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An architecture student’s project transforms a dry riverbed with apartments, greenery, and parking.

July 2015

The Zayanderud River in Isfahan used to be the largest river in the central plateau of Iran, but as population grew and industrialisation spread, the water began to recede and disappear during the hot summers. After 2010 it dried out entirely, making it hard to imagine today that the cracked earth channel once held flowing currents.

But when Mateusz Pospiech, studying for a master’s degree in architecture at the Silesian University of Technology in Gliwice, Poland, visited Isfahan and saw the remains of the Zayanderud River, he imagined something else: a six-kilometre long megaproject to convert the riverbed into apartments, park, and underground parking for hundreds of residents to enjoy.

Because he imagined also that someday the Zayanderud River might return, he created a comprehensive plan for his master’s thesis that would allow the waters to flow again under the new structures, should that ever become possible.

How it happened

Isfahan is the third largest city in Iran with a population of 1.9 million in the province of the same name with a total of 3.7 million in the metropolitan area about 340 kilometres south of Tehran. It is one of the most beautiful cities in Iran with many remnants of Persian-Islamic architecture. The Zayanderud River flows through the centre of Isfahan where bridges built over the past seven or more centuries cross. The bridges reflect the architectural styles of the dynasties that ruled Isfahan and beyond. They need the river – not a dry channel – for their beauty to have meaning.

However, as in many other places around the world, with industrial development and agricultural expansion, the waters of the Zayanderud were used with little thought to conservation. More than 2,000 companies are located in and around Isfahan including a major oil refinery, an advanced aircraft manufacturing plant, experimental nuclear reactors, and Isfahan City Centre, the largest mall in Iran. An air force base and the international airport as well as a new metro system under construction contribute to the infrastructure, everything requiring more and more water.

Reconfiguring the Zayanderud Riverbed

The vision of Mateusz Pospiech for the “crucial hypothetical return of the river in the future is a core concept of this design” by creating a three-part division which would allow “the future river flow into three channels on different levels” of the project.

The mid or ground level is for housing to serve the needs of a growing city. The upper level is green with a park and space for growing vegetables, “connecting two sides of the river.” The bottom level is below ground, serving for parking and also as a tunnel for the city’s metro.

To avoid past mistakes, Pospiech made sure that the “project strictly follows the restrictions” of Isfahan’s hot and dry climate. The upper level functions as climate control for the housing mid-level, with holes in the green cover to allow sunlight in during the winter and also create shade during the summer. The green areas get their water from drip irrigation – part of the overall water management system that collects “greywater from the households.”

Pospiech didn’t want to impose a so-called iconic project on the skyline and riverbed at Isfahan. It is to be organic and relevant to the site. Materials like mud bricks to be used in the project are “achievements of vernacular architecture” in Iran and help create a “pleasant interior microclimate.” He writes that “construction is based on the complex structure of square, reinforced concrete frames” with a small brick dome in each one, and calls the result “a combination of traditional local solutions and possibilities of modern technology.”

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