Inhabitable Voids: Housing Design in Iran’s Period of High-Modernisation

Mo Sedighi

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)


Focusing on the design of large-scale housing schemes, this doctoral dissertation examines the extent to which the architecture of dwelling was affected by the oil-led geopolitics of the Cold War, and influenced by the modernist logic of architectural design and urban planning in Iran’s period of high-modernisation (1945-1979), as Eskandar Mokhtari termed it. This study questions the influence of the country’s geopolitical position during the Cold War, and its impact on the architecture of dwelling. It shows how a series of experimental housing solutions, initiated by leading Iranian architects mostly educated in the West (Europe and North America) became a physical expression of both the state’s modernisation demands and people’s everyday needs. Finally, it illustrates how the design mechanisms employed by these architects enabled for a continual and constant change and transformation in their proposed housing schemes, and empowered the users of space to designate and establish a set of relations with their living environment. While this study could be seen as a contribution to the discourse of urban modernisation in Iran, mainly by focusing on the agency of the dweller in the transformation through time of public housing districts in the country, it also aims to address some current issues related to the design and production of public housing. It seems that in the process of housing development, architects and decision-makers with different backgrounds employ two distinct approaches that mostly cannot be resulted in a convergent solution. While this gap between visions and realities of public housing policies and designs might be seen as a universal as well as a common phenomenon, this issue resulted in many critiques on the development of public housing and built environments, in Iran. Iranian architects criticised the government for its top-down housing policies overemphasising the application of industrialised methods for the production of houses, but neglect the importance of people’s socio-cultural practices as well as vernacular patterns of inhabitation for housing design. On the contrary, decision-makers describe housing solutions provided by architects mostly as visionary and inefficient. Accordingly, investigating overlaps between these divergent approaches is of vital importance, as it would foster and promote a dialogue among multiple stakeholders involved in the process of housing development, and illustrate the roles that architects can perform therein. In Iran’s period of high-modernisation, the architecture of dwelling was widely seen as a place to fulfil the state’s ambitious goals of modernisation projects, and simultaneously to resist universalising tendencies. The Iranian Finance and Planning Organisation prepared five distinct Development Plans, where housing for middle and low-income families held a prominent place. Indeed, these Plans projected the national and international socio-political and economic condition of the time that resulted from rural-urban migrations and the demographic changes being seen in Iran. Accordingly, each Plan led to the construction of a series of large-scale housing projects in urban areas. Among these projects, Kuy-e Chaharsad-Dastgah (1946-50), Kuy-e Narmak (1951-58), Kuy-e Kan (1958-64), Kuy-e Ecbatana (1972-92), and Shushtar-Nou (1975-85) were designed and developed as experimental models by leading Iranian architects, to promote and foster a synthesis of Western living standards and Iran’s vernacular patterns of inhabitation. By investigating these models initiated in three different stages of modernisation in Iran, this dissertation, first, unfolds the processes that created/led to collaboration and negotiation among visions and realities of stakeholders (particularly architects and policy/decision-makers) involved in the production of houses and provision of housing solutions. Then, it shows how the mechanisms employed for the design of these housing schemes enabled for a continual and constant change and transformation. Finally, this study argues that each of these housing models is embedded with a form of inhabitable voids that could be seen and read as heterotopia, as Michel Foucault defined. In other words, incorporating some local archetypes into the design process of these projects implies and creates a certain type of place that the ‘other’ space would flourish. Accordingly, these heterotopic voids might include a creative potential/characteristic to be perceived as an omnipresent tool from the disciplinary toolbox of architecture that would cater for providing certain forms of relationships among people and with their living environment.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • van Gameren, D.E., Supervisor
  • Amorim Mota, N.J., Advisor
Award date13 Jan 2020
Place of PublicationDelft
Print ISBNs978-94-6384-032-3
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Iran
  • Public Housing Design
  • The Habitat Bill of Rights
  • User Participation
  • Growth and Change
  • Inhabitable Voids
  • High-Modernisation


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