by Afra SafaDec 23, 2021
Iran is one of the countries that has been devastatingly hit by climate change and is one also heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Therefore, many architects are now striving to design buildings that are both sustainable and compatible with each region's climate. To realise this goal, they do not have to look far. In a country with an ancient architectural background, one can always find inspiration from the past. In their latest project in the north of Iran, Team Design Group has endeavoured to design a contemporary villa that utilises the solutions of the past.
Thinking of Iran as a country located in the Middle East, one almost always imagines vast deserts and sand domes. But as a vast country taking up most of the Iranian Plateau in west and central Asia, Iran also benefits from extensive mountain ranges that bring about dry and cold weather. Also, the Caspian Sea in the north of the country has created a fertile flatland that is bordered by Alborz mountains on its southern end. Unlike the rest of the country's regions where the weather is either dry and cold, or dry and hot, this region has a completely different climate and is humid with heavy rainfalls during the year.
The traditional houses of this area were built in a way to stand against many adverse climatic factors and provide comfortable conditions for the residents. The climate in this region also entails high underground water tables, hot and humid weather in the summers and cold and wet winters. The exterior of these traditional houses was oriented by placing openings on the external walls in order to maximise cross ventilation inside the dwelling. This is crucial in creating a comfortable temperature and condition during the warm months of the year. Moreover, houses were built above the ground to avoid the dampness of the soil.
It is interesting to note that this is the only region in Iran where we can find gable roofs in the local architecture. The form of the roofs of the traditional architecture and local buildings in almost all the other regions of Iran is either flat or arched because of the dry desert climates and low amounts of rainfall. The traditional gable roofs in these houses are often four sided in order to let the rain pour down from all sides and block the water from penetrating the ceilings.
This region also experiences high humidity levels during summers; therefore, cross ventilation is needed in order to produce a comfortable climate inside the buildings. Consequently, almost all buildings are detached and outward oriented. This means that all of the openings are placed on the external walls of the buildings and the existence of balconies is very vital, because due to the hot and humid conditions in the spring and summer, most activities of the residents such as socialising, eating, entertainment, working, and sleeping would take place in the outside spaces of the houses. The air inside the rooms can become extremely heavy, stuffy and warm, therefore balconies are strategically placed for such activities, so the occupants can always enjoy the shade and the breeze outside.
Gilak Villa named after the region's name Gilan is an endeavour for climatic architecture that glances back at the successful attempts of the past. Iran-based architect, Davood Salavati, and his collaborating architects at Team Design Group have planned the Gilak Villa as a nine-square grid. The building is outward oriented and its boundaries are open on all four sides. Based on the ancient Iranian architecture concept of central gardens, this house also benefits from a centralised opening, an interior open column that cuts through the heart of the house and reaches the sky, allowing in natural ventilation and natural light, that is much needed during the dark days of winter. The shape of the villa is completely dependent on the climate. The dramatic gabled roof is a witness to this. However, the horizontal voids on the roof allows the house to take the most benefit from the natural wind, air circulation, and also natural light.
The revisiting of the past is also present in the form of the square courtyard and the narrow pool of water that connects the building with this courtyard in the back. It resembles the pools in the traditional Iranian houses of the central regions of the country. While the residential project constantly refers to the past, its form and details have a contemporary resonance. It points to the ability of architecture to house both, the lessons of the past, and evolving spatial understanding.