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Building a New Middle East – Israeli architect in Iran

Neta Feniger

bandar abbas and bushehr

Models of the neighborhoods in Bushehr (left) and Bandar Abbas (right)

In the spring of 1972 representatives of the Iranian Navy arrived in Israel in search of an architect. The Navy was building bases on the shores of the Persian Gulf and when the facilities were almost completed, it was realized that no accommodation had been provided for the troops and their families. The Israeli construction firm assigned to the project suggested employing an Israeli architect known for speedy planning and implementation skills acquired during nation-building.

The Israeli-Iranian relations (1950-1979) opened up a new market for Israeli architects and construction companies for whom work in Iran was a chance to extend professional enterprise in the Middle East. Iran was in the midst of modernization, and was looking for foreign professionals with high levels of expertise. Israelis were looking for work as the Israeli market declined after the years of intense nation building. In the course of two decades (mainly the 1960s and 1970s) Israeli architects were involved in varied projects in Iran, demonstrating manifold approaches for adjusting their practice acquired back home.

The Navy project was one of the bigger projects by Israeli architects in Iran. The Israeli architect, Dan Eitan (1931-) was chosen especially by Navy representatives on account of his housing project in Israel. Nevertheless, Eitan saw this project as an opportunity to rectify modernism and make it more considerate of cultural and social needs and of local environmental conditions.

The project was planned in three locations, Bandar Abbas and Bushehr – then small fishing towns – and the island of Kahrg where a major oil port was already operating. At the latter site, Eitan’s project consisted of a few dwelling units. For Bandar Abbas and Bushehr it included a master plan, detailed town plans, designing three types of housing, infrastructures, and neighbourhood amenities. The Navy planning office provided a brief programme specifying different dwelling units for different ranks, including densities and unit sizes. The final plans for all three sites amounted to about 12,000 dwelling units and the required amenities. Some of the buildings, such as mosques and the admiral’s villa, were included in Eitan’s plans but they were designed by Iranian architects.

Hadish in Bandar Abbas

Google Earth image of Bandar Abbas, marked – the area built according to Eitan’s plan.

bushehr 2

Bushehr during construction (1975): in front detached houses, in the middle 4 floor housing and 15 storey buildings in the background.

Eitan’s scheme followed Israeli town-planning models of the time, avoiding street grids and creating building clusters with public and semi-public areas. This was very different from the pattern of the surrounding built-up areas, which is still distinguishable in the overall developed areas. The housing design was modular, with different module units for each housing type. The 15-storey building comprised 100 split-level apartments. Each mezzanine floor included 4 apartments radiating out from the elevator shaft. The four-storey buildings were comprised of modular units linked to each other like dominoes on each side, resulting in the creation of semi-public enclosed courtyards. Single-family detached houses for senior officers varied in design, to allow flexibility of purpose, had fiberglass-covered pedestrian atria between them. The whole neighbourhood was connected by shaded pathways leading for the community amenities.

Attention to the harsh local climate was of main concern. Eitan, assisted by an Israeli climate planning expert, integrated new techniques for moderating heat and glare in homes and public areas. The local amenities were carefully planned with inner patios and shaded outdoor spaces. The cultural centre (which was never built) was to be surrounded by a moat, with a bridged entrance, and external concrete prisms shading the windows.

bandar abas officers

Fibreglass covered pedestrian walks in Bandar Abbas

tarbut perspective

Perspective of plan for Bandar Abbas cultural centre (never built)

Eitan, unlike many of his Israeli contemporaries, never adopted vernacular elements in his design, neither in Israel nor in Iran. For him, the quest for the locale was not a question of appearance, but of deep cultural understanding of the society in which he worked, and a desire to create architecture appropriate to local needs and conditions. Thus, his project in Iran was not about representing Iranian culture, but about understanding this culture and how its inhabitants lived. He even consulted a psychologist, trying to comprehend the experience of women left behind for long periods of time when their men are at sea, and created a community centre designed to accommodate their needs.

