Ákaran Architects' Tehran building is a confluence of tradition and experimentation
by Afra SafaFeb 12, 2022
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by Afra SafaPublished on : Apr 15, 2022
Mohammad Reza Kohzadi, founder of Iranian practice MRK Office, has delivered a unique administrative building for Arka Factory in the suburbs of Tehran. Located in an industrial area with factory warehouses surrounding it, the building has a footprint of 500 sqm. It is essentially a glass box with curved concrete cutting through its front and back facade. The mixture of transparent glass, opaque concrete and tall trees successfully brings style, beauty and nature as a contrast to the rough environment around it.
Undoubtedly the most unique characteristic of the project is the tall cypress tree integrated into the exterior facade of the structure. Approaching the building, the verticality of the tree cutting through the linearity of the glass box and curvilinear concrete successfully catches the eye and takes the attention away from the warehouses around it. Another slightly shorter cypress is located at the back and is also merged into the building. This creates a sense of symmetry while shrewdly avoiding an actual symmetrical front and back facade. The horizontal concrete details that constitute the floors of the building are turned and twisted to create a space for the trees. At the front, it is curved to create a column-shaped void to accommodate the taller tree from the ground to the upper floor. At the back, the concrete floor of the second level has been twisted downwards to create space for the younger cypress.
The building displays a sense that the project has been designed around the two cypresses in an attempt to preserve them in the land. However, it is interesting to note that the trees were not initially there on the site and were added to the field. In other words, the trees were part of the design and were deliberately planted afterwards. This knowledge does nothing to lessen the impact of the building on the spectator; it still brings about the sense that the design was made to respect nature. It is as if the structure has twisted and turned to preserve and respect a piece of nature. From an aesthetic point of view, the cypresses beautifully merge themselves into the structure and elongate the structure, giving the building the illusion of height.
Before moving on from the subject of the trees, it is interesting to know that due to the climate of Iran with its cold winters and hot summers, the evergreen trees like cypresses are respected and cherished in the national culture. The cypress tree has long been the subject of myth in Iranian culture. The motif known in Persian as Boteh-Jegheh (or paisley) is in fact a bent cypress tree and a symbol of both pride and humility. Its origin goes back to Zoroastrianism in Iran. The Zoroastrians believed that the Free Cypress was taken from heaven and brought to the Persian kings by Zoroaster. The Free Cypress, also known among the locals as the Cypress of Kashmar, was believed to have been planted near the Zoroastrian fire temple in the city of Kashmar, Iran. After the Muslim conquest of Persia, this tree was cut down and taken to the Baghdad caliphate. The Free Cypress was believed to be 1400-years-old when it was cut down. Examples of this motif in the Iranian handicraft can be found on termeh (handwoven cloth) designs, miniatures, carpets and most importantly kalamkari of Isfahan. The use of the cypresses by the MRK Office seems to be a reference to this part of the structure's local context.
Although the cypress is reminiscent of the Iranian culture, the two-story glass building that constitutes the main office has nothing to do with the local culture that holds the privacy and opaque facades in high regard. Transparency is an utterly modern and imported notion that has created a simple yet aesthetically pleasing combination with its surroundings.
While the project looks immensely attractive from the outside, one cannot be sure about the view from the inside. All those transparent glass facades look over warehouses surrounding the building. This seems to make the transparency somewhat irrelevant. Even the presence of the trees does little to improve the view from the inside. The taller cypress in the front is covered by a concrete column from the inner side, making it invisible to the occupants. However, the shorter cypress in the back peeks out from the windows and is visible from the manager's office on the second floor. Moreover, the use of glass on all sides of the building makes it less energy efficient as it is exposed to the harsh summer and cold winters of Tehran.
For the Arka Factory administrative building, MRK Office has attempted a utopian design that seems to be oriented around two trees in the middle of warehouses and factory cars. Though the comfort of the employees and the users of the office has been a lower priority than the aesthetics of the building, the result is a project that pleases the eye with its simple lines and flexible and sinuous concrete folds that bend around the trees. The entire design is tied together by the cypresses that stretch upwards as if reaching for the skies, giving a heavenly aura to this building with a very earthly function.
Name: Arka Headquarters Building
Location: Tehran, Iran
Area: 500 M2
Year of completion: 2021
Architect: Mohammad Reza Kohzadi, MRK Office
Design team: Rahim Vardan
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