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by Nadezna SiganporiaPublished on : Nov 12, 2022
A thread that echoes throughout the architectural community is the need to not only understand but also respect what has come before us. These local constructions built using traditional materials have a purpose; the buildings are closely related to and uniquely informed by their context, culture, and geographic features. Trying to define vernacular architecture under one broad umbrella does it a disservice. Originating from a vast array of ethnic groups, vernacular architecture has evolved to uniquely respond to its surroundings including climate, topography, and vegetation and to enhance generational culture.
As such, it is so distinctive and specific that even similar features from different parts of the world have certain identifying elements. If we lose track of the significance of vernacular architecture, we lose track of tried-and-tested traditional techniques, the valuable lessons it could teach us and the sustainable solutions they already provide. This raises the question of how to respect the original design context, especially when it comes to renovating older architecture. How does the intervention add value to the original build?
It is with this philosophy that Iranian architects—Mojtaba Naghizadeh and Nastaran Tavakoli of Iran-based Ev Design Office, worked on Green Mansion. Located in Bushehr in the coastal region of south-western Iran, the build was a response from the architects to explain their role in understanding the original project and respecting the context of the design. The historical fabric of this city has a high visual form that is extremely evident in its built landscape. Iranian vernacular architecture is heavily influenced by culture and climatic features, and the port city of Bushehr sees weather that is predominantly hot and humid. Traditional architecture of courtyard homes, where the wind plays an important role in creating a comfortable thermal environment for the residents, is quite common.
These houses feature an entrance followed by a vestibule leading into the home. Rooms of varying sizes are built around an internal, open-air courtyard. Most traditional houses have rooms built on two to three sides of the courtyard, and a few have them on all four sides, surrounding it. While the exterior facades are simple, the interiors may be grand and ornamented. The houses usually have two levels topped by terraces and outdoor areas.
The courtyard design includes water features and small gardens, which also help in combating the heat. Other climatic solutions employed by Bushehr’s vernacular architecture include a dense skeletal form, narrow alleys separating two houses orienting the building with consideration of the wind flow, thick walls made of coral stone and covered in plaster, several openings to public spaces to encourage ventilation, wind catchers, and a central organisation of spaces.
The original building of the Green Mansion, though dilapidated and rundown, encompassed these vernacular architectural features that the architects were keen to hold on to. What the architects had to work with was a fragmented construction; over time irregular and haphazard additions were added to increase its area. The building consisted of three sides—the northern, southern, and eastern body around the courtyard—which had lost its original pattern and form over the years with a lot of changes and unprincipled reconstructions. It had a lot of problems and its appearance was completely distorted with these extensions. With renovations of old buildings, architects have a heavier responsibility. The value of its history, the patterns in it, and knowledge of materials, all need a more accurate and principled study.
The architects were determined to fully appreciate the historical context and create a design that would respect the original patterns while adapting to the present and future needs of the building. The first step was to study every aspect of the project including the particular location, valuable construction patterns and materials, and the functional reasons for each. They also took time to understand the structure and building stability as well as the changes and additions made over time. Deep knowledge of the build allowed them to hack away at unnecessary extensions that had been added over time in a chaotic manner, and then reinforce the original skeletal form of the house.
With this in place, they used the original pattern to complete the design process with changes relating to the identity of the building. They adapted vernacular architectural elements with modern techniques and indigenous construction materials, now available in the area. Featuring a palette of rich greens accentuating creamy whites, the home is decorated with carved wood detailing and natural materials enhancing the rusticity of cool stone.
A plethora of local vegetation turns the courtyard and terrace areas into lush gardens, perfect for family gatherings. They also added a small pool in the middle of the courtyard, an outdoor shower area on one end and adorned the floors with handmade tiles. As is popular in Iranian architecture, the design features a multitude of arched openings, entrances, doorways, and windows, to add to the visual.
The architects completely revamped the main entrance and vestibule as well as the terrace, replacing it with a beautiful outdoor space that includes a pergola, barbeque area, and shanashir. A key element in Bushehr’s vernacular architecture is—a shanashir, which is a small balcony projected out on the upper levels of the buildings on the exterior or interior facades. Even though this feature has been ‘imported’ into Bushehr's architecture, it has been influenced and evolved in accordance with the culture and climate of the country.
Decorated with ornamented louvres that add to the safety of the balcony, shanashirs not only provide an aesthetic, wooden element to the design but deliver functional elements including—passive cooling and adjustment of natural light, humidity, and airflow control. In traditional Bushehr homes, the exterior shanashir usually faces the sea, while the interior ones create visual connections between spaces within the home.
Green Mansion is what you get when one truly respects what history can teach us. The architects took a completely dilapidated structure and revived the building to its former glory, by restoring the historical patterns while infusing a new spirit into the design.
Name: Green Mansion
Location: Bushehr, Iran
Site area: 350 sqm
Built area: 250 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Architecture firm: Ev Design Office
Lead architects and interior design: Mojtaba Naghizadeh and Nastaran Tavakoli
Material palette: Local stone, wood, plaster, metal, handmade tiles
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