Category Archives: Architecture

Kariz-e Kish: An underground city in Kish Island, Iran

A stone doorway opens up into a maze of walled passages and clear openings that is now partly open for tourists. It is actually an ancient underground aqueduct in Kish, a resort island in Hormozgan Province, in the Persian Gulf.

The kariz of Kish is said to have been built about 2500 years ago by the inhabitants of Harireh City. They stroked the coralline layers of the island in search of water and built the qanat to channel fresh water to their homes and farms. For centuries afterwards, this water not only relieved the thirst of the local residents, but by exporting it to neighboring states, they bartered it for sugar or cash.

Before the Roman aqueduct, the people of pre-Islamic Iran had developed their own hydraulic system called kariz (qanat). The technology spread then eastward to Afghanistan and westward to Egypt. A qanat taps underground mountain water sources trapped in and beneath the upper reaches of alluvial fans and channels the water downhill through a series of gently sloping tunnels, often several kilometres long, to the places where it is needed for irrigation and domestic use. Although new qanats are seldom built today, many old qanats are still used in Iran and Afghanistan, mainly for irrigation.

The ancient water management system in Kish collected water from 274 wells in an area of 14km² and conducted the water to a central refining shaft filled with three layers of filter material. The top layer was coral gravel which was used to neutralize the acids in the water and filter bigger solids in the water. Then a layer of coral grit with clay was filtering fine solids, and the lowest layer was made of marl, a special sort of clay.

Sixteen meters below the coral island, the tunnels, which have been reinforced for safety, snake through the island for over five miles, creating a subterranean world. Its ceilings, once a seabed, are eight meters high and mostly covered by fossilized shells and corals. Tests conducted on these fossils at the Technical University of Munich, Germany, determined that they are from 53 to 570 million years old.

Kish has a history of about 3.000 years, over this time it has been called under various names such as Kamtina, Arakia, Arakata, and Ghiss. The island has an estimated population of 26.000 residents and about one million visitors annually.

Kish Underground City is located at the Olympics Square, on the intersection of three aqueducts with 74 wells over an area of 10km². Efforts have been made to preserve the traditional and historic fabric of this site while providing new uses with museums, art galleries, handicraft workshops, traditional and modern tea and coffee shops for tourists. Nevertheless, the developers have not forgotten its ancient function; the kariz is again fulfilling its role as a water filter, although the filtered water is used mainly for irrigation purposes.

Sources: Ancient Origins, Atlas Obscura, Daily Mail, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Facebook @Kariz.Kish, Fars News, Flickr @ashkan-kankash, Flickr @maissam, Flickr @watoo-watoo, Hamgardi, Hidden and little known places, Historical Iran, ISNA, Kish Underground City, Mehr News Agency (MNA) 1, MNA 2, Panoramio @Nasser Emami, Tasnim News Agency (TNA) 1, TNA 2, Tishineh, Untold Iran, Wikipedia, Young Journalists Club

Orsi Khaneh – A’Design Award winner: Modern stained glass meets Iranian tradition (Photos)

Orsi Khaneh Residential Apartment in Tehran, has won a bronze A’Design award in the category of Architecture, Building and Structure Design, 2015-2016.

Brothers Nima and Sina Keivani based the design of the seven-storey block on elements commonly found in traditional Iranian architecture. The architects particularly wanted to reinterpret the orsi window, a type of sash window with latticed woodwork and coloured glass typically used to help reduce sunlight and heat, and repel insects in the hot climate. This inspired the project name Orsi Khaneh.

The street-facing facade is made from a double layer of heat-treated timber, inset with panes of stained glass and planting that not only serve as a decorative element but also help to control temperature. Matching slatted sunshades can be raised over the windows to provide further control of sunlight.

The appearance is in part inspired by a pair of historic residences with intricately moulded and patterned facades – Borujerdi’s House and Tabatabaei’s House, located in the Iranian city of Kashan.

