Najmeh Bozorgmehr

Published: March 7 2009 00:25 | Last updated: March 7 2009 00:25

There are some things that residents of Iran’s bustling capital city complain about on a daily basis: Tehran’s traffic has turned its streets and even highways into immense parking lots; the pollution is choking; and housing is more expensive than in New York or London.

Some of these are exaggerated, of course, and, on the last point, rents and sales prices have come down about 30 per cent due to the global economic crisis. But, when it comes to the first two challenges facing more than 8m Tehranis, there do not seem to be any immediate solutions – except escaping from the city centre toward the north-west.

This area of Tehran offers more reason able prices, wider streets and greener areas, plus the unique advantage of the wind blowing from west to east, filtering the smog. And on its very edge is the least touched neighbourhood in the city, called District 22, also known as “Tehran’s lungs”. Indeed, when a daily newspaper prints a map of pollution in different parts of the capital, with many central, southern, eastern and northern parts emblazoned in red and orange to show the “dangerous” and “very unhealthy” air quality, District 22 is often the only one in light green for “clean”.

“I work downtown, which is not an easy commute, but am happy that my wife and daughter can have a breath of fresh air,” says Hamed, one resident.

“This district feels like a village in terms of beautiful landscape and tranquillity but is supposed to have urban facilities,” adds Jafar Estiri, a local real estate agent.

Tehran was a 15,000-strong town full of gardens when leaders of the Qajar dynasty (1794-1925) chose it as the seat of government because of its relatively central location and protection from the surrounding Alborz mountains. It emerged as a metropolis with a population of 1m by 1950, after King Reza Pahlavi (1925-1941) ushered in an era of modernity and defined the city as Iran’s industrial centre. Without a comprehensive development plan, the government established its base close to the traditional bazaar, newly established banks and embassies downtown. The next ruler, Mohammad-Reza (1941-1979), pushed Tehran to grow in all directions. The east became an area for government employees and labourers to live; the west was turned into a factory area that still houses 24 per cent of the country’s industries and employs 120,000 workers; the south-west was where lower-income workers settled; and later, in the 1980s, the north-west, particularly District 4, adjacent to District 22, became another residential area.

A predominantly grey city with no consistent architectural style and little trace of Persian or Islamic culture, Tehran now looks from above like a deformed butterfly with a thick spinal cord that embraces the commercial, art, historic, service, medical and bureaucratic centres – and four unbalanced wings that mainly accommodate residents. And it is the north-western wing that can stretch furthest, since it is less restricted by the mountains.

In 1991 Iran’s High Council for Urban Planning and Architecture decided to encourage development of infertile lands in District 22 to help compensate for the shortages of social, educational and sports services in the city. But it was 2000 before the comprehensive plan was approved and only in recent years has it caught the attention of Tehranis. Now they are making up for lost time, says Hassan Karimian, the district’s mayor. “Prices have tripled over a few years,” he explains.

Estiri says that a standard, new, 120 sq metre, three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with wooden kitchen and ceramic floor in the northern part of District 22 would nowadays cost about 2,000m rials ($206,000), compared with about 600m rials three years ago. That is still less than half the cost of similar apartments in affluent parts of Tehran. But, according to Reza Nouri, another local real estate agent: “This district will be unaffordable in the not-too-distant future.”

One reason is the building restrictions that keep District 22 clean. The new neighbourhood stretches over 10,000 hectares, 6,000 of which is a green and mountainous area that by law can never be developed. Only 2,500ha can be used for residential and commercial needs, while the rest is allocated for parks and cultural, medical, educational and sports centres, plus an artificial lake of more than 355ha. “This area is unique in the country in the sense that it allocates most lands for services,” Karimian says.

Unlike in District 4, which has 1m residents and no cinema, there are grand plans for ammenities in District 22. Assuming the locality can attract enough investment – about $2bn – these would include an eight-screen cinema, a 42-storey commercial and administrative building overlooking the lake and Chitgar national park, a Disneyland, a cable car, hotels, big restaurants and specialised hospitals. There is even talk about transfering Tehran’s old bazaar to the area. “Foreign investment is welcomed for all these projects,” Karimian says, though he knows domestic resources are the most viable option because of international sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Most observers expect District 22 to become a destination for middle-class homebuyers. About 140,000 already live there though the intention is to keep the population below half a million. “For environmental, economic and social reasons, the Tehran population is constantly moving,” says Ahmad Saeidnia, the head of the Iranian Society of Urban Planners. “Every person moves 16 times in his/her lifetime – much more than the average rate in other big cities in the world.”

Technocrats, doctors, engineers and lawyers have always gravitated toward the west because they cannot afford affluent northern Tehran and find lower and working class neighbourhoods in the south and east below their social dignity. The west also offers easier paths to ownership, which is complicated in the Iranian capital.

One issue is the tradition of vaghf, by which landowners dedicate their holdings to the imams of Shia Muslims. This usually gives rights to Astan-e Qods, the religious foundation in the holy city of Mashhad where Reza, the eighth imam of Shias, is buried, and now applies in some posh areas of Tehran, like Shahrak-e-Gharb in the west and Velenjak in the north, which have gone under vaghf 99-year lease terms.

The other issue is the military. Garrisons were built around the city early last century to protect it but they are now engulfed in the middle of the city, obstructing development projects, including highway construction and housing.

Although north-west Tehran has some of the same problems, there is more land available. The mayor of District 22 refuses to say what percentage of land is owned by military organisations and religious foundations but he insists there is enough for the area to make it into an exemplary zone.

Its distinctive features include more uniform architecture than the rest of the capital, where buildings as high as 20 storeys sit in narrow alleys next to single-storey houses. Aside from some high-rise residential compounds reserved for teachers, military personnel and other government employees, new properties in District 22 are limited to three floors and the municipality insists that it will not issue permits for anything higher. Many streets also have cycling lanes, which is unimaginable in other chaotic parts of Tehran.

“[Tehran] is like a kid; it’s easier to form its character now,” Karimian says.

