An award-winning pair of architects from Iran use the strength and reflective quality of marble in a totally modern way
Abbas Riahi Fard and Farinaz Razavi Nikoo have been working together for six years, ever since they met at the University of Tehran. At most they may have around 10 projects built so far – astonishing, however, is their award-to-building ratio of almost 50 per cent. This architectural duo has certainly made waves at home in Iran, winning the country’s first interior design award for their Givenchy showroom on Kish Island, and winning 2nd prize in the Grand Memar Award 2007 for their textile factory for Ehsanpood.
This year they caught the attention of the international press when they were shortlisted for the World Architecture Festival 2010, and the building that has won them this nomination is an office.
Located on Vali Asr street, supposedly the longest road in the Middle East, the new office sits in Tehran’s city centre, which is full of restaurants, shops and galleries. This location is defined by the buzz of the people and a constant sense of motion from the traffic, and the architects took this dynamic and transported it onto the building facade.
“We always saw the facade of the building as a city skin,” says Farinaz Razavi Nikoo. “That’s why we didn’t want it to be disrupted by different materials. Instead, we aimed to emulate the urban flow by choosing a continuous surface. Then we slashed it and pulled it back towards the core.”
Indeed, the building looks wrapped in overstretched plastic bands, creating the illusion of an actively moving shell. The beauty of the design, however, lies in the connection between this exterior surface and the inside wall. Even the interior resonates the sleek modern dynamism of the marble shell.
“The 15m-long outer walls are covered in Brazilian marble, cut horizontally,” explains Nikoo. “We measured the desired dimensions in our computer drawings to prevent having to cut the stone before finalising the perfect depth.”
The marble was therefore formed before arriving on site. It sits on a reinforced concrete foundation that in turn is supported by a steel base frame.
Walls are then filled with Plastofoam to ensure thermal insulation. The pioneering design feature here – especially in the urban context of Tehran, and Iranian architecture in general, which largely features glass builds or Alucobond cladding – is the innovative approach to stone.
“In Iran, stone is considered classic architecture,” says Nikoo. “With this project we wanted to change the rules and show how this traditional, natural material can be used in a contemporary way.”
The stone slopes also channel light into the building, creating a unique ambience.
Marble was chosen for its durability and “glossiness”. And indeed the sunrays, which shine “a lot” in Tehran, reflect off the white glossy stone, beautifully brightening up the building’s environment – the marble office lights up the side streets.
But aesthetics aside, the reflective quality of stone also decreases energy consumption, a point yet to become standard in Middle Eastern architecture where air conditioning is still seen as the norm. Small openings in the facade minimise the heat (which gets up to 40ºC in summer) entering the building, while in winter they work in reverse by keeping the warmth in.
Inside, the floor is black marble, setting a purist black and white aesthetic against a futuristic facade. The building restrictions only allowed for a two-storey build, but the client also wanted a low-level car park.
Currently a private bank is renting the office, which is predominantly open plan to allow maximum flexibility. It’s encouraging to see such innovative designs breaking through in Iran, and we at onoffice certainly hope that this project wins the WAF2010 prize for best office and inspires more creativity in Iranian architecture.