Nader Ardalan

Architect, Iran and United States
On his return to his native Iran from the United States in 1964, Nader Ardalan
influenced contemporary architecture in the country through his modernist designs and
his concern with Islamic and regional expressions. These concerns have remained with
him throughout his career and are reflected clearly in his work. Ardalan has been
influential not only in his native country but also in the Middle East as an architect, urban
planner, and theoretician.
Ardalan is a designer influenced by the internationalist agendas of the 1960s, although
his interests are wide ranging. He was also among those who formulated the “Habitat Bill
of Rights” presented to the United Nations Habitat Conference in Vancouver in 1971,
where issues of inequity between East and West and those related to culture were
considered. His architectural and planning work reflects particular attention to cultural
and ecological considerations. In Iran, this was made evident through his understanding
of the traditions and forms of the vernacular and of Iranian (Shiite) Islam, although
manifested in a totally contemporary idiom.
His best-known work in Iran is the Center for Management Studies (1972, Tehran),
now the University of Imam Sadegh in Tehran, which consists of vaulted buildings
arranged formally around courtyards. The geometric forms and axial arrangements and
the reinterpretation of the Persian “paradise garden” are revealed in the low concrete
structures that sit comfortably in a landscape of gardens and fruit orchards. His Tehran
Center for the Celebration of Music (1978) continues this exploration, with an effective
use of water and natural light. Other innovative works in the country include the Behshar
Home Offices (1974), now used as the Ministry of Industry, and Bu Ali Sina University
(1978, with Georges Candilis) in Hamadan. He planned several new towns, such as
Nuran (1978) near Isfahan, which was designed with the paradise garden as its central
spine and having two symbolic heads or ends signifying the imaginative or spiritual and
the thinking or material.
Ardalan coauthored a book with Lela Bakhtiar, The Sens e of Unity: The Sufi Tradition in Arch itecture, that in the last quarter of the
20th century has influenced many architects and scholars interested in contemporary
“Islamic architecture.” In this book, the authors explore both the spiritual and the
geometric aspects of Islamic architecture, presenting the metaphysical doctrines and
symbolism within natural, geometric, and harmonic orders. Subsequently, Ardalan wrote
a number of articles that built on these themes, and his preoccupation with what he calls
“transcendent design” continued. The Sea Palace Paradise Garden (1994–97), a residence
on the Persian Gulf coast of Abu Dhabi, uses the hasht bihisht, or octagonal “eight paradise,” concept
and a mandala plan set in long axial gardens and courtyards.
Ardalan moved to the United States two years before the Islamic Revolution of 1979,
first continuing his practice in Boston and then working there for Jung-Brannen International. His international work
included the Preservation Plan (1984) for the Old City of Jerusalem and the Ankara
Sheraton Hotel (1984). In the United States, his work became more concerned with
corporate image making and new technologies, a departure from his earlier concerns. His
prize-winning competition entry for the Citizens Plaza Office (1989), a triangular-shaped
building with a tall entry atrium, is set against the background of a historic area in
Providence, Rhode Island. This manifestation of the atrium as an organizing and
monumental element is used subsequently in other projects, as in the 23-story, 54,000-
squaremeter ADMA-OPCO and ADGAS Office Building (1994–96) in Abu Dhabi. By
and large, in his later work the spiritual dimension of architecture has given way to more
formal and economic factors in his corporate and commercial buildings.
Perhaps Ardalan was never truly satisfied working in the United States, for when the
opportunity arose to move to Kuwait to work on major projects there, he did so. In 1994
he joined the Kuwait Engineers Office as its principal designer. His subsequent work all
over the Middle East has focused on the theme of modernity and the integration of
tradition interpreted through historic Islamic architecture and the desert vernacular of the
region. This has led to a contemporary historicism, a kind of synthesis, akin to
Postmodernism found in the West. A good example of this is the buildings along a 2.4-
kilometer-long waterside development in Kuwait City. The project consists of a seafront
esplanade with low-rise buildings and a large retail complex, the Al Sharq s ouk, completed in
1998. The complex with its plazas overlooks the sea and marina on one side and the city
on the other and is conceived as a connector to the urban fabric. The design itself uses
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traditional elements, such as wind towers, shaded arcades, and mashribiya (wood screens), although
much of the building is mechanically air conditioned and consists of large shopping-mall
types of spaces that have been imported from contemporary commercial practices,
including the idea of anchor stores on either end of the so-called s ouk. It is also noteworthy
that at the ground-floor level, in “places one can touch,” the materials used evoke
tradition—ceramic tiles, stone bases, and pilasters—whereas the upper levels are finished
in gypsumreinforced concrete. The large interior spaces are finished in marble and other
rich materials. Overall, the effect is a cross between a modern shopping mall and a
traditional khan (the covered bazaar).
The struggle to reconcile his notions about culture and spirit with those of having to
work in a competitive marketplace places Ardalan in a curious position. His current
architectural projects carry within them the imagery of the past; this is also prevalent
among many architects practicing in the region. This sense of fusion is embodied in his
current work, but what distinguishes Ardalan’s work is his consistent fine sense of design
and place making.

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