And Estiri, for one, is confident about this particular neighbourhood’s future. “District 22 will eventually become a golden gate to Tehran,” he says.

Najmeh Bozorgmehr is the FT’s Tehran correspondent

Aerial photographs of prerevolutionary Iran: FT Weekend Magazine



Urban space is a place in which the life of city is manifested. According to Rob Krier, there are two types of urban spaces; Squares and streets. Each of squares and streets in the city has their own story. They are born, live and will die. 

In 60`s, it was decided to widened Navab street and replace it with a highway which connect north to south of the capital of Iran, Tehran. Realizing of this decision was postponed until 1994 when one of the hugest urban projects in Iran had put in practice. Since this new street-high way has been born, many critics have evaluated too many aspects about this huge project.

In following an essay about “Navab” is quoted:


Evaluation of Navab Regeneration Project in Central Tehran, Iran

Bahrainy, H  and Aminzadeh 

International Journal of Environmental Research, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2007, pp. 114-127


Urban design has been used in the cities throughout the world to achieve certain goals and purposes. It has been common in developing countries, including Iran, to use urban regeneration plans in the older sections of large cities to eliminate urban blight and decay, and eventually achieve modernization and in some cases to also overcome socio-economic and cultural problems. Approaches have been used are modernist, technocratic, and elitist type of design/decision-making, which, as, the present case study show, results in complete failure. This study intends to, following a discussion on theoretical basis of the issue, through a post-construction/post-occupancy evaluation of the Navab Regeneration Project in central Tehran, explore the reasons behind this failure and see how the problems involved in the product may be construed to the kind of design/decision-making process applied.

Key words: Urban design, urban regeneration, Tehran, Navab Project, evaluation


The modernization movement in Iran began in the 1870’s under Naser-ed-Din shah Qajar. He had been to Paris and loved it. Upon his return he had the old walls of the city pulled down and a new set erected further out on the plain. Between two walls a new «European» quarter was planned, complete with French-style parks. On the western half was a huge square, an embassy row, and a promenade, Lalezar Street. But it was under Reza Shah (1921-41) that the idea got the momentum. He attempted to modernize major cities by driving a network of long straight roads through the heart of the urban fabric and articulating crossroads with large round-about where he set up statues of himself. Two intersecting main axes were cut through Tehran, and there were similar practices in other Iranian cities such as: Shushtar, Hamedan, Mashhad, and Yazd. This process of modernization introduced new and unprecedented typologies of urban and architectural works to the traditional fabric of the cities, some of which later became landmarks. The result was a radical heterogeneity in major cities of Iran. Tehran as a promoter of the modern vision lies in the uneven heterogeneity which represents the absurdity of modernization.

Construction of urban highways and boulevards intensified from 1950’s during the Second Pahlavi as a symbolic sign of modernization. As we will see Navab Regeneration Project has utilized both those tools-reconstruction of old houses to medium and high-rise buildings, and construction of a new highway. These plus the urban redevelopment programs make what Jacobs (1961) calls the Big Projects which have all been in decline throughout the world since 1970’s.

Historically, in the context of closed systems, the decision-making and implementation of these kinds of large-scale projects are made at the top and is imposed on society as a goodwill gesture to improve the quality of life of citizens, while in most cases certain political goals are in agenda. Several different terms have been used for these kinds of approaches, such as: top-down, unitary, elitist, technocratic, autocratic, etc. Mazumdar (2000), for example, uses the term autocratic, and describes the concept of «autocratic control» inIran during the history and particularly during the Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979) and points out how decisions, actions and interventions by a person with near-unlimited power transforms the city’s morphology. By control he means «forces that affect, limit, push, pull and restrict the freedom of action of people with respect to their activities affecting the city. Control can be achieved from, and be closely linked to, the political, administrative, social and religious structure of society» (Mazumdar, 2000).

Between the years of 1968 to 1978, the City of Tehran, already undergone unprecedented growth and decay due to many factors, particularly due to the eight-year war with Iraq and economic sanctions, got herself a new strong mayor, comparable to Haussmann under Napoleon III in Paris, France. What Haussmann did was a massive surgery, whose grands travaus (public works) redrew the plan of Paris between 1850 and 1870, providing a model for old cities everywhere anxious to meet the needs of modern traffic. These incisions were referred to, neutrally, as peercees or cuts, the word eventrement, on the other hand, literally «disemboweling» or «eviscerating,» suggested a surgical metaphor in line with seeing the city as subject to pathological disorders (Kostof, 1992). Haussmann’s rebuilding of Paris, writes Clark, «was spectacular in the most oppressive sense of the word (Clark, 1986). «Once the city is imaged by capital solely as spectacle, it can then be consumed passively, rather than actively created by the populace at large through political participation (Low and Smith, 2006). Frey (1999), evaluating several cases of urban regeneration in Europe calls this type of intervention radical surgery which according to him will eventually lead to failure. He instead recommends a rather more realistic approach called conservative surgery.

The mayor of Tehran, during the decade of 1968-1978 was given the absolute authority and power to do exactly what New York’s Robert Moses did in New York: The Haussmann of urban expressways suggested: «When you operate in on overbuilt metropolis, you have to hack your way with a meat axe» (Kostof, 1992). Kostof, in the City Shaped, describes these kinds of projects as Grand Manner. Avenues are usually only a matter of a public front, behind which lay fragments of older buildings dismembered by the inflexible, wide straight line of the cut.

During the last fifty years, Iran has had numerous experiences in various scales and subjects of urban design, ranging from new town design, to urban renewal, and reconstruction of the-war-and-earthquake damaged areas, none of which have been actually successful, and unfortunately no lessons has been learned from those failures. Contrary to the reconstruction of the war-and-earthquake-damaged areas, urban regeneration is a planned demolition for the purposes of reducing physical blight, social disorders, poverty eradication, and improving the overall quality of life in cities. It, therefore, does not have the urgency of reconstructions due to natural disasters, which means that the design solutions in the case of urban regeneration could be more thoughtful, elaborate and with careful analysis of all variables, various courses of actions, possible impacts, and eventually with less mistakes.

