Tehran’s Hooba Design on creating architecture as sanctuary

Tehran-based studio, Hooba Design, celebrates 15 years of remarkable practice with the reception of RIBA Emerging Architect 2021 Prize.

by Afra SafaPublished on : Mar 19, 2022

Hooba Design is an innovative architectural firm based in Tehran, founded by Hooman Balazadeh in 2007. Their projects have been praised and awarded by various national and international organisations, including the 2020 Architecture MasterPrize and the RIBA Emerging Architect 2021 Prize for the Kohan Ceram Central Office.

An artist and sculptor as a youth, Balazadeh describes himself as “an introverted individual” and his character manifests in buildings that seem to be closed from the outside like a sanctuary. He benefitted much from professors such as Reza Daneshmir, and an accidental meeting with Bahram Shirdel landed him a job at Shirdel and Partners design office. Shirdel is an internationally recognised Iranian architect and one of the most influential figures of interdisciplinary architecture and science. He is among the architect/theorists who believe topology to be a cultural and scientific resource of folded and twisted architecture and his training has significantly shaped Balazadeh’s view towards design and architecture. Hooba office which Balazadeh later on established aims to carry out projects based on the cultural and geographical context.

  • Hitra Office Building, Tehran | Hooba Design Studio | Tehran, Iran | STIRworld
    Hitra Office Building, Tehran Image: Parham Taghioff
  • Aptus Factory Showroom by Hooba Design, Karaj | Hooba Design Studio | Tehran, Iran | STIRworld
    Aptus Factory Showroom, Karaj, Iran Image: Parham Taghioff

The impressive body of works carried out by Hooman Balazadeh and his office calls for a closer review on their practice, philosophy and achievements.

From a purely aesthetic point of view, the first thing one observes in their projects is the tendency towards cubic forms. Even in projects such as the Hira Office Building that has a remarkable curved shape, still the cubic forms of the bricks and movable modules are the trademark of Hooba. Geometry of forms that cut through each other and create voids and in between spaces has a lot to say in their designs.

  • Sharif Office Building | Hooba Design | Tehran, Iran | STIRworld
    Sharif Office Building, Tehran Image: Parham Taghioff
  • Kohan Ceram Office Building | Hooba Design | Tehran, Iran | STIRworld
    Kohan Ceram Office Building, Tehran Image: Courtesy of Did Studio

Balazadeh sees his projects as a work of art and he is conscious of the visual effect his creations have on the people who use the building and also the ones who see it from the outside. He is dedicated to creating a dynamic visual connection. For the users, he creates a play of light and shadows in almost all his buildings wherein most of them, movable modules are installed that can be automatically or manually adjusted to control the exposure of light. On the exterior, his buildings make use of colour, shapes and curves to create visual dynamism for the outside observers, although the architecture remain a unified integrated form.

A true student of Shirdel, the site of each project as a context is a key element to Balazadeh’s designs. Whether it is the Hitra office in the sloped intersection of northern Tehran or a factory office in the suburbs, the site, its topography and its surroundings are what dictates the kind of design he would carry out.

Colours, shapes and curves combine to create visual dynamism on the exteriors of Hooba Design's projects; photographed here is the Aptus Factory Showroom, Karaj, Iran | Hooba Design | Tehran, Iran | STIRworld
Colours, shapes and curves combine to create visual dynamism on the exteriors of Hooba Design's projects; photographed here is the Aptus Factory Showroom, Karaj, Iran Image: Parham Taghioff

The user holds a significant importance in Hooba's designs and the needs, desires and health of the people, both inside and outside, the buildings are meticulously considered in their projects. In many of their commercial works where many offices are located away from the outer layer of the building, voids have been created to bring natural light and ventilation to the inward units. Control of light as one important aspect of sunny cities of Iran is always considered, whether through expensive solutions such as movable outside layers or economic solutions such as specifically designed bricks that enable controlled light exposure.

Sharif Office Building | Hooba Design | Tehran, Iran | STIRworld
Sharif Office Building by Hooba Design, Tehran Image: Mohammad Hassan Ettefagh

As far as material goes, they try to redefine traditional and everyday elements of architecture. In Aptus Concrete Block Manufacturing Factory in the suburbs of Karaj, the studio made use of the concrete blocks made by the factory to construct the building; a move that was both cost efficient and which made the building, the best representative for the product made by the factory.