Sensitivity to local tradition was part of Eitan’s intention to make modern architecture less intrusive. He felt that his professional integrity, especially as a Haraji – a stranger, and a Jew – demanded sensitivity and respect for his clients and their Muslim tradition. The location of the bathrooms is an example of his attitude. According to Iranian Islamic law, all bathrooms should face away from Mecca, i.e. in accordance with the geographic position of Tehran, should be in the north-east corner of the house. However, since the Gulf lies further to the south, he pointed out that the south-eastern location was more correct and insisted on obtaining religious authorization for the bathrooms’ new location.

For Eitan, architectural modernism was a means of creating better living environments. In the Navy Project, however, his approach to modernism often became a point of friction with his employers. The navy’s officials explained that he had been hired as a foreign expert, based on his architectural achievements in Israel. Eitan, however, was striving for socio-cultural harmony in his projects, while the Iranians required a plan that would provide the necessary amenities, and be easily implemented in the fastest way possible. Eitan explains:

“At one point the Navy asked me why the project wasn’t moving faster. I told them that I needed to learn their culture. They said – ‘No. Bring your own culture. That’s why we hired you’. But I told them I only brought my profession. I merged my culture with theirs and then integrated it in the plan.”(Eitan in interview- August 2010)

In Israel, Eitan rarely had a chance to work with clients, since he was building housing for new immigrants who had not yet arrived. In Iran he received detailed information concerning prospective users, and was able to get acquainted with his clients, and plan for their needs.

Eitan’s approach was universal, but at the same time local and specific, though the project was also greatly influenced by Israeli architectural discourse of the time. It was not an Israeli-Iranian hybrid, mainly because Israeli architecture had no apparent tradition, and Eitan did not seem to be influenced by contemporary or traditional Iranian architecture.The Navy Project was specifically planned for a specific location and users, but was nonetheless modernist and universal.

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This post is based on the article: Neta Feniger& Rachel Kallus (2013): “Building a ‘new Middle East’: Israeli architects in Iran in the 1970s”, The Journal of Architecture, 18:3, 381-401. Materials are with permission of architect Dan Eitan, who I would like to thank for his kindness and full access to his archive and memory.

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‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Keynote 3

Jiat-Hwee Chang, ‘Contextualizing Fry and Drew’s Tropical Architecture: Climate as Agency’

Influence acts in both directions. While Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew were indeed influential figures in the fields of modern architecture, town planning and tropical architecture, they were undoubtedly also shaped by various forms of external influences. This paper will explore some of these influences on Fry and Drew. The focus of this paper is, however, not so much on the influence of personae – such as teachers, mentors, patrons, colleagues and friends of Fry and Drew – but with the conditions of possibility – specifically historical structure, socio-political conditions and technoscientific infrastructure – that shaped the ways Fry and Drew produced tropical architecture in Africa and Asia during the mid-twentieth century.

Through a close reading of two books by Fry and Drew – Village Housing in the Tropics (1947) and Tropical Architecture in the Humid Zone (1956) – this paper seeks to understand what were the influences on Fry and Drew’s discourse and practice of tropical architecture. Broadly speaking, this paper will explore two main forms of influence on Fry and Drew. One, it situates Fry and Drew’s tropical architecture in the longer genealogy of European, particularly British, buildings in the tropics. While Fry and Drew’s work in the tropics contributed to the institutionalisation of tropical architecture in the mid-twentieth century and was posited as something new and modern, this paper argues that their work was inextricably linked to prior colonial “tropical architecture” and, in particular, carried historically sedimented meanings of tropicality. Two, this paper locates the influences on Fry and Drew’s tropical architecture within the mid-twentieth century moment. Specifically, it shows how Fry and Drew’s tropical architecture was undergirded by the technoscientific infrastructure of building research in climatic design. This paper also argues that the socio-political conditions of decolonisation and development in the British Empire/Commonwealth facilitated Fry and Drew’s production of tropical architecture.