The Institute of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Policy Group (1988) maintains that the objective of urban regeneration is to return the area as soon as possible to a self-supporting physical, social and economic base. The main characteristics of successful urban regeneration, according to this Institute, are defined as:

• Strong motivation

• Local participation and support

• Flexibility in approach

• Partnership between public and private sector

• Initial public sector investment

It should be emphasized that while involvement and support of the local community are essential to the success, and will prepare the context for strong motivations, support and partnership, compulsory purchase procedures, which are commonly used in urban regeneration plans everywhere, are cumbersome and time consuming and will eventually make the complete success of the project far fetched. In developing countries, however, the compulsory purchase order (CPO) is the core tool of urban regeneration plans. Legal discourse, practices and institutions of CPOs› are powerful factors in perpetuating relations of social authority, power, exclusion and oppression. The exclusion of certain interests from legal processes in urban renewal is realized through compulsory purchase which excludes the poor, the socially and politically marginal (Imrie and Thomas, 1994).

Over the past 20 years or so, the more protracted conflicts over urban renewal schemes have occurred where state authorities have attempted to acquire land and property through the use of compulsory purchase orders (CPOs). While the use of CPOs has become less prominent over this period, a number of high-profile redevelopments, for example, London’s Docklands scheme and Sheffield’s Lower Don Valley have been critically dependent upon them. Given the adversarial nature of CPOs, in which the state seeks to acquire someone’s property without their consent, it is hardly surprising that the experiences of them have been characterized by opposition, dissent and general hostility from those affected by compulsory purchase. In these kinds of cases the ideology of public interest completely overshadows the ideology of private property (see Imrie and Thomas, 1994).

There is a sizable literature discussing the way in which urban policy has promoted multi-sectoral partnerships. It is now common place for many individuals and organizations, including business, community groups, the voluntary sector and other public sector bodies, to cooperate with local authorities in a wide range of activities. This process of collaboration, usually described as» local governance», has become a major theme in urban studies (Davies, 2001). In developing countries, however, the concept is still unknown and unpracticed, which is due to this fact that the civil society is not playing its critical role in the development of self-supporting urban communities. Civil society is one in which citizens collaborate with government to develop their communities with goal of eliminating poverty, improving living conditions, embracing human dignity, protecting the environment and strengthening cultural and social cohesion. In fact urban regeneration provides a golden opportunity toward civil society, through participation, empowerment, and capacity building. Aside from legal and administrative issues, urban regeneration requires special skills and knowledge in the part of planner/designer which provide him/her with the competency to deal with the complex problems of urban regeneration. This knowledge is far over what architects normally possess.

Christopher Alexander suggests seven rules for a successful urban regeneration project to create wholeness in the city, the first and the most important of which is the piecemeal growth. He also suggests a single, overriding rule which governs all others: every increments of construction must be made in such a way to heal the city. This statement has great implications for urban regeneration plans (Alexander, 1987).

But how are we going to know a project will heal the city and help toward its wholeness. Can we actually predict the outcome of a project, with all positive and negative impacts, both within the project itself and also in the surroundings? Thiel maintains that the essence of a true design process is the element of prediction: that is, for an activity to be called design, one should be reasonably confident that the proposal will in fact meet the previously established performance specifications. If there are no performance specifications, and if there is no evaluation of the performance of the built project, there is then no evidence of design (Thiel, 1997).

The usual process of urban development/regeneration treats buildings as isolated objects sited in the landscape, not as part of the larger fabric of streets, squares, and viable open space. In this context decisions are usually made on the basis of economic interests (profit taking), political interests (gaining support of the lower income groups, and prestige) or engineering interests (solving traffic problems). In this all common process, urban space is seldom even thought of an exterior volume with properties of shape and scale and with connections to other spaces. Therefore, what emerges in most environmental settings is unshaped anti-space, which makes no positive contribution to the surroundings or the users (Trancik, 1986). Automobile dependency (fast, transit access), modern and postmodern movements attitudes toward space, ill-defined urban renewal policies and strategies, no defined role for urban design and no respect for public space and the context are some of the main characteristics of this kind of urban design/regeneration. There are many these days who believe that sustainable community development should be characterized by «eco-innovation», or innovative economic development that respects the ecology of the community and include dense, mixed-use neighborhoods, reduced material consumption, recycling, local retailers, walking, cycling and public transport, low car ownership, a mix of people and cars and a link between jobs, and workers› residence (Carley, et al., 2001) Urban regeneration provides a golden opportunity to turn the existing trend of neighborhoods into more sustainable situation and to reestablish the public realm, fragmented by private interest and hostile forces, in a built form which liberates rather than represses the life of the city (Gosling and Maitland, 1984).

Navab Street, an old north-South Street in Central Tehran, has had a vital role in linking different local districts and neighborhoods of Tehran in the last 70 years. Total project area was 800 hectares and included some twenty neighborhoods, with a population of 259,828 in 1996. The buildings were mostly 50 to 60 years old, representing the typical second Pahlavi’s architecture, built of masonry with 1 or 2 stories. The area was a cohesive social, physical, and cultural entity, consisting of several well-defined neighborhoods with strong family and social relations, sense of belonging and unity. As we will see, this well-defined social, physical, and functional organization of the neighborhoods has been destroyed by the Navab Regeneration Project. Included in the first comprehensive plan of Tehran (1968) was a new and only main North-South motorway to provide fast and easy access to and from central and northern parts of the city. The extension of the existing North-South Chamran motorway further to the south, as a strategic plan to improve the transportation network in the City of Tehran, has been part of the general planning activities of the Municipality of Tehran for a long time. The plan would have significant role in solving part of the extensive problems of the transportation network in the Greater City of Tehran. In the 1992 Revised Comprehensive Plan of Tehran, the motorway was reconfirmed as one of the four main highways which complete the ring around the central core of the city. The scale of the project, the magnitude of demolition, and the financial resources needed to implement the project were so high that no authority and/or organization dared to embark on the project.

