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Monday، 18 October 2021
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P Features
Interview with Dr. Hossein Soltanzadeh; a man for all seasons of research in Architecture of Iran and Islam

Interview by: Bahram Hooshyar YousefiEnglish text Editor: Nastaran RazaviInterview Assistant: Almara MelkomianMost know him as a the first knowledgeable man in various aspects of Iranian & Islamic architecture, although he has written more than others about this subject. How often; he has presented new topics within last two decades, investigation in Iranian /Islamic architecture has benefited by him a lot. Dr. Soltanzadeh, his name comes after research in architecture of Iran, most of the books in this land have written by him and the method of education about Iranian architecture has developed by his writings…
Dr. Soltanzadeh is an architect, created the realm of his practice and developed it by himself… .
A man for all seasons of research in architecture of Iran and Islam, we interviewed him and talked about Persian architecture. It was a class to learn and I was a student.

Dr. Hossein Soltanzadeh, photo:Reza Jalali

- Within the issue of Iranian/ Islamic architecture, according your former works about theory of Persian architecture, which is a unique work and achieved brilliant results in case of theory, perhaps it is time to ask a comprehensive question under the pretext of starting conversation…culture and architecture…?
Dr.Soltanzadeh- If we consider architecture from cultural point of view, we can say that architectural spaces usually result of two factors: we call one of the factors, materiality, environmentally and economically. Supposing that mosques, methods of their construction, building's details, their environmental factors (hot and dry region, or humid region), and their economical factors. It means in which economical conditions an architectural works created, whether we look over these factors as an employer or as a society, we can call these factors as materiality and environmentally ones. Besides, there are factors that are about human, such as culture, social factors and human factors. Culture has an extensive and clear definition. In the first stage, when we talk about culture, the discussion about history set forth for discussion, because culture forms in historical bed. Therefore, in cultural section, history topic will propound, the other issues in this section is traditions. In fact, traditions are sets of signs, forms and compositions shaped during history. This formation is searching and acts as a heritage for lands; in the past , supposing that Egypt had specific traditions of architecture, Iran, Arabia and any other countries, Europe had also like that. Therefore, we say, tradition means sets of experiences, forms and signs during history formed movable not constant. In traditional periods, another considered factor in the realm of culture is cultural interchanges among countries. For example, In Mongol time, Persian painting was influenced by Chinese painting. Therefore, these interchanges existed in the past in small scale…
Furthermore, human interceptive factors in specific architectural works are: employer, designer and user. When we study culture, in general, it had impact on architecture spaces, but for some buildings these specific human factors were effective. Supposing that an employer with high-minded purposes placed an order to a designer, he had to do a master piece, while an ordinary employer couldn't place an order on that level. Today, we understand this issue better. In the past, it was the same as well, the most important architectural works were the ones supported by a powerful employer, thus employer has had important role, as well as designer. That is correct that in the past, there were limited or less difference / dispute in design of spaces, and all were under a considerable culture; but individual tastes were reflected in the works. Therefore, if we consider some works, which has a distinct architectural value, we will find little differences. In other words, when generally, we look over past works, in the first view we think all the works are similar, and there is no difference, for example, we think all Safavie's works are similar to each other. Even, when an inexpert person looks over Iranian/ Islamic architecture, may be he cannot see any differences nor cannot distinct Saljoghi's works from works after Mongol time. But, when we consider the works specifically, we find, for example, Agha Khan School in Kashan and Soltanieh school in Kashan have been built in the same era, but in case of architectural views they present different view points.
In Agha Khan School, we consider incomparable variety in volume of Iranian architecture. The architect made lots of carnation and creativity. In Soltanieh School, neither there is nor such a thing, forms are still classic and very simple, even the combination of dome is not rich, and thus, when we look over the details in works, we will consider these differences. Accordingly, we have an employer, a designer and a user, today we see fewer varieties in public works, because basically the communities were traditional, their rules and customs were strictly regarded and subsequently similar pattern were observed.

