The work documented here shows the architect’s ability to interpolate between a traditional ethos and modern techniques in the creation of form; though I have yet to index the projects chronologically, due largely to Iran’s unwillingness to preserve the rights and reputation of a now blacklisted architect, I have a near complete conception of Seyhoon’s work. The next steps in research, beyond the scope of my time working with the SOM Foundation, will be to create a formal catalogue of sorts, to preserve this fantastic set of projects and hopefully curate something in the future so that another great icon in our greater architectural history isn’t cast away and unwritten by the selective hands of history. Since the completion of travel, I have been lucky enough to be in correspondence with the Seyhoon, who currently resides in Los Angeles. Exiled from his homeland on account of his religious affiliations, he now paints to compensate for his inability to practice.
Conclusively, it is important to try and situate Seyhoon’s work outside of the context within which it was conceived and beyond its impoverished political theater; to discuss it in this realm, on the objective plateau of form and tectonics, will enable its reciprocity with the other architectural works of his contemporaries. Above all else, understanding the formal language of architecture can eradicate the cultural obstructions to equally and honestly analyzing a project. One such methodology required for such an analysis would be to investigate this work of non-Western architecture through the lens of the Western canon; in turn branching from the notion of a “critical textual reading” for architecture with the exception of taking the liberty of escaping that method of thinking’s representational dogmas. The ambition posited here must demand then that a project, any architectural work, may be understood (on a formal level) irrelevant to issues contextual to its inception—both sociopolitical issues relevant to the project and other concurrent and historic precedents that may have bearing on its development.
Looking at the work discussed here on this level, the architecture of Seyhoon is highly baroque. The manipulation of historical tectonic elements in an “incorrect” way makes the work both a transgression of agreed upon and time-tested rules, but also pushes itself into a new realm altogether (in a similar way to the “explosion” of light, mass, color, decoration during the 1600s with the emergence of the Italian baroque). This return to the baroque is ironic, as it is (un)popularly believed that its first coming (architecturally) was a result of the infusion of Islamic motifs by way of the Selijuk Turks.
At the same time his approach to construction and technology is emblematic of the ability for modern architecture to express itself minimally to achieve highly plastic form. Though this may seem to contradict the previous assertion, however paradoxical it may be, the architecture of Seyhoon is laden with these contradictions: implied movement and fluidity rendered in very stoic forms (stasis); traces of traditional stylistic elements manifest in modern construction techniques; and most significantly, the infusion of Western design ideology and its respective formal tropes into the nonoccidental Islamic state.
The notion of modernity, as expressed in this report, is important to briefly discuss through the lens of and by means of philosophical interrogation. The genealogy of the Western narrative has been dichotomizing in its representation of non-Western cultures and societies and such has limited the ability for those cultures and societies to be modern. To believe that the Iranian state (or those sovereignties of other groups) is not “modern” reflects an attitude that modernity is to be experienced through the prescribed historiography of Western societies—that is to say, if one isn’t prepared to take the same steps as the United States or Europe, they will never be fully modern. Prerevolutionary intellectuals in Iran have worked through these issues, cultivating terms such as “Westoxification” (Jalal Al-e Ahmad), in an attempt to recast the narrative of modernization outside of the Occident. The politics of modernization is the fundamental thematic that emerged from my time spent in Iran and for further reference I recommend three publications as key to outlining this notion’s problematic: Ali Mirsepassi, Intellectual Discourse and the Politics of Modernization: Negotiating Modernity in Iran (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Janet Afary and Kevin Anderson, Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); Talinn Grigor, Building Iran: Modernism, Architecture, and National Heritage Under the Pahlavi Monarchs (New York: Periscope Publishing, 2009).
Iran as a result of a tumultuous series of transformations, either in the dissolution of the Shah’s regime and the consequent shift in the stratification of its social classes, or in the desecularization of its political regime as witnessed by both the revolution and the Iran-Iraq conflict, is emblematic of a sovereign state whose recent shortcomings have a direct corollary to the mismanagement and disorganization of one of its most valuable resources: oil. Additionally, it is clear that Islam—in the misuse of its teachings—is the vice for which the country owes much of its self-inflicted despair; paradoxically retarding modernization, obfuscating the popular masses, and enabling a corrupt clergy to abuse an increasingly unstable economy. Between the intense pressures from a shift in political regime and the censorship of all artistic vanguards a true architect was born. The work of Seyhoon, given its context, carries the illuminating torch of tradition—a historically derived formal language with a culturally embedded aesthetic—into the abyss of contemporary practice, without fear of invalidation. This is what it means to be modern.