It was late in 1992 that the Municipality of Tehran finally adopted the plan and began its implementation. In addition to the motorway, the city decided to develop the corridor into a new urban complex by providing high-density residential, commercial and office uses. The reason behind this decision was twofold: a) to provide space for relocated or demolished activities, and b) to provide the vast financial resources needed for the project (Tehran Municipality, 1992a). The total area of demolished residential units was 479,600 square meters and the length of the strip 5,529 m. To save time, provide diversity and involve several design groups in the project, the area was broken down into five phases, each of which was contracted to a consulting firm to prepare the detailed plan (Fig.1).

Actual implementation of the project started in 1994 (Fig. 2), and expected to be completed in four years. The width of the constructed highway is between 50-60 m, and a depth of 10-30 m is considered for buildings on both sides of the highway (Fig. 3). The project introduced more than 8500 new residential units to the area, most of which were below 75 square meters. The buildings, with a high density of up to 19 stories provide some 750,000 square meters of residential and 160,000 square meters of commercial and office spaces (Tehran Municipality, 1992b & 1996). These numbers show the extent of the intervention in the existing fabric of the city and the impact it has had, and will continue to have, on surroundings, the residents, and even the whole city.

The implementation of the project would have required substantial financial resources to cover the costs of purchasing, demolition, and construction. This heavy financial burden was one of the reasons why the project prolonged for so many years. The exact amount of the total cost of the project is not known, but what is important in this regard is that the city has decided to issue public bonds with comparatively high rates of interest in four phases to secure financial resources needed. The project also benefited from private investments by selling the units at a price below the market value prior to their construction. The main financial resources for the project were, therefore, the investment profit (75% net), the municipality of Tehran, bonds, and the central government. The properties were bought from owners, but on a compulsory basis, and with much lower value than their market prices. According to a report dated October 1996, (Tehran Municipality, 1997) there have been some 256 unresolved legal cases of property ownership in the area. Financial risks associated with over optimism and false insights regarding the project culminated in its abandoning for a period of two years. Financial pressures later forced the City to eliminate the uneconomic uses of cultural and educational land uses together with the proposed park system and green spaces initially foreseen in the plan. As the project did not utilize effective implementation instruments, so far only the first and second phases have been built, and the third phase is now under construction. Insufficient government funding and lack of private interest in the project have resulted in its slow and problematic implementation. To designers, the project has been a typical large-scale architecture in the modernism movement. The approach used has been pragmatic and without a futuristic view; social and cultural issues, therefore, have not been taken into consideration. Considering the extent of the intervention and size of the investment, this project is unprecedented in urban regeneration projects of Iran (Fig. 4).


The research method is a post-occupancy evaluation. The purpose was to evaluate the end-product of the Navab Project, through a case study. To do this, the project’s performance was evaluated against certain agreed upon criteria. On the basis of extensive review of almost all possible urban design criteria, as well as the goals of the project, certain criteria were chosen for evaluation. The criteria are as follow: Accessibility, place identity, vitality, security and urban facilities. These criteria, mostly qualitative in nature, were then divided into several sub-criteria, based on the area, the city, and the social and cultural context. Since scale plays a significant role in the performance of any urban project, analysis was focused on two different scales: city (macro), and district (micro). The method of gathering information is based on a direct observation which was carried out by two faculty members and four graduate students of environmental design to assess the actual quality of the project and its performance while in use. The following is a brief description of the selected criteria:

Accessibility: This criterion should answer the question of how easy it is to reach to other people, activities, and resources. The development of various means of transportation places an emphasis on its functional aspects and constitutes the root of functionalism as the planning ideology. People withdraw altogether from heavy street. It causes danger and accident, creates nuisance and air pollution, invades territories and privacy, will have adverse impacts on the street life, home life, social interaction and crime (Appleyard, 1981). There are many who suggest that an appropriate urban design can transform the use of car from obligatory into a selective state by maximizing usage of urban public transportation and providing motives for walking and bicycling (Girardet, 1999; Deelstra, 2000).

Place Identity: Many believe that in a global city formation, the more distinctive, unique and special a city is the more chances it has to succeed (Knight, 1989; Kearns and Phil, 1993; Oktay, 2002). This emphasizes the issue of place identity. Identity is the extent to which a person can recognize or recall a place as being distinct from the other places (Lynch, 1981). Relph (1976), in his pioneering book, Place and Placelessness relates it to a deep human need, which exists for associations with significant places. Urban identity leads to appreciation of the role culture, history and heritage can play especially in urban development and reconstruction schemes.The spatial structure, type of the activities, and a set of building styles and facade decorations are means of preserving the cultural continuity and shaping the physical identity.

Vitality: The statement «planning can induce city vitality» (Jacobs, 1961) was one of the design challenges in last decades. Jacobs argues that a bustling street life is essential to a good city, and vital streets need a most intricate and close grained density of uses that mutually support each other. Gosling (1992) also relates lack of vitality to ignoring the mixed-use pattern. Urban texturing generates vibrant activity, with maximum duration of coming and goings that bring a place to life. To evaluate urban vitality, concepts of mixed use and fine grain texture have come to be recognized as important factors (Duany and Plater-Zyberk, 1991; Rowley, 1996). For further vitality of a street, it should be permeable with buildings oriented to sidewalks, and adaptable urban spaces in which people can halt and generate activities.

Security: The «defensible space» concept considers creating an appropriate territory, a feeling of belonging and dedication to space, eye control over the outside space and rehabilitation of physical conditions as solutions for insecure spaces (Newman, 1972). Studies of crime situation patterns and antisocial activities such as drug abuse, smuggling, and vandalism in the last two decades have shown that they occur in a limited number of locations with specific features (hot spots). These studies show that an increase in the number of hot spots leads to an increase in the number of crimes (Sherman, 1995; Loukaitou-Sideris, 1999). Hot spots are well known for criminals in both local scale and the whole city.