- You explained tradition very well, and you analyzed material issues for us, and presented human factors in architecture as employer or user in case of culture. My question is; where is the place of Iranian constructing? Where is the identity? In your talk, you pointed to forming; the aim is forming architectural identity or architectural essence? Please, explain generally about Persian construction and identity, and then we will discuss as details about Iranian architecture.
Dr.Soltanzadeh- For identity, there are various definitions, but I think all of the explanations are common in this specification that identity is sets of specifications, characteristics and signs which makes distinct one phenomenon from others similar phenomena. In this definition, we see two things, one is similar specifications and the other is distinct specifications. Therefore, two points are essential, for example, when we talk about human identity, we examine human with other ones. Is he an eastern human? Is he Iranian? And now may be this Iranian human be from Shiraz, Isfahan or Turk…

- Dose it examine by others?
Dr.Soltanzadeh- With others that have harmony with themselves. It means in conversation of human, human examines other humans. In discussion of architectural spaces, similar architectural spaces examine in case of cultural issues.

Dr. Hossein Soltanzadeh, photo:Reza Jalali

- It means identity, necessarily, has been established with other similar things?
Dr.Soltanzadeh- For example, in human societies, when there is a discussion about the identity of a human, this identity can have different aspects: sexual identity, age identity… When we talk about cultural identity, for example, we say, he is a European, French and he is from Paris. In fact, identity makes distinct one person from other human in addition it points to similarities, it point to distinctions; in case of architecture, it is the same. For example, we say Iranian architecture; Iranian architecture divides to architecture of Caspian Sea margin, architecture of Persian Gulf margin…

-An architect can have different alternatives regarding to second speaker, necessarily, there is no constant transformable attitude, my question is identity is not influenced by the sets of fixed principles, do you agree ?how is it possible to give identity to a place? And do you propose those human technique- you mentioned before, or do you transmit identity by design?
Dr.Soltanzadeh-You pointed to interesting and important view. First, in my opinion, it is possible to give identity, it depends on how we will consider buildings, types of architectural spaces in case of culture they are divided in three types, religious buildings like mosques, sacred places and all buildings related to religious practices. In these places, identity is important and has essential role.

- Historical identity?
Dr.Soltanzadeh- Yes, It is historical and cultural identity. Second are public buildings, educational and cultural ones. Third are residential buildings and services. In this kind may be identity considers less, because no problems will take place. For example, when we drive a car, the discussion of identity is not important, or when we use a table. Supposing that we want to design and build a factory, we can have the discussion of identity in general, but no problems will happen. But if we design a mosque that it has no religious identity, I think it is not interesting. Now, how can we give identity? I mean what factors are formal and which ones are not? In literature, in fact, each word is a sign, in architecture it is the same. If we consider architecture as sinology, elements, materials, combination, each one is a sign, now we look over architecture or even literature, signs or symbols are obvious in art.
1- Obvious signs- It means those that are clear, for example, if you see a dome or minaret, it is a clear sign/symbol. Every one see that, immediately finds it belongs to which culture.
2- Semi-obvious signs- It means signs that incase of meaning points to the past but not directly.
3- Non-obvious signs. In the past either in architecture or literature we had lots of kinds of signs, but today we face them less. That's why we say all signs are not obvious and doesn't understand in the first stage.

Architecture can be like a philosophical book. For example, you know that Apadana palace has 72 columns, and 72 was a sacred number, that had been used intentionally in this collection. Thousands of experts or inexpert visited this palace, perhaps didn't consider that, because it is a non-obvious sign. The columns like ox' head are obvious, any one considers them but about number 72 no one remember Perspolise. Because, they are not obvious. A person has to be aware of number 72 as a sacred and religious sign or in some Iranian buildings we have number 12, that was sacred in Islamic world and used a lot, so, some of the signs are clear but some of them are not and just some people can understand them, but architectural works like heritage texts or philosophical texts have to be studied and discovered their secret. Like Koran, Gospel, Old Testament, and the like which need to be interpreted, of course the famous works are not simple. A simple building is like a simple news text, but the sentence "God is beautiful" has an explanation, because it is complex that creator is beautiful, what kind of definition has beautiful word. Some of the philosophers see beauty spiritually and some of them materiality… architectural spaces are like literacy texts, sometimes create. Simple layers and their objectives are basic. Sometimes their layers are complicated. Therefore, signs are obvious, semi-obvious, and non-obvious.
Now it is the architecture spaces of today, one solution is to use exactly obvious symbols, and it is clear that when we use brick, tiles, archés or domes in a building. Everyone see these buildings; consider that they are Persian buildings. But it is an explanation that doesn't have progresses and completed. Even some buildings that we see today have been built in this way. A spectator may think, it was built 50 years ago, because doesn't have the meaning of today, and doesn't have the revolution reflects the identity of today and only reflects the past identity. Therefore, it is possible to show identity; but it dose not have today in itself that reflects past.

