by Zohra KhanOct 26, 2022
Drivers on the Modares highway of Tehran pass through a corridor of forest-like greenery that is the Abbas-abad grounds; a huge patch of land that stretches from centre to north of Iran’s capital metropolis and is marked by two parks separated by the highway and joined through an iconic pedestrian overpass. Once only empty lands, the Abass-abad fields now house a number of public spaces and cultural centres, unified as one urban project.
Surrounded by Haghani Highway, Hemmat Highway and Taleghani Park is a garden where a number of cultural centres are located. It is lush with short plants and trees to ensure the flora does not interfere with the façade of the architectures.
The first major project is the Tehran Book Garden, its function and design has been the subject of much debate since 2005. As the most important cultural event of the country, the location of Tehran International Book Fair has always been a subject of dispute and Tehran Book Garden was initially planned to be an end to it. However, the plan was changed to “establishing the largest bookstore of the world” and then altered again to “building a place to encourage reading among the youth”. Thus, many changes in the initial goal are noticeable in Sam Tehranchi’s design. It is mesmerising but too large, too cold and too uninviting for children. Walking under the 12 meters ceiling, striding in the massive halls with walls of glass and riding elongated escalators to the sky, one feels as if wandering in an airport.
But despite the flaws of the Tehran Book Garden, its horizontal design is a respite from the general tall buildings of the Iranian capital. It benefits beautifully from the natural light through its transparent walls and ceiling. The light is diffused by the mobile blades on the ceiling to avoid too much light and warmth from the sunny Tehran sky and also makes it a relatively energy efficient building.
Also nearby is the National War Museum, built as a tribute to Iran-Iraq war. Unlike the nature of wars, the building is not oppressive. It stretches along the ground like a crouching soldier. From above the structure resembles a piece of paper that has been folded on itself several times and then made flat again. It is all steel and sharp lines, reminding the viewer of the brutality of war. The architect Jila Norouzi named the Jewish Museum Berlin as her source of inspiration. And this museum does bring forth the Jewish Museum in mind, more in content than form as both are adamant in convincing the audience of their narrative. The building is built in a land of 21 hectares and is the most equipped museum in the country regarding multi-media facilities for complicated installations and exhibitions.
Walking away from the museum towards the south, around a small hill covered with grass, a hemisphere structure slowly appears, the surface of which is a patch work of glasses that reflect the sky and the clouds above. It lies there in the tranquility of the garden like an extraterrestrial object fallen to earth. This structure designed by Sina Ahmadi might seem like an observatory but is a panoramic cinema exclusively for war videos.
Back towards the west the path gradually takes us away from the garden to the forest like area of Taleghani Forest Park. The smell of pines is overwhelming and the stone pathway utterly separates us from the crowded city beyond as it zigzags through the slope of the inclined land bringing us to the most iconic of these projects at the edge of the highway.
As the longest pedestrian overpass in Iran, Tabiat Bridge (literary meaning nature) appears modestly as an extension of the Taleghani Park pathway on the east, passes over Modares highway and joins Ab-o-Atash park on the other side through a 55-meter-wide plaza in a way that the visitors cannot distinguish where the park ends and the bridge begins.
It was designed to allow easy traverse of pedestrians from one park to another but contrary to the function of bridges, Tabiat Bridge is a place to stay and linger. Therefore, the curved path that varies in width and slopes contributes to this aim with eradicating the single point perspective that would otherwise encourage the visitors to move on. The architect Leila Araghian has taken full advantage of the breathtaking view of both south and north of Tehran by two round decks that encourage the visitors to stay and take pictures, or simply linger around.
The bridge is designed in two levels, apart from the decks where it becomes three levels. The visitors are taken to the lower level with slopes on either side. On this level, shielded from the weather by the upper floor, cafes and restaurants are located. The turns and twists of the tensile structure creates natural ventilation under the 270m bridge.
As a project to connect two parks, the goal was for the structure to be environment-friendly and an extension of the nature around it. The tensile design is reminiscent of tree branches and along the bridge plants are ever-present. On the upper-level circular voids have been provided to allow the plants from the lower level to grow up to the upper level. The number of columns and their location are designed in a way to have the minimum footprint on the ground in order to avoid removing trees. The effort has been to make the least intervention on the view of Alborz mountains on the north.
We are taken to Ab-o-Atash park on the western side. It benefits from playgrounds, restaurants, an astrology centre, an amusement park, skating area and a flower market. Ab-o-Atash amphitheater, where open air performances and water fountains are, is a concrete seating space with a capacity of 750 seats. A fabric roof suspended and tensioned by two 16m high steel masts in front with a span of 24m shields the visitors from the harshness of the sun.
Further south we walk across the Abrisham Bridge connecting the two sides of a small valley and providing a pedestrian link between Norouz and Ab-o-Atash Parks where two membrane cones cover an area of 2182 square meters above a flower market. This beautiful structure is visible from the highway and from different locations on the bridge.
And with this we are taken back to the real Tehran, a crowded and stressful metropolis succumbed to cars and highways. Different projects realised in Abbas-abad have experienced different levels of success depending on how much the Tehraners were taken into consideration in the designs. But as we drive through Modares Highway at sundown, it is hard to miss the number of people enjoying themselves over the bridge or in the adjoined parks. It is green, free and popular; and who could not like that.