Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar imagines a ‘new field’ of Iranian architecture

Speaking with STIR, the Iranian architect discusses the concept behind Retrofuturism – a series of photomontages that formulate a new definition around restoration in Iran.

by Zohra Khan Published on : May 06, 2020

Iranian architect and visual artist Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar has conceptualised a series of striking photomontages in which contemporary buildings are positioned in ancient Iranian sites. The series titled Retrofuturism reveals a presumptive landscape that 'aims to connect the future and the past in a balanced way and create a new field that is timeless and out of place'.

Iranian monuments as high-rise buildings | Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar | Retrofuturism | STIRworld
Iranian monuments as high-rise buildings Image Credit: Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar

From visualising Iranian monuments as high-rise buildings and erecting imaginary skyscrapers in local villages, to expanding the country’s architectural fabric by adding to it the works of Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Norman Foster and Bjarke Ingels – the concept presents arresting contradictions that seek to address a new definition of restoration.

  • Expanding Iranian Ancient Architecture| Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar | Retrofuturism | STIRworld
    Expanding ancient Iranian architecture: Arg e Bam + BIG's CopenHill Image Credit: Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar
  • Expanding Iranian Ancient Architecture| Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar | Retrofuturism | STIRworld
    Expanding ancient Iranian architecture: Towers of Silence + Snøhetta's Arc Image Credit: Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar
  • Expanding Iranian Ancient Architecture| Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar | Retrofuturism | STIRworld
    Expanding ancient Iranian architecture: Rostam Castle + Studio Libeskind's Royal Ontario Museum Image Credit: Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar
  • Expanding Iranian Ancient Architecture| Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar | Retrofuturism | STIRworld
    Expanding ancient Iranian architecture: Anarak + Zaha Hadid's Bergisel Ski Jump Image Credit: Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar

The series also compile poetic renditions of Iranian architecture drawn from the inherent culture of the country, which has produced some of the world’s great poets such as Hafez, Rumi, and Saadi Shiraazi. Concepts such as slavery in love, seeking love, uncertainty, and disloyalty of the beloved are expressed in the images. And similar to the essence of poetry, architecture is visualised without limitations.

  • Poetic architecture: The image references a Persian poem whose English translation is,'Your thought is always in my mind, like a thirst for water / Now that I'm captive, kill me and make me comfortable. | Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar | Retrofuturism | STIRworld
    Poetic architecture: The image references a Persian poem, which can be translated as, Your thought is always in my mind, like a thirst for water / Now that I'm captive, kill me and make me comfortable Image Credit: Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar
  • Conceived as a poetic embodiment of Iranian architecture, without limitation | Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar | Retrofuturism | STIRworld
    Poetic architecture: Another representing a poem that says,You hung a string, you lifted me up / I was suspended in the air but you broke the string Image Credit: Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar

Speaking with STIR, Forouzanfar discusses the conceptual narrative of the series and the intent behind putting it together. 

Edited excerpts from the conversation…

Zohra Khan (ZK): Illustrating Retrofuturism, there are seven collections that you have worked on till now. I am keen to know what inspired you in conceiving the idea.

Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar (MF): Retrofuturism is a kind of architecture for me. It is a kind of visual research on Iranian architecture. I try to change it according to today's situation, finding new ideas from within, and sometimes manipulating it as I like.

Past architecture has always been an inspiration to us designers. Postmodern architects, for example, have tried to draw inspiration from it. They either used parts of it in their work or broke down its geometric structure to create a contemporary language. But I am trying to manipulate the traditional Iranian architecture itself as a reference, without using it in my designs or getting inspired by it. By doing so, you are undermining and changing the source of inspiration for others. This may change the criteria for beauty.

  • Imaginary skyscrapers in Iranian villages: Yazd City with its features retained, has entered the vertical literature of modern skyscrapers and surreal shapes.  | Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar | Retrofuturism | STIRworld
    Imaginary skyscrapers in Iranian villages: Yazd City with its features retained enters the vertical literature of modern skyscrapers and surreal shapes Image Credit: Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar
  • Visualised Nayband Village from Iran  | Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar | Retrofuturism | STIRworld
    Visualised Nayband Village from Iran Yazd City with its features retained, enters the vertical literature of modern skyscrapers and surreal shapes Image Credit: Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar

On the other hand, traditional Iranian architecture has many potentials that can flourish with the approach of Retrofuturism.

ZK: Can you list some of the Iranian sites that you have included in the series.

MF: Most of the images date back to the Sassanid and Achaemenid periods before Islam and the Seljuk and Safavid periods after Islam. These include Persepolis, Zoroastrian fire temples, Sassanid castles, Citadel of Bam, and important mosques such as Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Imam Mosque of Isfahan, etc.

The reason for choosing these works is not only their historic significance but also their architectural capacities that very well suited my collages. Of course, I have sometimes considered drawing attention to their gradual destruction.

Jeff Koons' Balloon Dog in a painting of Jean Flandin from Iran | Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar | Retrofuturism | STIRworld
Jeff Koons' Balloon Dog in a painting of Jean Flandin from Iran Image Credit: Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar

ZK: It has been said that this series is an attempt to start a conversation about preservation of the ancient Iranian buildings. Would you like to comment on that?

MF: I believe that approaches to the restoration and preservation of historical monuments can change, and we can combine them to create contemporary elements that will revive the former structures and increase their impact. Of course, this requires a little courage and ambition to infiltrate such expensive assets. However, there are many examples in the world where contemporary plugins have been created alongside historical monuments and have been very successful. You can look at the pyramid of the Louvre Museum, or the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

 In praise of the square: Symmetrical architecture of Iran | Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar | Retrofuturism | STIRworld
In praise of the square: Symmetrical architecture of Iran Image Credit: Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar

ZK: The concept of the series conceptualises a ‘new field’ from the connection of the past and the future. What is this field that you are trying to highlight, and why is it relevant in the present architectural context?  

MF: Retrofuturism is visual research that can be understood within the discipline of architecture. It acts as a palimpsest and tries to discover and reveal the hidden layers of Iranian architecture. It is supposed to de-familiarise the reference subjects and disrupt the previous criteria. 

Iranian architect Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar | Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar | Retrofuturism | STIRworld
Iranian architect Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar Image Credit: Courtesy of the architect

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About Author

Zohra Khan

Zohra Khan

A formal education in architecture combined with an avid interest in architecture journalism and design criticism led Khan to professionally venture into writing and research. She has worked in design communication for more than three years, generating content for mondo*arc india journal. When not writing, she kicks back by dabbling on social media for STIR.

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