Drawing on the notion of what science studies scholars James Rodger Fleming and Vladimir Jankovic call “climate as agency” that translates matters of concern into matters of fact, this paper seeks to show that, common to the two aforementioned broad forms of influence, the tropical climate in tropical architecture was more than a statistical index of weather trends. Tropical climate was elevated as a prime consideration in the design and construction of tropical architecture because it was seen as an agency and a force that informed social habits, affected health, shaped socio-economic progress and determined the welfare of a territory’s population.

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Chang Jiat Hwee is Assistant Professor at the Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore. He obtained his Ph.D. in Architecture from the University of California at Berkeley in 2009. His interdisciplinary research on (post)colonial architectural history and theory, and the socio-technical aspects of sustainability in the built environment have been published as various book chapters and journal articles. He is currently working on a book titled A Genealogy of Tropical Architecture: Colonialism, Ecology and Nature (to be published by Archi-text series, Routledge). He is the co-editor of Non West Modernist Past (2011) and a special issue of Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography on “tropical spatialities”(2011). He is also the author of two monographs on contemporary architecture in Singapore.

‘Aim for the moon’

Jane Drew

In about 1991, Jane Drew lectured to students at the Hull School of Architecture and advised them to ‘aim for the moon’. Drew gave a good overview of her life and career, showing images of her work at Chandigarh, Ibadan University and in Iran. During this period she was writing her biography, although never published, and similar ideas and themes are present in the lecture here: most notably, her willingness to work hard and make mistakes, and her (perceived) luck in becoming an architect. Of being a woman architect, she said: ‘I think its a bit like making a monkey draw. If a monkey can draw it’s wonderful. If a woman can do something well it’s … I think being a woman is really a help or has been, rather than otherwise.’

A transcript of the interview has been kindly sent in by Malcolm Dickson and can be downloaded here: Drew Lecture at Hull, c1991

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Abstract 8

Daniel A. Barber, ‘Designing with Climate in the Suburb: Olgyay and Olgyay and the American Influence of Fry and Drew’

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, when Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew were exploring methods for building in the tropical climates of West Africa, interest in architecture and climate was also the concern of many practitioners in the Americas. Richard Neutra’s commissions in Puerto Rico, for example, involved school designs with induced ventilation; design innovations across Brazil and South America developed dynamic shading systems; in the US, the American Institute of Architects collaborated with House Beautiful to produce a series of articles on “Climate Control” and a handbook for architects.

This presentation will briefly summarize this American interest, and then focus on the work of Victor and Aladar Olgyay, twin Hungarian émigrés working at MIT and Princeton in the period. Committed Corbusians, the Olgyay’s met Fry in London in 1936, soon after he completed his Sun House, and were inspired by his use of the materials and methods of modernism towards a more refined relationship to climate. The Olgyay’s books Solar Control and Shading Devices (1957) and Design with Climate (1963) codified and popularized the global climatic discourse. They also present an early attempt to place these interests in historical perspective.

Whereas Fry and Drew developed their strategies in the context of the economic development goals of Britain’s former colonies, the Olgyay’s focused on the American suburb. The second part of the presentation will focus on the challenges they faced. In addition questions of orientation, materials, and building shape, developing means by which architects could engage scientific analyses of climate were paramount, as they allowed for a generalized method for designing subdivisions according to regional differences. Their method for climatic subdivision design was briefly influential, before the affordability of HVAC rendered their analyses mute – a historical consequence, as the presentation will conclude, that has ramifications for the present.

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Daniel A. Barber is an Assistant Professor of Architectural History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is also the Associate Chair of the Department of Architecture. His research looks at the role of architectural technologies in the infrastructural and territorial transformations of the immediate post-World War II period in the United States. His current book project is titled A House in the Sun: Modern Architecture and Solar Energy in the Cold War.

Barber’s essays have appeared in numerous periodicals, including Grey RoomThe Journal of ArchitectureDesign Philosophy Papersthresholds, and DASH; he has also published articles in numerous edited volumes. An essay is forthcoming in Technology and Culture.

