Iranian architects fight to save historic villa

Iranian architects have launched a bid to save a villa in northern Tehran designed by Gio Ponti which is to be demolished and replaced by a five-star hotel.

They are campaigning to preserve the only intact building by the Italian architect in the Middle East.

Built in the early 1960s in the wealthy Niavaran district, the Villa Namazee was previously listed as a national treasure.

But a recent court decision has given its current owner permission to delist it, paving the way for the construction of a 20-storey hotel.

Namazee was the last to be built of Ponti’s three villas, which inspired a number of architects, including the late Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid. The other two, Villa Planchart and Villa Arreaza, are in Caracas, Venezuela.

Leila Araghian, the architect of Tehran’s Tabiat Bridge – winner of this year’s Aga Khan Award for Architecture – said she attempted to visit Villa Namazee along with Ponti’s son.

“We went there and buzzed the door, a caretaker came out and said the owner wasn’t there, so we went to the house opposite and took pictures from there,” she said.

“This is a building designed by such an important architect. If it was anywhere else, it would have been protected.”

Faryar Javaherian, another Iranian architect, documented the Villa Namazee after the 1979 Islamic revolution

“It is a master’s house,” she said. “It is one of the first projects of its kind featuring open plan[ning] with a suspended roof which also has a flooring that appears to be floating in the air. The ceramic used [by the artist Fausto Melotti] is very, very beautiful.

“If they want to build a hotel, they still can preserve the villa, it’s an added value, it’s not a distraction. You have something good, why destroy it and replace it by something so awful?”

Anonymous activists, named “the people’s committee to protect Tehran’s public houses”, have distributed an online leaflet underlying the significance of the villa and raising concerns about its imminent demolition.

After the revolution, the Ponti villa, which was built for what the architect called “joie d’y vivre”, was first possessed by the government and used as a registry office before being sold to Ahmad Abrishami, a representative of Nokia, who registered it as a national heritage building. It was sold to its present owner four years ago.

Mohammad-Hassan Talebian, the deputy head of Iran’s cultural heritage, handicrafts and tourism organisation, told the Ilna news agency: “The building has been legally taken off the list, so the only way to save it is for the municipality to bring it under public ownership or exchange it for other properties.”