Public Services: A balanced, integrated development of urban and local services such as educational and cultural institutions, fire stations, health centers, parks, recreational and tourism facilities, etc. will increase people’s overall satisfaction of place. Where services and facilities are selected carefully and located in an organizing system and subsystem, they will provide safe and easy accessibility as well as social interactions.

Results & Discussions


As stated earlier, the main reason for embarking on the Navab Project was provision of a major North-South access. Table 1 shows the traffic flow before and after construction of Navab Highway. These data suggest that there is a significant difference in the number of vehicles traveling in the highway per hour, before construction of the highway (Nov. 1990), and after (Oct. 2003). This shows the changing role of old Navab Street as a local collector to a new urban transit road. No estimate, however, is given in the project for the expected number of trips in the new highway. Many other factors influence the efficiency of the highway, such as the increase in the number of accidents due to high number of nodes, absence of taxi stations in local lanes which forces people to use fast lanes to get on and off, and insufficient pedestrian passes, which causes passersby to cut through the highway to get to the other side.

Pedestrian access is provided by 12 over and underpasses. The overpasses of 6.80 m height are unsuitable for children and the elderly. The sidewalks along the highway do not ease movements due to factors including limited width (2 meters maximum), slopes and stairs, being cut by parking ramps, and closed views in places lower than the highway level. Slopes and stairs have not allowed provision of bicycle and handicapped access.

Many local streets which used to serve the area are now turned into cul de sacs or been cut by the highway and its local lanes. Since the majority of streets cutting through Navab highway are one way and some crossroads like the intersection of Mortazavi with Navab are not accessible due to uneven height of the two streets; therefore, local trips have become longer and an overburden is placed upon the local network. Although a special 7.80 m wide bus route has been proposed in the initial plan of Navab, widening of the open space in front of the blocks later lead to its elimination. The high population density and low capacity of public transportation in the area have caused difficulties for the residents of Navab and surrounding areas.

Place Identity

The sense of neighborhoodness is one of the decisive factors in creating identity. The project has not benefited from an identifiable spatial structure, as it lacks a physical or functional center. The architecture of Navab accentuates its individualism. It depicts an urge to be apart from its context rather than a part of it, and thus it has no relation with the districts around. In original Iranian architecture, arts, elements, shapes and forms, are distinct features evolving through time, containing spiritual and symbolic meanings and expressing historical and cultural values. The architecture of Navab lacks almost all the mentioned features. The façades are too simple and uniform. Its important decorative feature is a combination of gray, red, and yellow that is in contrast with the colorless urban context.

The meaningful landmarks could also be regarded as influential elements of identity. Navab due to the contrast between its physical characteristics and its context is a prominent landmark in the city. However, the legibility of this landmark decreases considerably with the observer located inside. Although different phases are designed in different colors, the buildings convey no information to the observer for they carry a uniform spirit. Intersections, normally acting as a node, are now either destroyed or transformed into concrete bridges.


A mixed-use pattern attracts group(s) of people and provides a setting for social interactions. Old Navab has served as a center with a variety of activities, which can be traced in the number of wholesalers and retailers, urban office buildings, local firms, banks, clinics, cultural spaces, restaurants and hotels, schools, industrial small workshops, stores, and other local and urban facilities. At present, the area is dominated by residential buildings and shops.

The pattern of land division allows the possibility to design various forms and functions, and could thus be regarded as a means of creating vitality. Despite the huge blocks that constitute the Navab landscape, the local shops on the ground floor dominate the space here and provide a fine grain. The orientation of building entrances could be important in creating vitality. All the main building entrances in Navab are oriented towards the highway and open to the sidewalks. This may result in lively pedestrian movement and a means of increasing vitality of place. In the back, however, the situation is quite different, there is no entrance to the buildings but a dead space between old and new. Although, the existence of adaptable urban spaces is a key factor in creating vitality, focusing on financial benefits of land uses, has led to limited open space in the site. Urban spaces in Navab Project do not allow activities, sittings and social interaction. Apart from Boostan, a small one hectare park on the intersection of a local street and the highway, no other public park is available in the area.


Based on the observations and analyses that looked for people’s use of open spaces, it was identified that less antisocial behaviors take place in Boostan park which is mainly used by children. Areas with closed views including under bridges, the pedestrian underpasses in phase 1, in front of inactive places such as vacant shops and offices are susceptible and easily occupied by the special groups such as drug addicts and dealers. The residences of the surrounding areas believe that the unsecured attitude of the Navab extends to their areas, as cul de sacs are also becoming a hangout for offenders. As mentioned before, the narrow alleys that separate Navab from surrounding areas set the conditions for special groups which attract offenders.

Lighting could also be regarded as a key factor for security. In two completed phases, adequate lighting has been provided in the motorway, but the poor lighting in the overpasses has created undesirable and unsafe places in these areas. The minimal lighting has caused pedestrians to use them much less after the sunset. The areas with low social interactions increase the likelihood of attracting special groups; semi-dark routes are among the preferred spaces for such groups. Poor lighting results in increasing the fear of crime, less use by pedestrians and more by offenders.

Public Services

With the estimated population of 350,000 by the time of implementation and the demolishing of all of the existing urban and local services in the area, no school, hospital, playground or park (except for the small park in phase 1), cultural spaces or sport facilities will be available to the residents. Even the shops are very limited in type and do not provide the everyday needs of the residents.

Commercial activities are placed along the edges in a far distance, therefore, they are not localized which leads to an inefficient circulation. Moreover, the poor maintenance of paths and lack of safety for pedestrians passing through the highway increase the functional distance. Those living in Navab use facilities outside their own area and largely in the surrounding neighborhoods, which also suffer from lack of sufficient local facilities. This has resulted in over-crowding and an overburden on neighborhood facilities.

Functional centrality could be regarded as a key factor in the arrangement of activities. The absence of a center, the linear form of the project together with random placing of shops have made access to urban and local services difficult.