Barber received a PhD from Columbia University, and was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University Center for the Environment. He has held visiting positions at Oberlin College, Barnard College, and the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Keynote 2

Elizabeth Darling, ‘The Conditions for an Architecture for To-day: A discussion of the inter-war architectural scene in England’

Taking its cue from the title of a 1938 lecture by Wells Coates, this paper considers the conditions that created the generation of architects in inter-war England that included Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry. Its ultimate concern is to offer some conclusions about how such conditions shaped Fry and Drew’s desire to transform space and society in particular, and, at a broader level, the nature of English modernism as a whole.

The paper will explore several conditions in order to achieve this goal. Chief among them are the educational contexts in which Drew and Fry studied, and hence what this might tell us about the modernisms they would practise. Among the earliest of the generation of women to train professionally, Drew attended the Architectural Association at a time when it was just beginning its shift towards a more avowedly ‘modern’ stance. Fry, by contrast, was a product of the Liverpool Beaux-Arts system that the AA would eschew not long after Drew graduated.  Important too, were the intellectual milieux which the pair inhabited, and their friendship networks. This is evident in the comradeship of Coates and Fry, an alliance forged following their first meeting some time in 1923-4. Out of this emerged a commitment to training themselves in modern culture and to make connections with allied avant-garde groups, a strategy which allowed them to become the natural leaders of an institutionalising English modern movement. Drew, likewise, shared a network of progressive friends – such as the Communist architect Justin Blanco White –an engagement particularly with modern art, and an equal skill at organisation and propagandising, something which did much to keep the movement alive during the war years.

Referencing other collaborations, and key inter-war architectural projects, particularly by Fry, the paper concludes its concern to contextualise the English side of Drew and Fry’s modernism.

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Elizabeth Darling works on 20th century British architectural history with a particular interest in inter-war modernism, social housing, and gender. She has published on the nature of authorship in the design process; the innovative practices of the inter-war voluntary housing sector, the housing consultant Elizabeth Denby and the relationship between citizenship and the reform of domestic space in inter-war Britain. Her book, on British architectural modernism, Re-forming Britain: Narratives of Modernity before Reconstruction, was published by Routledge in early 2007 while an edited volume (with Lesley Whitworth), Women and the Making of Built Space in England, 1870-1950 was published by Ashgate in autumn 2007. Her research focuses on three main areas: the link between urban renewal and social (especially child welfare) reform in the slums of Edinburgh in the early 20th century; the arena in which progressive ideas about design and space were developed and disseminated in 1920s Britain, and an in-depth study of the work and life of the architect-engineer Wells Wintemute Coates, which research is supported by funding from the Paul Mellon Centre for the Study of British Art and the RIBA Research Trust. She is most recently the author of Wells Coates, published by the RIBA in collaboration with the 20th Century Society & English Heritage (2012).

Village Housing in the Tropics: With Special Reference to West Africa

The seminal book on Tropical Architecture by Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry has been republished by Routledge 66 years after its first edition was bravely produced by Lund Humpries.

villagehousing

The slender volume loaded with Fry’s cartoons and sketches became an instant hit, with its engaging insights and empirical findings.  It was not aimed at the specialist or technician, rather the generalist and interested reader looking for quick tips to solve familiar problems. The book gives pragmatic advice on the siting of villages, housing orientation and matters relating to sanitation and health. Although the content was far from novel or radical, it presented previously dry and mundane material in a manner that was easy to understand, and encouraged greater attention to be given to the everyday housing problems of West Africa.

The book was used by Fry and Drew as a promotional tool,  they included a copy along with their CV’s when applying to be considered for the University of Ibadan project and it almost certainly influenced their consideration for Chandigarh. It set them apart from others working in tropical regions,  and with its emphasis on village housing firmly aligned them with the Colonial Office’s desire to promote ‘Development and Welfare’.

It almost goes without saying, but the publication was a product of its time and formed part of the colonial enterprise. Within the front and back endpapers of the book a map of the world is coloured to highlight Britain’s Colonial territories, highlighting where the book’s advice could be dispensed and treating all ‘tropical’ territories as one and the same irrespective of their specific contexts and climatic variations.

Available to purchase here: Village Housing in the Tropics: With Special Reference to West Africa (Studies in International Planning History)