by Jerry ElengicalApr 06, 2022
Neighbouring the central desert of Iran where no sane society would construct a city, Yazd has been standing since late antiquity. The historical city of Yazd is recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO but that does not even begin to describe the unique and innovative ideas that have flourished throughout ages in order for this society to survive the callousness of the environment. The unique traditional architecture of Yazd, Iran, has long adapted itself to its desert surroundings. It is known as the 'City of Windcatchers', deriving its name from the cooling system called Badgir that is a shaft on the rooftops that catches the slightest breeze and guides it downwards towards the living spaces. This city has one of the largest networks of ancient underground water supply systems (qanats) and also boasts the innovation of yakhchals, which were pre-refrigerator architectural constructions to store ice. Yazd is also one of the largest cities built almost entirely out of adobe, a construction material made of mud and thatches that is local and does not transmit warmth.
Yazd also has a heritage of being a centre of Zoroastrianism and houses many Zoroastrian fire temples (Atashkadeh), most notably one fire temple where a flame has been kept alight continuously since 470 AD. The city is also home to many Islamic architectural wonders. Built in the 12th century, Jameh Mosque holds one of the finest Persian mosaic works. An interesting urban subject in Yazd is its old history of bike riders. The tendency towards biking is enhanced by the very narrow alleyways where travelling by cars is problematic. The narrowness of these alleys creates wind corridors and shade.
Minoudar House, a boutique hotel where Harandi & Harandi Architects has conducted a gorgeous construction project is located in this wondrous city. The house was bought in 1956 by Dr Mahmood Madani (1928-1987), the second official dentist in Yazd who used the place as his dentistry for 30 years. But the house's history goes way before Dr Madani, and was first a section of a larger house owned by an Oliya family. In accordance with its architectural style and elements, it is estimated to belong to the Safavid era, which makes the original construction about 400-years-old.
Madani’s house had witnessed many interventions and inexpert constructions throughout the years. At some point, the number of the family members had declined and the reconstruction of some rooms became challenging due to the difficult access of the narrow streets they were filled with and buried under the soil in previous reconstructions. Many niches and arches were also covered or altered. The neighbouring building of a bank had intervened with the site of the house. Madani’s house was completely separated from the original building. Overall, these matters made it a challenge to trace back the history of this house.
The house was to be reconstructed to serve as a boutique hotel. In a country hit severely by climate change, market-oriented architecture and destruction of heritage by westernisation, the goal of Harandi & Harandi Architects was to conduct a project that would revive and preserve the heritage of this house, make it more resilient and sustainable and create a delightful space for users nonetheless. Avoiding unnecessary interventions, using reversible processes, distinguishing the remains of the past and the new interventions, avoiding exact simulation of the past, utilising techniques that are compatible with the traditional materials used in the original construction, were the principles that the architects followed.
During the initial stages of the reconstruction the two buried rooms were discovered as well as arches and niches that had been covered. When the reconstructions began the house had two entries on one end and three on the other which was not compatible with the usual design of houses in Yazd as they have an equal number of entries on each side; a knowledge that allowed another covered entry to be discovered.
As the house had been a section of a bigger construction, the access to the roof and to one of the basement chambers was originally only possible through the neighbouring houses and had thus been blocked. A set of spiral staircases were installed to give access to both parts. These added stairs were made in metal to distinguish them from the original construction.
As a country that has gone through a vicious eight-year war in the 1980s, Iran is home to many permanently injured individuals. Yet the country has hardly adapted itself to make its cities and architecture more friendly and usable for the disabled. The comfort of such individuals has been considered in the Minoudar House. A ramp has been installed on the ground floor to provide direct access from the street to the Green Room. Enough space has been provided in this room for the easy rotation of wheelchairs and the doors, the handles and the bathroom have been modified for the comfort of disabled guests. The other two rooms are called Blue Room and Violet Room, both located on the basement floor of the building.
Harandi & Harandi Architects, founded in 2017 by Mehdi and Homa Harandi, beautifully turned Dr Madani’s house into a space which can now host tourists while they explore the wonders of Yazd. A great example of the growing trend of adaptive reuse in architecture. Its simple yet heavenly garden boasts a small flower-shaped pool and fountain, the rays of the sun pass through the colourful glasses inside rooms with distinguished characteristics, and the trees that are a miracle in this unmerciful environment provide shade during the hot summers. Minoudar, which means the door to heaven, has indeed brought down a piece of paradise in the heart of the desert.