Tables 2 and 3 show the impacts of the project, on the metropolitan and local levels. Constructing urban highways in old and congested urban fabrics results in a blending of traffic, at different scales. The study shows that due to the weak relationship with surrounding and setting design priority to vehicles over pedestrians, Navab Highway has caused a serious fragmentation in the previously integrated fabric of this part of the city. Not only does this physical discontinuity has led to a cut-off in the existing sidewalks and streets, but has also resulted in a dissociation of neighborhoods and social interactions, between different neighborhoods as well as in neighborhoods themselves.

A general comparison of the physical character of the project with the existing fabric of the area indicates that the project will ultimately develop its own identityan identity different to that of its residents. No congruence can be detected between the architectural meanings, the pattern of building composition, size, proportions, colors, shapes, activities, and landmarks, and local cultural context. Although Navab lacks distinct buildings, landscape features and elements that can, as landmarks, create identity and make its modular, standard, and uniform structure legible, the whole project provides a landmark in urban scale, which is mostly due to its sharp contrast with the surrounding area. The single land use residential-, linear pattern of activities, a design dictating people’s lifestyle and thus ignoring the flexibility and adaptability of urban spaces has resulted in creation of passive places.

Housing is mainly intended for low and medium-income buyers, but displacement and gentrification has reduced social conditions, and made the area to appear as less desirable compared to surrounding older areas; thus the most deprived occupy the buildings. Although design solutions can help, but without public control it is difficult to improve the security of a place. Gentrification has resulted in the loss of belonging to the place, and lack of market interest intensifies the problem. The project has had some positive effects on the surrounding area as it has encouraged private sector to begin reconstructing the area.

The result of the evaluation (Table 4) shows that, in contrast to the claims made by the city authorities, and projects› architects that the high quality of the project would make it as a model, and the principles developed here could be applicable everywhere else, the project has failed, as it inflicted deep breakdown in the organic structure of the social and physical fabric of the area. The new mega structures that replaced the small, single, traditional houses and other structures have created overwhelming inhuman walls on two sides of this machine tunnel. Interaction between east and west neighborhoods has been severely damaged. This has made the civil life in the area practically cut.

The hasty decision made by the municipality together with ill-defined strategies and deficiencies in the design process has led to a reduction in the role of local authorities, private partnership, and public participation. The result of such process is a weak and problematic physical restructuring, with slow speed implementation, high financial risk associated with such massive investments, dissatisfied users, and physical and social adverse impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods.


This paper explained how and why the planning and design of Navab Project has essentially failed. The evaluation of Navab Project has revealed many significant points that offer important lessons for urban reconstruction activities in Iran, as well as similar contexts of other countries. Main reasons for the Project’s failure can be summarized as follows:

• Lack of urban design as a framework for architectural activities

• Lack of a systematic, explicit and open decision-making process;

• Lack of evaluation, particularly cost-benefit analysis (economic as well as social and environmental) in developing and selecting alternatives;

• Lack of effectuation and monitoring to correct the mistakes.

• Lack of a feasibility study to justify the project’s goals;

• Lack of legal justification for property ownerships;

• Compulsory evacuation/relocation of residents/businesses in the early stages of

• redevelopment;

• Lack of a defined authority for the project management;

• Lack of adequate and effective mechanism for people’s participation in the process;

• Interest groups have not been involved in the design process.

• The traditional structure of neighborhoods has been destroyed.

• Environmental issues and the dynamic nature of city development in central city have not been taken into consideration.

• No attention has been made to the changes of land values on the strip edges.

• Accessibility, place identity, vitality, security, and public facilities are the main substantive elements to be considered as essential weaknesses of the project.

The evaluation and analysis of the Navab project once again reconfirms that a government-controlled planning and design, which lacks the process of public/private collaboration often leads to problems in the design/ decision-making process and the eventual failure of the product. As the project was heavily dependent on the conventional theme of government does it all, it failed to respond to the desires, expectations, lifestyles, and tastes of the users, directly, and residents of the whole city, indirectly. So wrong process could lead to wrong product, or a wrong product is the result of a wrong process.

It is quite disappointing that in a time when the dominant theoretical views in urban design, such as sustainability, ecological design, new urbanism, collaborativism, and process-oriented design are emphasizing on the key issues mentioned above, Navab Project is being designed and implemented without any slightest attention to these concerns. We may, therefore, conclude that a wrong process has led to a wrong product. The authors hope that the lessons learned from this kind of failure can be used to improve the design process for large-scale urban projects, and prevent future failures.

To prevent some of these problems in the future, more partnership between private and public interests need to be encouraged. A participatory place making, supports and enhances the compatibility between built form and the needs of a community. This can be done by a conductive organization through which public and private investments can be canalized, through which stakeholders all can participate in the reconstruction process. The government, urban planners and architects should act as facilitators and catalysts in the planning and design process to create an apparatus for people-centered planning to promote the feeling of locality and foster a more place-focused public reconstruction policy. It may be also concluded that in an activity as complex as urban design, particularly in a traditional context such as old textures of Iranian cities, application of a thorough process may in fact serve a significant goal by itself in capacity building, empowerment, education, and public awareness.


This paper is based on the findings of a research project carried out at the Graduate Faculty of Environment, with the financial support of the Vice Chancellor for Research of the University of Tehran.

Copyright 2007 – Graduate Faculty of Environment University of Tehran



نعمت احمدي

روزنامه اعتماد، 27 بهمن 1387

وقتي تهران به سال 1166 هجري شمسي يعني 221 سال قبل توسط آقا محمد خان قاجار به پايتختي انتخاب شد با جمعيت 15 هزار نفري خود به يقين از کرمان کوچک تر بود؛ دهکده يي مصفا در کنار «ري» باستاني که زماني يکي از شهرهاي بزرگ مشرق زمين بود و روزگاري زنگ کاروان هاي جاده ابريشم نام و آوازه ري را تا دوردست ها مي بردند. آن زماني که بزرگ ترين مرکز علمي، نظاميه را در خود داشت و قبل از آن دانشمنداني همچون محمد بن زکرياي رازي را پرورش داد که در فلسفه، طب، شيمي و حکمت يکي از مشاهير جهان است. مجله تايمز در آغاز هزاره سوم نام هزار نفر را که به نوعي در انتقال علم و تمدن بشر از نسلي به نسل ديگر نقش داشتند، برشمرد. 

