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Architectural space and awareness in Iran

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The prospect of travelling to Iran in the midst of the current international turmoil obviously lost its appeal to large numbers of foreign participants expected to attend the Third International Congress of Urbanism and Architecture Students last week in Tabriz.

The all-student organisation, which had been working tirelessly for months to make arrangements for a truly international conference, said the number of foreign representatives had dropped from about 100 to 25, many from the neighbouring country of Azerbaijan.

But, by contrast, the congress on the theme of 'architectural space' - and broadly paralleling the British Winter Schools - attracted a record 3,000 architecture students from universities all over the country.

The event, which featured a display of student work at its core, and an extensive range of lectures and discussion panels, filled up to five halls of the city's exhibition centre.

This vast gathering of politically aware young people disturbed the authorities sufficiently for them to ban music at the opening ceremony.

The International Centre for Dialogue among Civilisations in Tehran was closely involved in the event and, indeed, its president declared Islam the 'religion of dialogue among cultures and civilisations'. President Khatami of Iran has underlined the importance of tourism in promoting such dialogue, and the government has recently commissioned the design of a total of 16 Iranian embassies around the world by 16 Tehran-based architects.

This background made it an exciting time to witness the evident motivation of architecture students in the country, and their eagerness to engage with current architectural theory and debate in a way which seems to be markedly different from the general outlook of the student body in Britain.

But it also comes as a surprise to the western visitor to witness a still-thriving interest within architecture schools in Post-Modernism and Deconstructivism. The latter was exhibited in a particularly expressionistic form in the student work, and a certain preoccupation with establishing a 'correct formula' for design, to be delivered through the teaching system, which contrasts with the British emphasis on encouraging diverse ways of thinking.

This was particularly evident in the response of the audience to presentations by three of the foreign delegates who did attend - from Oxford Brookes and UNL Universities.

The presentations were greeted with avid enthusiasm, but a certain lack of comprehension as to the distinction between a concept of 'social architecture' and 'social engineering' in contemporary architecture.

Nasser Golzari, Tourange Khansari and Sandra Dineke, and Clare Melhuish presented papers on architectural education and theory at the congress in Tabriz, Iran

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