Taghaboni is responsible for the design of Tehran's Sharif-ha House, which has rooms that can pivot away from the glare of the sun.
Culture Spotlight

Advice to young architects: “Study your art, history, politics. Without that, you’re just copying”

Alireza Taghaboni, whose Iran-based firm NextOffice is making a name for itself because of their forward thinking projects, wants to take back the meaning of eastern design.
Feliciano Rodriguez III | Feb 26 2020

We met Iranian architect Alireza Taghaboni at the recently concluded Anthology Architecture and Design Festival, held inside the historic Fort Santiago, in the walled city of Intramuros.

It was positively pouring when Taghaboni started his talk. The garden venue was muddy, and the winds were strong. But despite the weather, professionals and students alike still flocked to the Garden Pavilion in Fort Santiago to hear the renowned architect talk about his design aesthetic.

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During his keynote presentation, Alireza playfully took out his phone and took a video of the venue and its environs, including the strong rains and winds outside the al-fresco pavilion. “This is a very wet country,” he playfully commented to the guests. It was his first time in the Philippines, and the tropical welcome was indeed a novelty for the Tehran-based Taghaboni.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The six-year-old #sharifihahouse #nextoffice

A post shared by Alireza Taghaboni (@alirezataghaboni) on

The architect is 40 years old, tall, with gray hair, an open face, lively eyes, and an easy charm that quickly disarmed the audience. He discussed his portfolio of works in his talk, and the guests, the majority of which were architecture students, were enthralled at his unique creations and architectural innovations.

There was the Sharif-ha House in Tehran, with its rooms designed like boxes. The rectangular shaped spaces, made of wood, can individually pivot and move, so as to avoid the path of the harsh Iranian sun. The design was marvelous to behold, and utterly unique to the eyes of the author and the audience. It was shortlisted at the 2014 World Architecture Festival.

Taghaboni also showed us his Safadasht Villa, in Karaj, Iran. The design was positively international moderne, with its wide spacious designs, airy, open architecture, and simple color hues, but is still embedded with traditional Iranian aesthetic. In the case of many of his designs, Taghaboni still incorporates the iconic courtyard gardens seen in many Persian homes.

“Contradiction is a powerful thing. The contradictions, the old and the new, the traditional and the contemporary, can be the main character of your work. My projects always have dualities. I like dualities. We want to change. But we also want to resist,” Taghaboni tells ANCX, during a separate interview after his talk in the Garden Pavilion at Fort Santiago.

Alireza was in town to speak at the Anthology Architecture and Design Festival, which is held annually in Intramuros.

Taghaboni has been practicing architecture since 2004, and founded his company Next Office in 2009. Notably, he recently won an award at the inaugural Dorfman Awards in a ceremony held at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

“We provide a new, contemporary response to traditional Iranian architecture,” says Taghaboni. “Iran has a very young population. That creates a unique situation in the field of design. We want to catch the essence of that. This struggle, between the traditional and the new. It’s a tug of war, since Iran is a very traditional country, and there is a big resistance to change.”

As we chatted, it was beginning to be apparent that Taghaboni was not an ordinary architect, but also a student of history and politics. We realized we were talking to an artist as well, and a philosopher. We discussed how the West dictates the design decisions of many architects in Iran, similar to the situation here in the Philippines. “It’s Orientalism, right?” we asked Taghaboni, and the architect agreed. “Yes, yes, yes. Exactly what Edward Said said in his book,” referring to the famed 1978 book of the said author, and how he presented the idea of “Orientalism”—how the Westerners jumbled up patronizing images and stereotypes of people and cultures in “the East.”

“The West wants our culture, and our designs as well, to be exotic. To conform to their vision of what our culture should appear to be,” Taghaboni says.

“The market in Iran is very specialized,” he continues. “The clientele, they have specific requirements. They want the best, they want good things. They are educated, but still young, so they want neoclassical design, which then borders on the gaudy and kitsch. The establishment on the other hand wants designs that conform to certain ideological images about history. What I’m excited about is that young architects now can enter these markets, go through the cracks and change and disrupt these opposing forces.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Two expressions of a concept : In this concept we tried to utilize the geometrical usability of arches in the form of opening and closing. This type of radial movement of walls/vaults makes various degrees of enclosure, spatial connections and organizations. Also besides the change of spacial axes it brings a new expression for infill buildings in urban contexts. در این کانسپت تلاش شده قابلیت‌های هندسی طاق و قوس، برای باز و بسته شدن مورد استفاده قرار گیرد : این شیوه حرکت شعاعیِ دیوار/قوس ها با تغییر مرزهای بین مدول های یک شبکه، درجات مختلفی از محصوریت، ارتباط و سازماندهی فضایی در یک سطح را ایجاد می‌‌کند و در عین تغییر محورهای فضایی، بیان جدیدی برای ساختمانهای درون بافت شهری به وجود می‌آورد. #re_next #archstagram #next_top_architects #designboom #archdaily #nextoffice

A post shared by Alireza Taghaboni (@alirezataghaboni) on

What is your design philosophy? 

There’s this word, de ja vu. An image that you swear you have seen before, you know? I want to capture that essence and put it in my designs. To catch the essence of that…being at the edge of the familiar.

Favorite place?

Istanbul, and Rasht in Iran.

Favorite kind of food?

I like exotic food. I want to taste the local food of the places I visit.

What form of architecture do you like best?

Radical architecture. Those that challenge the norm

Any tips for young, up and coming architects?

Know your history. Study your art, history, politics. Without that, it’s just copying.

Bucket list?

To develop and do more in the field of art and architecture.