29 July 2013

Guest article: Sustainable architecture and socio-cultural dynamics: what keeps the Bazaar of Tabriz alive?


Do you ever heard about the city of Tabriz? Where is located and the richness of their architecture, such as the Bazaar? Or the pioneer events the city developed throughout the history of Iran?  


The oldest map of the city of Tabriz, 16th century. Source: Matrak├ž─▒Nasuh

Setting the scene
There are almost endless possibilities to write about the city of Tabriz, considered the Iran’s West Gate due to its geographical location. For this reason, the city has been the house of several modern structures and the host of special occasions, pioneers and events. The inhabitants of Tabriz have regarded to be the first to adopt the modern life style in Iran and that as resulted in great innovations and pioneering:
  • The first Iranian publishing house was founded in Tabriz (1811):
  • The first Iranian chamber of commerce (1906);
  • The first Iranian modern school (1988);
  • The first Iranian coin mint began operating in Tabriz;
  • The first Iranian public library was also founded in this city.

These, only to mention some of the innovative and creative events that took place through the history. All the mentioned outstanding events in the historical time line of the city of Tabriz give the city architectural assets such as the Bazaar.
The Bazaar of Tabriz, northwest of Iran, covers an area of over tree square kilometers  and is inscribed in cultural sites on World Heritage List of UNESCO. The Bazaar of Tabriz has always accommodated multiple activities and it was a place for social, political, cultural and civic discussions among the locals. The Bazaar of Tabriz also played an important role as place for political interventions for instance during the Iranian constitutional revolution, in the last century, and the Islamic revolution in the contemporary time. The citizens expressed their protest against the policies and decision makers by closing up the Bazaar.
The aim of this short article is to bring to the public new perspectives on Sustainable architecture and vernacular architecture by taking the Bazaar of Tabriz as example. The post is just an overview of my Master Thesis in Urban and Regional Planning (M.Sc.), completed at the University Sains Malaysia (2012) and the full document can be downloaded at the link.


Sustainability and Sustainability in Architecture
Sustainability is a challenging concept and also full of controversial observations. It refers to principles such as resources saving, attempting to respond to the question how we can design our building to use less energy and resources? With the growth of population, more resources and energy are consumed and that as resulted in some several energy issues and global changes at the environment level. Therefore, sustainability becomes the main concern of citizens, non-governmental agencies, institutions, politicians, decision-makers and researchers.

Sustainability and more recently architecture sustainability are comprehensive and environmentally-conscious topics in which different concerns such as design, material, cost, energy, heating and cooling and quality are interconnected in the interest of physical durability of earth resources.Creating functional structures able to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet theirs is the main goal of sustainability approach. Sustainability must contrast environmental and cultural preservation with active practices of living in culturally constituted places and contributes to a sense of place in communities and cities.

Sustainable architecture implies the use of intelligent technology, innovative construction method, ecologically-friendly material and the use of environmentally friendly energy resources. This term leads to location-specific architecture by responding to local climate conditions. Sustainable architecture is the task of choosing how we want to live (with and in) nature in order to sustain life into the future. Sustainable architecture aims to design buildings and infra-structures that are adapted to local social– economic, cultural and environmental contexts, having in mind the consequences for the future generations.

The Bazaar of Tabriz
The Bazaar in the Iranian ancient is comparable to plaza or square in cities of pre-industrial Europe and with similar functionality as a forum and agora in ancient Roman and Greek cities. Historical studies indicate that bazaar has existed in Iranian cities and towns since 3000 B.C where a large of activities was accommodated and from the past to today’s stills playing a role as:
  • A central marketplace and craft center located in the old quarters of the town;
  •  A primary arena, along with the mosque, for extra familial sociability;
  • A socio-cultural milieu of a traditional urban life style.
  • The Bazaar in contemporary Iran has performed two more roles of great significance:
  •  A socioeconomic and power base of the Shi’ite religious establishment;
  • A bastion of political protest movements.
In Iranian traditional architecture, the buildings are constructed according to the geographical location and according to the position of the ceiling. Architectural and spatial nature of the Bazaar was highly dependent on climate, culture and economic power of the city. In all of the Iranian cities the Bazaar is a covered street, or series of streets and alleyways, lined with small shops grouped by service or product.

The Tabriz Historic Bazaar Complex consists of a series of interconnected, covered brick structures, buildings, and enclosed spaces for different functions, which has preserved its sustainability both in terms of stability and socio-cultural aspect.  All of the urban Bazaars were covered to provide protection against unpleasant climatic conditions. Note that due to the location of Tabriz in the northwestern part of Iran and being in a mountainous region, the climatic condition is severe cold in the winter with heavy snowfall, mild climate in the summer and noticeable temperature variation between day and night time. In the hot climate, the roof would provide shadow and in cold climate it would protect from snow and rain.


The Bazaar of Tabriz. Source: Authors` own


What keeps the Bazaar alive?
 The Bazaar of Tabriz bears witness to one of the most complete socio-cultural and commercial complexes among the Bazaars in Iran. The Bazaar has developed into a socio-economic and cultural system in which specialized architectural structures, functions, professions, and people from different cultures are integrated into a unique living environment. Different spaces inside of the Bazaar such as Saras, Timches and Rastes, mosques, schools and baths contribute to the sustainability of the place Bazaar by creating an appropriate social and economical interaction. The materials used in it are environmentally friendly. Climate responsible and vernacular design, performance of domed roofed and solar energy widely helps to create desirable environment in aggregation in cold regions, along with other social and economic benefits of the Bazaar by creating an appropriate interaction between people and profitable activities, thus keeping the place with a vibrant dynamic. The Bazaar is a unique complex of activities, which are unified with their organic spontaneity and flexibility that create a sense of place which generates community cohesion and at the same time being environmentally friendly and social sustainable.

However what makes it significant and alive is how the place in itself creates a symbiosis with the people and visitors, by carrying the burden of personal identity in the environment and memories for the people who shared common history of this place. The positive image of the place creates emotionally attachment of people to the place and also creates comfortable public environment for social interactions and daily activities.

The author
* Arezou Mohammadi Kalan holds a Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning from the University Sains Malaysia and a degree in Geography and urban planning from the University of Tabriz. Iran.  Her research interests are spatial planning, urban design, sustainability in architecture and sense of place. (Email: arezou.kalan@gmail.com)