Tucked away in a quiet corner on a residential street in Gorgan, a northern village in Iran, stands a structure that has attracted attention for its eloquent humbleness, a specialty of Iranian architects. Designed as a weekend retreat from the hustle and bustle of Tehran life, the Fruit House is the brainchild of Tehran based architects Mohammadreza Ghodousi and Parsa Ardam, cofounders of Zav Design and Build Company.
The Fruit House is a sophisticated reworking of traditional Persian architectural codes designed for contemporary living. While the house may seem unassuming from a distance, it is the very sparseness of the design that endows it with humble nobility.
‘In Iranian culture, mazloom, or the quality of being humble, is exalted as the ideal moral character type,’ explains Ghodousi. It is a quality that finds expressions in art, poetry, Iranian cinema – and perhaps most tangibly, in architecture.
The Fruit House was commissioned in 2005 by former owners Ahmad and Sara Aliabadi, took three years to complete, and cost a total of 20,000 dollars. ‘We wanted a simple house where we could relax and get away from the stress of city life,’ says Ahmad Aliabadi. Sitting in the solace of the light-filled salon, the house feels about as far away from the urban noise of Tehran as can be imagined.
The inspiration for the work came from the clients’ 12-year-old son who revealed a voracious appetite for fruit. ‘It was the only thing he would ever want to eat,’ says Ghodousi, laughingly. There is no place better than Gorgan to satisfy a fruit craving since much of Iran’s fruit production springs from the lush soil of the surrounding fields.
A ten-minute drive from the Fruit House leads you to an expansive orange grove, so it was a natural step for Ghodousi to integrate this element into the design. ‘We displayed a heap of oranges in a hollowed-out travertine kitchen counter,’ says Ghodousi, adding a jolt of colour which complements the gentle turquoise tiles that line the sink.
Tiles in soft shades of yellow also line the small pool in the garden, a very common characteristic of Persian design. Historically, water has been a gesture of optimism (particularly during dry seasons) as well as a cultural signifier connoting wealth and status.
With few windows – aside from glass doors that open to a small rear garden – there is not much transparency to the house, reflecting an Iranian preference for privacy. A skylight near the rear of the building allows sunlight to flood the house and helps to evoke a sense of openness, which is enhanced by the loft style layout and high ceilings.
The house has two unadorned bedrooms, though the word ‘bedroom’ may be a misnomer. ‘Having a fixed bedroom is not an element of traditional Iranian homes – this room can be slept in at night by simply putting down a thin mattress and blankets. In the morning, the sleeping mats will be removed and you can lay a tablecloth on the ground and have breakfast there, and then afterwards it can serve as a salon where you offer your guests tea and conversation.’
‘Multi-functional is the Iranian approach to these spaces – this flexibility, in fact, is a very modern concept,’ Ghodousi adds about the space. The design is also marked by practicality – almost all the building material was derived from a 20 mile radius from the site. The material for the wood covered roof was found from the surrounding forests.
The outdoors is evoked in the interior as well as with unfinished firewood used to create tables and chairs, enhancing the harmony that the house shares with its surroundings. Heavy clays that are found in abundance throughout the district were also used in the construction of the project. Even the stones and sand that adorn the garden were taken from the bed of the nearby Ziyarat River.
To some, the Fruit House evokes a certain Scandinavian minimalism, though Ghodousi says his designs bear very little reference to Western influenced trends. ‘There is a big difference between western and Persian minimalism,’ he says, explaining that the latter is ‘not about sterility or simplicity, per se – the Persian mark of minimalism is solely characterised by a commitment to harmony.’
For Ghodousi, context is everything. He takes his cues from the geography and the history of the land. ‘With the Fruit House we were committed to respecting the urban landscape and the existing skyline – we didn’t want anything that stood out.’ Pointing to the heterogeneous cultural makeup of Iran (Gorgan is well-known for its ethnic diversity), Ghodousi says that it is difficult to offer a narrowly defined and instantly recognisable ‘brand’ of Persian architecture. ‘If the context changes, so will the architecture,’ he says.
And while Ghodousi says he does not make a conscious effort to forge a connection with the past, he concedes that there are some cultural codes that have had a wide influence throughout the northeastern province, which are also referenced in the Fruit House.
‘There will always be some continuity if your design is context driven,’ he says. ‘If the geography and the culture remain more or less constant there will be a certain dialogue with the past. This connection to the past is very much linked to the makan, the sense of place – that is why you may feel certain features have a timeless quality, redefined over and over but never fundamentally changed.’
Poetry, a central component of Persian culture, is an example of this and is referenced in the Fruit House. Two lines from an 18th century Arabic poem in praise of Ali, the first Shia Imam, are the only markings on the wall. The black calligraphy painted on the white walls lends a quiet reverential beauty to the space and evokes its poetic grandeur.
Putting aside his reservations about distilling Persian architecture into self-contained tropes, Ghodousi allows himself a moment of lyrical candour. ‘If I had to say what the essence of Persian architecture is I would say khesht o khial.’ Clay and imagination.
This article can be found in Brownbook’s July/August 2014 Issue.
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