Tuesday, January 17, 2017


In November 2015 HydroCity created an officious partnership with the twelfth district Municipality of Tehran, and the Art, City and Landscape Festival of Amiens for the creation of a garden festival that would use the capital’s abandoned qanat network as a re-newed water source. At a time of a national water crisis, and with the prospect of lifting sanctions, the project was welcome with enthusiasm from both Iran and France. 

The project was planned out in three phases: research, design and fabrication. A first open call would gather local students in Tehran for phase one, a second open call, in France, would choose five design teams for the gardens (HydroCity being one of them). After phase one, the teams would collaborate through workshops to design and fabricate the five gardens, set out to become permanent public spaces.

The research phase was necessary in order to examine the qanat network, create an urban analysis and diagnosis, and put together an endemic plant pallet. The results were successfully presented at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art on July 10th through an exhibition and talk. The research uncovered and presented Tehran’s oldest qanat, Mehrgerd. This underground water channel, seemingly the capital’s oldest, was at the origin of the walled city dating from 16th century Safavid era. Mapping the channel’s trajectory and realising that water is still being irrigated after 700 years was a revelation beyond expectations. Furthermore, discovering that the qanat was blinded a short distance from its original outlet, with the water being deviated into the sewage system, vindicated a serious revival project.

Mehrgerd became the backbone of a masterplan. Maps and drawings showed the relationship of the qanat to the surface with notably a linked open space network, and a series of iconic buildings dispersed on its path. The underground channel was an invisible and forgotten line waiting to be materialised onto the surface. Lines are a powerful figure in architecture. They define boundaries and are therefore in-between spaces that divide entities as much as they bind them. They also carry within them the notion of trajectory and movement, as they connect points to each other. As interstitial spaces they can also be considered as inhabitable. These attributes make the line the project. By wanting to make the invisible, visible the underground qanat line is transposed on the surface by a walk, or better a promenade, along its path, taking visitors from its source to its exutory through a series of urban sequences, each anchored by a garden positioned along the line, that makes use or echoes the passing water.

The next step was to identify the locations of these gardens within the five sequences identified in the research phase. For this purpose, a workshop was organised in Tehran in October, at Platform28, a private art and architecture gallery. The local research team was joined by a group of French experts and students who came to Iran for a week. Together, collective walking and mapping sessions, along with brainstorming sessions with the municipality and local actors enabled the choice of the sites and their specific programs. At the end of the workshop, nine sites were identified, with the prospect that five could be developed for the festival, the others at later phases. At this point, the municipality expressed the need and desire to see what these gardens would look like, before going further in the project, and therefore one of the sites was chosen and a project elaborated.

The first garden design was presented on December 30th at Platform28. The choice of which site to develop, was a fairly easy one. Out of the nine sites, one of them was proposed directly by the municipality, and it seemed natural to do a project on that one. It concerns a four hundred square meter cavity in an existing building, under which Mehrgerd runs. This building is today a museum, but was built before the revolution, as a prison for the Shah’s secret police. Currently the design for the garden is under modification, and negotiations are underway to officialise the bi-lateral agreement for the festival.

photo from Relief Plan for a Belvedere, exhibition Platform28, December 30th-January 4th 2017