Another example of material identity is found in the Sharif building, built for the professors of Sharif University of Technology that was inaugurated in the 1960s. It was to be in harmony with the main brick buildings of the university campus. A conbination of old brick blocks and software design technology manifest in the façade of the building. It is covered with smart brick panels that automatically adjust themselves based on the sunlight exposure. Thus, this project is the connection between a traditional building material and the high-tech world.

  • Light and materiality converge in beautiful interpretations in Hooba Design's projects; photographed here is the Kohan Ceram Office Building in Tehran | Hooba Design | Tehran, Iran | STIRworld
    Light and materiality converge in beautiful interpretations in Hooba Design's projects; photographed here is the Kohan Ceram Office Building in Tehran Image: Parham Taghioff
  • Brick thermal behaviour at the Kohan Ceram Office Building | Hooba Design | Tehran, Iran | STIRworld
    Brick thermal behaviour at the Kohan Ceram Office Building Image: Courtesy of Hooba Design

Making great use of bricks in their works, Hooba Design gives this well-known building material a new role, such as light exposure and energy waste control which is utilised in Kohan Ceram Building; a project for which a new brick was designed by the architect, fondly referred to as the “Spectacled Brick”.

A light filled couryard at the Kohan Ceram Office Building by Hooba Design | Hooba Design | Tehran, Iran | STIRworld
A light filled couryard at the Kohan Ceram Office Building by Hooba Design Image: Parham Taghioff

Hooba Design's projects most often benefit from a double layered design; a solution that renders the buildings energy efficient and also acts as a sanctuary for the people inside it. The material of the outer layer is chosen based on the climate of the site – such as bricks that are a traditional building element of Iranian cities- and they are most often made by local providers. The second inner layer of the buildings is often glass. It would give the feeling of transparency to the users while the outer layer keeps them protected from heat, cold and pollution. This double layered design allows for the building to be closed and opaque during the mornings and become transparent and illuminated during the night as light seeps out of it.

  •  The integration of greenery within the built mass at the Kohan Ceram Office Building | Hooba Design | Tehran, Iran | STIRworld
    The integration of greenery within the built mass at the Kohan Ceram Office Building Image: Parham Taghioff
  • A pocket of nature on the exterior of the Sharif Office Building by Hooba Design | Hooba Design | Tehran, Iran | STIRworld
    A pocket of nature on the exterior of the Sharif Office Building by Hooba Design Image: Parham Taghioff

On the subject of wellbeing, greenery is an inseparable part of the works of Hooba Design. Whether in the environment of the Aptus factory or on the upper levels of Sharif multi floor building dedicated to technology research, Hooba Design tries to make a space for plants as a crucial element for the wellbeing of people and the city. This challenge to bring greenery closer to the building and its inhabitants has resulted in beautiful and poetic designs and has bolden the importance of in-between spaces; such as the space between the cubic buildings of Aptus factory where a lone tree or a small pond resides, or the small sky gardens in Sharif building.

For Hooba Design, the users of the buildings are not merely the people who spend a significant amount of time inside it but also include the people who pass by the project and see it from the outside. Moreover, they treat the building as a component of the city that can improve the living conditions of the urban space. They strive for their building not to add a problem to the city’s issues, but to provide a solution. Working in the denseness of the Iranian capital, they do not see the city as a mass of apartment buildings and are not afraid to break the old patterns. For instance, if the sloped site of their project is causing a challenge for the citizens and if its pedestrian walk is too narrow, such as in the Hitra project, they create a plaza where people can linger and walk.

Hitra Office Building | Hooba Design | Tehran, Iran | STIRworld
Entrance of the Hitra Office Building Image: Parham Taghioff

To Hooba Design, painstaking attention to detail is the core of a successful design. It is the obsessive attention to every aspect that creates a greater whole in the end. Just like a building that has a significant effect on the aesthetic and well-being of the urban space, every single material and technique in the design can have a substantial effect on the whole form of the architecture and the wellbeing of its users.

From the smallest brick to every ray of light that would find itself inside the building is meticulously planned. Although the thorough details might go unnoticed at first in the chaos of the city, the building sits patiently and is gradually discovered by the citizens as the architects prefer to avoid unthoughtful and rapid impressions and wish for the people to develop a more in-depth understanding of their work.

Through the years, Hooba Design has focused on various topics such as light, colour, the connection between architecture and the city, building materials and the development of spatial diagrams in the Persian Architecture; studies that are observable in their projects. With each project they pose new questions and are not afraid to set challenges and strive to find the best solution for a design that would benefit the people, the building and the city.

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