by Afra SafaAug 26, 2023
Since its opening in 2010, Iran-based Ákaran Architects, founded by Moeen Afzalkhani and Zahra Azizi, has followed a practice in its creations wherein emotional and intangible components of architecture matter just as much as the materiality. As the 21st century architects who are sensitive to both context and environment, their aim has been to lessen their impact on the earth by saving energy and material and lessening the waste. They are also dedicated to saving as much of the heritage as they possibly can while revitalising architecture with a modern breath. The firm has always tried to address architecture as an element of the bigger urban space and an object that will be experienced both from the inside and the outside; by its users and the citizens. Literally meaning “emerald”, Zomorrod 11 is the embodiment of their core values and unique approach.
Zomorrod 11 - a commercial and office building which recently also won the Architecture Masterprize 2021 - is a stack of brick cubes that stands at one of Tehran's busiest traffic junctions and dares both drivers and pedestrians to halt and watch the essence of a sophisticated design that has been achieved by the simple use of glass and bricks. While Zomorrod 11 emits an aura of individuality, it also subtly merges itself with the urban fabric of Tehran.
As architects who are sensitive to traditions and backgrounds, Ákaran Architects has chosen materials that tell the story of the context of the project as a bridge between the past and the present. The handmade bricks, together with oxidised panels, are a tribute to the past and the traditional architecture of the Iranian capital of which little remains. The concrete panels that represent our contemporary times are a symbol of modern Tehran. Their juxtaposition is all about connection, the link between the past and the present, and a dialogue between traditional and modern architecture.
The entrance stairway is merged with the pedestrian sidewalk, creating an inviting entrance. The building consists of five floors of underground parking, a double height commercial ground floor and six floors above the ground housing offices with a private terrace on the first floor and a private roof garden on the sixth. The minimalist approach includes geometric brick modules. These brick modules are static up to the third floor to avoid the hustle from the chaotic street and the view from the neighbouring buildings. But the magic happens from the third floor onward, where the brick modules have the ability to move. As opposed to the static brick pieces and columns of the first three floors, the upper floors have mobile brick panels that move along the elevation on rails. This element aesthetically enhances the architecture and gives it a singular character and individual life. It also enables the people inside of the building to control the natural light permeation on the upper floors where they have the highest level of direct sunlight and creates an ultimately interactive experience for the users.
Ákaran Architects took to themselves to design custom made bricks to be manually baked for this building, the smallest detail that would be the heart and soul of the project. The bricks were specifically designed to be perforated in order to lessen their weight, to ease their movement on the mobile panels and along the rails and to minimise the weight imposed on the structure in the static parts of the building. This solution also allowed the dry installation of these bricks, i.e., they were put into place by screws.
But the story of the material does not end here. Searching for a place to order custom made bricks, Ákaran Architects found a kiln site that had gone desolate and bankrupt due to the modernised industry of machine-made bricks. Although this new industry has made the production of such bricks less costly, the machine made bricks seem to lack the authenticity their traditional counterparts used to have; a characteristic that is often transferred to the buildings made by traditional brick. Ordering a total number of just over 30 thousand custom made bricks to be baked by this site regenerated the traditional kiln business and restored a number of jobs for the local workers. Moreover, as this kiln is near Tehran, with the short distance to the source of one of the main materials, environmental sustainability was also ensured.
The lack of mortar between the bricks and the idea of binding them with screws has replaced the opaqueness of the material with transparency and natural light, and aesthetically pleasing play of light and shadow patterns. This idea has been used throughout the architecture, from façade to interiors and even partition walls in the parking levels. While in the mornings the voids between the bricks drag the sense of playfulness, beauty and life from the sunny Tehran into the heart of the building, at nights the light that finds its way out through the glass makes the building shine like an emerald, as befits its name.
Name: Zomorrod 11
Location: Tehran, Iran
Area: 1288 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Architect: Ákaran Architects
Lead Architects: Moeen Afzalkhani and Zahra Azizi
Design team: Ali Foroughi, Mehdi Mirhabibi, Mohammadreza Arefian, Hanna Mobaraki