Tehran – a metropolis with about twelve million inhabitants, countless roads and noisy streets. Right in the middle: the Tabiat Bridge (Persian “Nature” ), a pedestrian oasis hovering above a highway. The award-winning bridge – shortlisted for Aga Khan Award 2016 – was designed by Leila Araghian. During a visit at ifa Gallery Stuttgart she talks about her inspiration, why people are fascinated by the bridge and the obstacles she faced with her project.
Interview by Juliane Pfordte, podcast by Siri Gögelmann
ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen): Let’s imagine I was a visitor in Tehran and you were my taxi driver. What would you show me? Where would you take me?
Leila Araghian: It depends on what you are interested in. Tehran has many different faces that are all interesting to see: the old historic part of the city with the Grand Bazaar and the Golestan Palace, the former complex of the Qajar family. I would also take you to the steep area close to the mountains with all the teahouses and restaurants, which are another typical element of the atmosphere. If you want to see the whole city from the very top, I would take you to Milad Tower, the highest tower of Iran, from which you can enjoy a very beautiful view to the city. But of course, first of all, I would show you my favourite place at the moment: the Tabiat Bridge.
ifa: What makes it special for you besides being its architect?
Araghian: It’s more than a bridge, it’s a public place with benches and corners, where people can stay and spend some time. It’s also the largest pedestrian bridge in the country. And for me the most interesting aspect: it is mysterious. It is designed in a way that every time you visit the bridge, by taking a different route, you can experience it in a new way and discover something different. It’s not a bridge that crosses a river like the famous Khaju Bridge in Isfahan. It’s something completely different.
ifa: In 2005 you, still a student, co-founded Diba Tensile Architecture together with the friend you mentioned, Alireza Behzadi. One year later the UN imposed the economic and financial nuclear-related sanctions, amongst others. How did these sanctions influence your work?
Araghian: For us it was a coin with two faces. On the one hand, we had no international competitors. We started an industry in a market that was completely new and empty at that moment. It gave us the space to grow. But obviously we also faced difficulties. Once we needed to purchase software from Australia, it took them three months to authorise the project and to authorise us just to make sure that we were not going to build bombs with it. Other companies simply sent us an e-mail saying “Sorry, we’re not interested to work with Iran because of the sanctions.”
Last year, when we wanted to submit the bridge to an international competition – the World Architecture Festival – we could not even register because Iran had been taken out of the list of countries. I believe the whole idea of the sanctions was to isolate and to suppress us in a way that we become weak, helpless and hopeless. But looking at our bridge and all the attention it has received internationally, we managed to show ourselves to the world. It gives me a very good feeling, a feeling of power.
Leila Araghian, architect of the Tabiat Pedestrian Bridge, receiving the Aga Khan Award for Architecture from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE, Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness the Aga Khan, Founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, at Al Jahili Fort, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates.
AKDN / Gary Otte
Video: Tabiat Pedestrian Bridge – Iran – Aga Khan Architecture Award