محمد بن زکرياي رازي نيز در آن ميان بود. وي يکي از هزار نفري بود که اينشتين سرآمد آنان بود. تهران تا آغاز قرن سيزدهم هجري- دوره حکومت ناصرالدين شاه- هنوز جمعيتي کمتر از 100 هزار نفر داشت و در آغاز حکومت پهلوي نزديک به 200 هزار نفر. حد فاصل سال 1266 تا 1306 يعني 40 سال جمعيت تهران از 15 هزار نفر به 200 هزار نفر رسيد. 50 سال بعد جمعيت اين شهر قريب به چهار ميليون نفر بود اما امروزه آمار ساکنان شهر تهران متفرق است از هفت ميليون تا 14 ميليون که اين تفاوت آماري بحث برانگيز است. در زمان ناصرالدين شاه تهران به چهار محله تقسيم مي شد که يکي عود لاجان محله اعيان نشين، چاله ميدان منطقه فقيرنشين، بازار و محله سنگلج. امروزه همان تهران از 22 منطقه تشکيل شده است که کرج در غرب، بومهن، رودهن و حتي دماوند در شرق، لواسانات در شمال و کهريزک و حسن آباد در جنوب جمعيت خود را روانه تهران مي کنند تا اين شهر در ساعات فعاليت خود از انفجار جمعيت چنان به تنگ آيد که نفس کشيدن دشوار شود. دهکده يي که شاه طهماسب صفوي برج و بارويي اطراف آن ساخت تا سال 1250 شمسي که ناصرالدين شاه پس از سفرهاي فرنگ درصدد برآمد همانند شهرهاي بزرگ دنيا سر و ساماني به آن بدهد.

با تشکيل بلديه کار طراحي شهر با نظر شاه قاجار و تحت امر نخستين شهردار آن محمدحسن خان اعتماد السلطنه پنج سالي طول کشيد و شهري با چهار محله قديمي در طرح جديد وسعت گرفت. برج و باروي شاه طهماسبي فرو ريخت و 12دروازه به نام هاي شميران، دوشان تپه، دولاب، خراسان، شاه عبدالعظيم، غار، خاني آباد، گمرک، قزوين، باقرشاه، يوسف آباد و دوازدهمين دروازه دولت بود. اين دروازه ها از تهران شهر بزرگي ساختند. نخستين نماد اروپايي خيابان لاله زار و اولين مرکز تجاري غير بازار خيابان استانبول و ميدان توپخانه مرکز تفريحي شهر تهران شدند؛ جاذبه يي براي تهران که تا دوره پهلوي اول ادامه داشت. در سال 1313 هجري شمسي با دستوري نابخردانه توسط رضاشاه تمامي برج و بارو و دروازه هاي شهر فرو ريخت. با اين دستور جدا از ويراني برج و باروي تهران حداقل 12 دروازه زيبايي که در دوره ناصري و بعد از آن ساخته و تکميل شده بود و اوج زيبايي و دقت معماري دوره قاجار بود، تخريب شد و تنها نقاشي و عکس هايي از آن آثار هنر معماري باقي ماند. اما باعث گسترش شهر تهران شد که امروزه به هيولايي تبديل شده که شاهد آنيم.

کوه البرز همانند ديواري بلند مانع وزش بادهاي غربي شده که مي توانند هواي اين شهر را تغيير دهند. هر روزه همانند تاج انفجار اتمي هيروشيما انبوهي از ابرهاي متراکم فضاي آسماني تهران را که نفس کشيدن را براي ساکنان مشکل کرده است، پوشانده است. جغرافيدانان سه عامل را در وضعيت فعلي آب و هواي تهران تاثيرگذار مي دانند؛ نخست کوه هاي البرز در شمال، دوم باد و باران هايي که بايد از غرب بيايد و به تن خسته اين شهر صفايي بدهد و سوم هرم و آتش دشت کوير جنوبي تهران که با اکولوژي خاص خود مانع گسترش اين شهر در قسمت جنوبي که اتفاقاً گستره فراواني دارد، شده است. آن روز که کالسکه با اسب هاي چابک گران ترين وسيله حمل و نقل شهر بود تهران را شهر چشمه سارها، چنارها و کوچه باغ ها مي ناميدند، تا اينکه نخستين وسيله نقليه يي که با انرژي کار مي کرد، وارد تهران شد؛ ماشين دودي. ظاهراً دنياي جديد حمل و نقل در تهران نه اينکه نام دودي را يدک مي کشيد بلکه ظرف صد سالي که اتومبيل وارد تهران شد نصيب مردم اين شهر جدا از ترافيک، دود ناشي از رفت و آمد اتومبيل هاي عمدتاً غيراستاندارد بوده است، تا جايي که آلودگي هوا داد مسوولان را درآورده و اين بار دري نجف آبادي دادستان کل کشور از آلودگي هوا به عنوان وسيله جرم و از آلوده کنندگان آن به عنوان مجرم ياد مي کند و اين حق را براي خانواده کساني که بر اثر استنشاق دود ناشي از ماشين ها و صنايع آلاينده به مرگ زودرس گرفتار آمدند، قائل شده است تا دولت را طرف دعوا قرار دهد. هواي تهران شده است آلت قتاله و مي شود از آلوده کنندگان آن که عمدتاً شرکت هاي ماشين سازي و واردکنندگان بنزين که ناخالصي آن-بااکتان بالا- نقشي غيرقابل انکار در آلودگي هواي هميشه در شرايط ناسالم تهران دارد، شکايت کرد. اول سارها و سپس ديگر پرندگان و مي گويند هم اکنون کلاغ ها زودتر از ما آدميان دل از يار و ديار خود در تهران کندند و اين شهر را ترک کردند اما با مرگ و مير زيادي که ناشي از آلودگي هواست، ساکنان اين شهر به لحاظ تمرکز عمده نهادهاي فرهنگي، سياسي، اجتماعي، تجاري و خدماتي قادر به ترک اين شهر نيستند.