- What is your opinion about an architecture that wants to be permanent or timeless? Where dose timelessness have a place? We got general result about identity that in your view there are different ways in giving identity, it means we can use obvious signs or hidden signs or use an item that exists in our present society. For instance, architecture can explain very well the complexity in our environment. In case of leading complexity toward order and comfort, architects can present different concepts, but as you told identity exists in them. Where is the timelessness explanation? I mean what kinds of energy have to be used to create a permanent work,(when we accept timelessness is important)?
Dr.Soltanzadeh- about timelessness, I have to say, it is a proportional phenomenon, it has a relative concept and depends on the kind of spaces. As I told you before, spaces are divided to religious spaces, public and cultural spaces and residential spaces. Each of these spaces is different, as well as human activities. Religious practices are the activities counting as timelessness. Today, Christians more or less practice like past times, there are some differences but they are like before, the way Muslims pray more or less like the past, the orientation is fixed and all other points . Therefore, religious activities are constant; it has a history of 5000 years ago or 1000 years ago. But all of the activities are not constant, for instance, education. Dose the education of 30 years ago equal to the education of our time? Completely the system of education has changed. Dose present education system remains equal to next 50 years later? Fore sure, it doesn't. Therefore, all of human activities in case of timelessness are not in the same level; therefore, all architectural spaces in case of timelessness will not remain in the same level. If we want to design a religious space, we have to intensify on conceptual, symbolic and permanent aspects .If we want to design an architecture space, for sure; we have to think about change, happiness, young people, and the possibility of transformation.

- As the last question, is it possible for us to create an identity and progressive Iranian architecture that someday be presented in the world?( Like the architecture happened in Japan or Mexico, which presented their views about the world by their techniques and senses.)
Dr. Hossein Soltanzadeh, photo:Almara MelkomianDr.Soltanzadeh-In my belief, in religious, educational and cultural spaces attention to identity is essential and it is something that sets architecture besides, music, literature and other Persian arts and creates the sense of attachment to our heritage. When Iranian people read a Persian story or a Persian poem- written by Hafez, Nima…- they have sense as an Iranian, or when they listen to Persian music, they will feel as a Persian. Also we have people in paintings that present traditional senses and creates works that have the sense of present as wee as Persian .
Therefore, in my opinion in architecture not industrial and residential architecture , necessarily, but religious and cultural architecture, it is essential to consider identity of space regarding kinds of space and this identity will happen in various layers. One layer is the usage of some signs, materials and elements individually, they remind something, but they are not simple imitation. It is specific for building. In case of new construction organization, I should say, fortunately, besides the quantity, quality of space is also important. Because in our country we are faced with lack of schools, these points of views are important. Why? Because, a student lives in a space that spends most of his/her time there, if we can create this place and space compatible to Persian culture, for sure we have cultural sense, national and religious sense and we will respect to Persian culture. I think, many reasons caused the sense of culture to be weak in our youths, one of this reason is repetition in our forms that cause our youths do not like that and this disorganization cause person doesn't make a good relation with its culture. When we talk with them about culture they think it is a constant and freeze point and their reaction is negative; while if we present culture and tradition as an active, positive and attractive phenomena, the reaction would be positive. In case of schools we encounter with specific generation, in one hand we have to give identity and appreciate our culture, religion and Persian senses and on the other hand, we have to present technology, as we know creation and technology are not opposite of Iranian/ Islamic culture.
When we talk about culture, there is no contrast with economy. I mean the harmony between future and past in educational spaces are very important. Our student dose not hate the school spaces and see that like a prison, the spaces do not have to be linear and constant, or dose not to be a fixed phenomenon that a student experiences that for 5 years. The sense of transmission and change has to exist in the space. Therefore, the student enjoys space and feels space and he are active and searching, consequently the feeling of love will create.

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