At the back of the building, recessed balconies overlooking a small ramped courtyard are framed in the same pale stonework. The courtyard provides access to underground parking and is decorated with mosaics that form grassy patterns. Wooden flower boxes are mounted on the walls surrounding it as well as sections of the facade, hinting at the vegetated roof terrace, which features manicured flower beds, an outdoor fireplace and a gazebo.

The building was designed in June 2013 and the construction works finished in September 2015 in Tehran.

Project credits:
Architect in charge and supervisor: Nima Keivani / Architect in charge: Sina Keivani
Client: Amir Abbas Taheri / Contractor: Mohammad Mashuf
Design associates: Ladan Mostofi, Akbar Khalaj
Architectural theory consultant: Alireza Kharazmi Nezhad
Ideogram: Maryam Sarshar / Mechanical consultant: Mehdi Bazargahi

Sources: dezeen.com, The Building Centre, iranian-architect.irA’ Design Award (interview), Wikipedia | Orsi window (in Persian), worldarchitecture.org, inhabitat.com

Tehran’s Niavaran Residential Complex – Keeping trees close to people (Photos)

Designed by Iranian architect Mohammad Reza Nikbakht, Niavaran Residential Complex is located in Tehrans, Shemiran area. Shemiran, being spread along Alborz Mountains slope, used to be a summer resort of Tehran until 40 years ago due to its numerous gardens. Unfortunately, many gardens with old trees in the area have been destroyed by urbanization projects over the last century.

The parcel of land allocated to this project accommodates a number of these old trees too, whose conservation has been considered as the first priority in designing this complex. Mohammed Reza Nikbahkt took a different approach by building around existing trees in order to preserve them.

The 6 story building in Niavaran, northern Tehran, has been designed in 5 levels, each accommodating 6 residential appartments, and 3 lower floors for common facilities. The ground floor includes the entrance lobby, building managers office, ceremonies and gatherings hall. The first basement is mainly for a parking lot and store rooms, while the second basement, in addition to a parking lot, includes central heating room, swimming pool, Spa and the gym.

Niavaran Residential Complex by Mohammad Reza Nikbakht won the World Architecture Award (WA Award – Cycle 12).

Sources: Contemporary Architecture of Iran (more photos), greenprophet.com, worldarchitecture.org

Photo series: Winter in Iran – Savadkuh County, Mazandaran

The Veresk Bridge and the Three Golden Lines, a railway spiral passing three times by the same area at different heights are located in Savadkuh County, Mazandaran Province. They are part of the Trans-Iranian Railway, a major railway building project that started in 1927 and completed in 1938. It links the capital Tehran with the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea.

The Danish firm Kampsax began constructing Veresk Bridge in 1934. The structure stands at 110m height and has a 66m long arch. It connects two mountains in the Abbas Abad region.

The construction of this bridge included craftsmen of many nationalities. The name of the bridge is derived from the name of a Czechoslovakian technician whose name was hard to pronounce for Iranians. Near the bridge is a memorial for the workers who lost their life while building the bridge and its nearby tunnels. The Chief Engineer, Austrian Walter Aigner, following his wishes, is buried in the local cemetery of Veresk.

During World War II, it was known as the Pol-e-Piroozi, or the bridge of victory. During the course of the war, Reza Shah was asked by Hitler to blow up all tunnels and bridges, including the Veresk Bridge, on Iran’s railway lines in order to delay the transfer of goods and reinforcement troops to the north for the Russians. He furthermore promised to replace and reconstruct all of such demolished structures following the Germans’ victory in the war. Reza Shah rejected the request. Today trains connecting Tehran to Gorgan or Sari pass over this bridge an average of four times a day.