و هر روز در اين شهر نفس کشيدن سخت تر مي شود؛ نفسي که ممد حيات است و مفرح ذات به قاتلي خاموش تبديل شده است و تنها عقاب تيزپرواز مرحوم دکتر ناتل خانلري است که از تهران مي رود و اوج مي گيرد اما ظاهراً جاي خالي کلاغ ها را امروز انسان ها پر کرده اند. نفس کشيدن در اين شهر مشکل است.



Caitlin Whalen

February 29, 2008

An extensive network of narrow, twisted streets ran through the city of Tehran in the early twentieth century. The complex web of dark alleyways constructed a cool environment for foot traffic, public spaces, and semi-private spaces outdoors. These streets were systematically widened in a series of installments, spanning over multiple decades. Now large portions of the city that were once alleys consist of multi-lane streets. Commonly stated initial reasons for this change include the need to integrate automobiles into the city and more recently to ease the extensive traffic congestion1. A broader characterization of their motivations reveal that policy makers in Tehran have dramatically changed the street system to bringing the city closer to a developed city in image and in function, or more simply, to modernize the city.

The motivations of the policy makers are relevant in the sense that they are a subset artists who contribute to the oeuvre2, known as Tehran. What I wish to address, however, are the implications of the street policy results on the social space of the city. Sociopolitical factors clearly influenced the motivations for widening the streets, however “it can not be maintained that this relationship was unidirectional, “to quote Marvin Trachtenberg3 while speaking of his own research, widening the streets is not “simply a passive product or “mirroring“ of society an its institutional life: such ingenious determinism never has obtained in any cultural production.“ Trachtenberg is speaking about the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, however his perspective is useful when considering the streets of Tehran; changing the street structure dramatically reorganization the social space constructively by creating new spaces, and destructively by eliminating exiting space.

The process of the reorganization of the street structure occurred in a series of stages. An essential landmark towards the modernization of the streets in Tehran was the “Act Concerning Building and Widening of Streets and Alleys in 1933. This act implemented a gridded system as depicted, widened streets and paved them with cobbles to allow for the traversal of automobiles4. Relevant reworking of similar policies were implemented in 1941 and 1966. Many of the earlier changes to the street system consisted of replacing old qanats, or fresh water system, with streets. Additionally, as one might predict, old buildings were torn down to make way for the new grid system. Now most of Tehran supports a wide gridded system due to street reconstruction along with explosive urban growth allowing for new modern streets to be constructed.

This transformation was rooted in a very different city. While some streets in Tehran in the beginning of the twentieth century were wide and straight, the majority were essentially alleyways. The buildings often blocked out the harsh sunlight, thus making the streets more comfortable in the hot dessert climate5. The raised streets of the bazaars that funneled into the thinly wound residential areas, Integrated within the fabric of streets were numerous blind alleyways and cul-de-sacs, which functioned as semi-private spaces embedded within public space. Janet Abu-Lughod describes her experiences with these spaces in Islamic cities:

“I am often struck…with how easy it is to tell whether I am in public space or have blundered into semiprivate space…A sudden narrowing of the path, particularly if that narrowing has been exaggerated by the implanting of low stone posts or even a pile of bricks, is a sign of the shift, especially when the road widens again soon afterward6. “

These spaces often are only shared by a small number of families, and sometimes even include a gate which can be closed7. In an Islamic city where privacy is extremely important, especially for woman, these spaces were an intermediary between the private home and the main city streets where the gaze of the stranger could be avoided.

An implication of street modernization is that these semi-private arenas have been disappearing.

Privacy in the social space of the city due to street structure is no longer a possibility. Unhindered by sharply winding streets and semi-private spaces one’s gaze easily includes fellow citizens. This allows for people to partake in a less extreme version of Michel Foucault’s surveillance8. Rather than sliding by in a narrow alleyway, two pedestrians are able to observe one another. The surveillance of fellow citizens can now easily occur unnoticed from afar. The change in the street system not only alters old ideas of social space, but also allows for the a entirely new set of concepts to be applied. For a moment consider the changes in the space surrounding the Baptistery in Florence as described by Marvin Trachtenberg9. The design of the space surrounding the Baptistery was constructed with intense attention to the geometric properties of the space. Since people of the time were educated in the ways of reading and appreciating the ratios and balance inherit in the space, this certainly was noticed. Parallels can be drawn to the case of widening and straightening the streets of Tehran. In the case of Tehran, it is important to note, a select few streets have been historically straight. This is commonly recognized as a material representation of power. The relatively recent addition of the idea of how a modern city appears takes organized streets to a new level. While the Florentines could appreciate the proportions of the space surrounding the Baptistery, Tehran citizens see the widening and organization of the streets as modern.

In Tehran city policy acts as an artist, slowly carving away old social space and replacing it with new. The explicitly stated aim of the policy is practical, to improve an aspect of city function. However the effects of the policy travel further then the cars navigating the newly routed streets. Social space, defined on multiple levels of scale within the city, is now expressed very differently then before the alteration of the streets.




1-Ali Madanipour, Tehran (West Sussex: John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 1998), 37 and 210

2-Henri Lefebvre, “The Specificity of the City“(1968), in Visual Culture: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies, eds. Joanne Morra and Marquand Smith (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), 3:102-105

3-Marvin Trachtenberg, Dominion of the Eye (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), xvii

4-Ali Madanipour, Tehran (West Sussex: John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 1998), 37

5-Ali Madanipour, Tehran (West Sussex: John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 1998), 107

6-Janet Abu-Lughod, “The Islamic City Historic Myth, Islamic Essence, and Contemporary Relevance“, in Urban Development in the Muslim World, ed. Amrahmadi and El-Shakhs, (New Jersey: Rutgers, 1993), 27

7-Ali Madanipour, Tehran (West Sussex: John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 1998), 243

8- Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Random House, 1977), 195-228.

9-Marvin Trachtenberg, Dominion of the Eye (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 251-253