As the population of Iran continues to grow the development of new constructions for housing and business purposes are found outside of main cities and particularly Tehran. In these territories of stark isolation people can find more affordable housing and escape the traffic congestion and pollution of big cities.
This decentralisation effort can be seen in many other cities across the middle east. however, where it could be surprising for many is the tremendous amount of construction found in the desert.
As a photographer of construction developments Manuel Alvarez Diestro has found the most striking juxtaposition of buildings against the landscape, where towers are perched on the earth like architecture maquettes.
With this project Alvarez Diestro found his own photographic paradise where he tries to unveil the beauty of the open structures as part of a biblical landscape.
In his opinion these landscapes are ‘part of the realm of the mind’ rather than an existing space.
What prompted the project?
My main interest as a photographer is to capture the transformation of the landscape through the process of construction. In Iran, after driving few kilometres outside of Tehran I started to identify new developments being raised in the dessert, in the middle of nowhere. It took me by surprise as I could never imagine that the country was experiencing a boom in construction. I realised that there was potential to build up a photo series on how Iranians intervine the desert. I conducted some research on locations and started visiting the various places.
What questions do the photographs and project raise?
At a social level, they bring questions about how humans build constructions in the most inhospitable locations in order to cope with demographic growth and decentralise main cities. From a more personal perspective they expose the beauty from these structures even when are considered ugly by many. I believe on the idea that even when we make mistakes from an urban planning perspective it is still possible to perceive them as beautiful through its many contradictions.
What informed the means by which these sites are framed within your photographs?
I dedicate a lot of attention to image composition. My approach on these development is to showcase the juxtaposition of the structures with the Iranian landscape. This said, the developments have been photographed at a certain distance with no interest to its detail or design qualities. I was more interested on the clash between architecture and the desert with its biblical mountains. I deeply enjoyed capturing the intrinsic rhythms of these structures through repetition in a context of stark isolation and emptiness.
How do these sites reflect the contemporary social, political and economic landscape of the country?
Most of the compounds that I visited where created to provide housing to the lower classes. These developments do not have any distinctive qualities in terms of design. They do not integrate residential areas with other parts of the city or to its natural context. On the other hand, within Tehran you can find remarkable contemporary architecture but is not the case for these dormitory cities. On my view, the country has been experiencing a rapid demographic growth where they needed to adapt rapidly. As an example more than half of the population are below 35 years old. I fear that many people who will move form Tehran areas to this remote locations will have difficulties getting adjusted and leaving their community behind.
What is the relationship of these new settlements to the surrounding bear landscape?
I define it as a relationship of clash where there are any synergies that derive from the new towers co-exisitng with the surrounding landscape. As a visual artist I prefer to photograph these environments as I find them more evocative and generate reflexions of who we are.
How do they operate as an infrastructure and network of cities?
Iranian main cities have a very rich history where one can experience very well planned cities where grow organically through the centuries. The challenge now is that this developments do not have any connectivity to Iran’s history or with any sort of continuity from its past. I think this is a pity and the same has happened in new cities like New Cairo in Egypt.
How do you envision the landscape transforming in the next fifty years?
I do hope that urban planners, architects with the support of Governments learn from the mistakes of the past and bring innovative ideas particularly for the construction of new towns for the lower classes. I am optimistic and do believe that Iranians are very talented and will surprise us all with fantastic developments as the ones that are already found in central Tehran.
(Extract from an Interview with Koozarch, May 2020).