechanical and electrical facilities required extensive renovations, said Niksar. Additionally, minor structural repairs were also needed, particularly for the eaves.

The lobby in the howz-khaneh. The pointed arches of the vaults were delineated by cladding the background with brick.

“The design strategy to rebuild involved using the skyline of Iranian style buildings,” said Niksar. “This considerably helped highlight the Iranian form of the façade. The eaves were then lined with flower boxes, which not only reinforced the necessary tensile force, but also adorned the building’s skyline with greenery. The boxes contain hanging plants, intended to cover the added eaves over time.”

While the house features two doors – the north door previously served as an entrance for the residents, while the south door was used to let vehicles in and out – the redesign transferred the main entrance to the south door, as the courtyard made for a welcoming entry. The architects then added a glass box to the façade, drawing visual emphasis on the entrance, as well as conceptually suggesting the act of stepping into a public space.

“The one space that mattered most to the design team was the howz-khaneh,” said Niksar. “Despite its inaccurate angles and scale, and the poor quality of its finish, the howz-khaneh had the capacity, in terms of form and function, to serve as the perfect point of departure in defining the indoor space of the house. Therefore, openings were made in the western and eastern walls of the howz-khaneh in a way that the relative position of the horizontal axis to vertical access developed connections among the entrance, the lounge and the café. It was at the convergence of these axes that the howz could assume its significant identity.”

The mirror-like hollow was intended to reflect the play of colour and light produced by the stained-glass windows, added Niksar, and its octagonal platform in the centre served as an emblem, evoking the traditional form of the Iranian howz. Furthermore, to improve the visual impression of the howz-khaneh, the pointed arches of the vaults were distinguished from the background so that they would stand out in the space. Choosing brick as the material for the surrounding walls, the architects created a textured and colourful background that brought out the white vaults.

The glass box draws attention to the main entrance on the south, as well as suggests the act of stepping into a public space.

On the first floor, a hall resembling the form of the panjdari features a different remodelling strategy, which was employed to meticulously preserve the spatial elements. This space underwent minor changes, including the arrangement of furniture and lighting that modified it to suit its new function. On the southern terrace, kinetic and animated sequences were designed by colouring the vaults and casting decorated friezes in relief. In addition to creating an attractive view, this helped the façade, lending significance to its dents.

The event hall and the southern terrace.

To the north of the second floor, there was a closed, roofed balcony which could not become an open space due to the noise pollution of the nearby highway and needed soundproofing. However, the limited project budget did not allow for equipping this space with coloured windows. The design team opted to turn the openings into transparent bookcases; thus, acoustic insulation was achieved through an inexpensive solution that also provided a fair portion of light and view and included diverse colours and furniture that was designed to resemble more of a home office. The fourth room was demolished to provide the necessary space for a lounge and a small kitchen where people could spend their breaks and lunchtime breaks.

“Studio Davazdah believes that the most important step in the process of renovation is to achieve a fuller understanding of the context of the site,” said Niksar. “The art of architecture is the art of forming a dialogue with this context. And what is meant by ‘context’ transcends the geographical and geometric features of the project site, and goes on to include the social framework and the function intended by the client.”

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