Sources: Wikipedia | Veresk Bridge, Borna News, highestbridges.com, fouman.com, Wikipedia | Trans-Iranian-Railway

Windcatchers: Ancient and environment friendly Iranian cooling system (Photos)

A  windcatcher or bâdgir (in Persian: bâd “wind” and gir “catcher”) is a traditional Persian architectural element to create natural ventilation in buildings. They have remained present in many countries and can be found in traditional Persian-influenced architecture throughout the Middle East, including in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf (mostly Bahrain and Dubai), Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

Most windcatchers belong to old residential houses, mosques and urban reservoirs, e.g. in Persian architecture they were used as a refrigerating device at traditional water reservoirs (ab anbars) to store water near freezing temperatures in summer. Regardless of its utility, the height and adornments of these windcatchers used to represent the owner’s distinction and social standing.

Recently the windcatcher approach has been adopted in Western architecture, such as in the visitor center at Zion National Park, Utah and at Kensington Oval cricket ground in Barbados.

Below windcatchers in the cities of Yazd and Kashan (Yazd and Isfahan Provinces) by Hamid Najafi for Tasnim News and by Hoda Asghari for Mehr News.

Windcatchers come in various designs: uni-directional, bi-directional, and multi-directional and work pretty much like modern air conditioning system. At the top of the windcatcher are several directional ports – usually four open towards four direction. When the port facing the prevailing wind is opened, air is pushed down the shaft and into the building. At the base of the tower is a pool of water provided by aqueducts called karez (or qanat), over which the air is allowed to pass. As the warm air passes over the surface of the water, the air cools through evaporative cooling. At night, cold air is sucked into the house thereby cooling it naturally.

Windcatchers can also act in reverse. By closing all ports but the one facing away from the incoming wind, air is drawn upwards using a combination of Bernoulli’s Principle and Coanda effect. The negative pressure pulls hot air down into the karez tunnel and is cooled by coming into contact with the cool earth and cold water running through it. At this point, the cooled air is introduced into the building. By facing windcatchers away from the wind, dust and sand blowing in from the desert can also be kept away from buildings.

The evaporative cooling effect is strongest in the driest climates, such as on the Iranian plateau, leading to the ubiquitous use of windcatchers in drier areas such as Yazd, Kerman, Kashan, Sirjan, Nain, and Bam.

Shish-khans (small windcatchers) can still be seen on top of water reservoirs in Qazvin and other northern cities in Iran. These seem to function more as ventilators than as the temperature regulators seen in the central deserts of Iran.

Sources: Tasnim News (Yazd), Mehr News (Kashan), Wikipedia, Historical Iran, Amusing Planet

Iran’s South Khorasan Province: Kolah Farangi, Birjand

The Kolah Farangi Citadel is located in Birjand in South Khorasan Province. It was built during the late Zand and early Qajar era between the years 1848 and 1895. The structure is a unique landmark of Birjand and was constructed by Amir Hassan Khan Sheybani. It consists of the garden, the stable, the bathhouse, the offices, and the reception hall.


The building has a hexagonal base, a white conical top and is six stories high. The main entrance is preceded by a roofed area containing some eye-catching arcs. The interior of the ground floor has a number of different rooms which are connected by hallways. In its center there is a room containing a pool which can be accessed from many different entrances. It is situated approximately a meter lower than the rest of the floor and is octagonal in shape. The pool helps keep optimum ventilation throughout the building.

The Kolah Farangi Citadel is registered as national cultural heritage site number 1880. Today it is used as Southern Khorasan’s governorship offices and storage space.

Sources: Dream of Iran, Historical Iran

Iran’s Isfahan Province: Kashan – Fin Garden Series (2nd photo gallery)

Fin Garden, located in Kashan, Iran, is a historical Persian garden completed in 1590. It is the oldest existing garden in Iran. Unesco declared the garden a World Heritage Site in 2012.

Related post about Bagh-e Fin (Fin Garden) with more information and photos:
The other Iran | Kashan – Fin Garden Series

Sources: Wikipedia | Fin Garden, Mehr News Agency | Photos