A Future for the Past


A Future for the Past offers a bold, compassionate vision for revitalizing a dilapidated, low-income 13.5-acre site in the historic inner city of Tehran through public spaces and building types. The goal is to strengthen social capital and generate economic activity through urban strategies and design.

The project area is the heart of the city, which historically was built with courtyard housing— much of which has been replaced by newer, taller structures like apartment buildings. These buildings have damaged the usefulness of courtyards and homes to Muslim women, who can now be seen by strangers. “I never can pull back the curtains because the opposite units have a view towards our unit. Sitting in the dark all day is stifling,” explains one 30-year old housewife.

The student designer, Parisa Mir Sadeghi, sought to recreate the unique characteristics of historic Tehran neighborhoods “while accommodating the changes that have occurred in people’s lifestyles over time,” Sadeghi explains. The project set forth three goals: to prevent further destruction of the area, to avoid displacement of the local population through incremental improvements that enhance a sense of community and boost the economy, and to create a model for a sustainable new neighborhood that is more livable, walkable, and human-scale than car-oriented suburbs.

Future for the Past Tehran Overview
An overview of the project.

The suggested new building types, with apartments and loggias, maintain the same building-to-height ratio as the old courtyard buildings. Valuable historic buildings are preserved, while some of the dilapidated buildings in this area are recommended for demolition to make way for new buildings and public spaces. A doubling of density in new buildings makes development feasible, and the plan includes a community-based finance strategy for construction.

Parking lots are located on the project edge, and no parking spaces and garages are considered inside the neighborhood—a strategy that also allows more density.

New public spaces are open for general use, but the design lends a sense of belonging to the immediate residents. This reinforces the safety through eyes on the street.

To improve air ventilation, “wind catchers” are combined with stairways. With permeable surfaces, the public courtyards also collect surface water. Privacy concerns, particularly for women, are addressed throughout the design. The result is a feasible, community-oriented plan for urban infill development that can be realized through local financing.

Top photo: An aerial of the project.

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