Centre for Architecture Theory Criticism History
School of Architecture

Peyman Akhgar

Until the early twentieth-century, Iranian architecture was closely linked to tradition. The architect was a master builder and his pupils were those who learned their lessons practically beside him. In the late Qajar era (1789–1925) and early Pahlavi era (1925–1979), Western culture was introduced to Iran. The influence of the West became noticeable in social, political and cultural arenas of the Country. In the late 19th and early 20th-century, the connection between Iran and France became stronger. Iran welcomed French architects to direct the architectural and archaeological projects. When Reza Shah (the first Shah of the Pahlavi dynasty, 1878-1944) seized the power in 1925, he was determined to implement his educational and reconstruction program. He found out that his ambitious goals would not be turned into reality by Iranian architects who still think traditionally, but by recruiting European architects. As a result, European architects, among them French Beaux-Arts diplômes, travelled to Iran and became in charge of construction of many buildings. In 1934, Reza Shah commanded the foundation of the first Western-like university in Iran. The need of the country for having educated architects motivated Iranians to go abroad. Mohsen Foroughi became the first Iranian ever attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to study architecture. After his return to Iran, he became the main figure who introduced architecture as a profession by establishing the first school of art and architecture (the School of Fine Arts) with his French Beaux-Arts fellows in 1940. Having Beaux-Arts diplômes among the founders, the educational program and pedagogical system, and even the system of grading were completely modeled on the Paris Ecole des Beaux-Arts. A system which remained almost unchanged for 28 years from 1940 to 1968. Looking at the students’ architectural design projects and constructed buildings of those Beaux-Arts diplômes, one can notice how Iranians gradually adapted to a modern design approach which was unquestionably through the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The Beaux-Arts influence, however, did not confine only to academic education. Each year the graduates of the School were attracted to the governmental or private architectural offices. Being familiar with the modern architecture and design, they could gradually take the position of foreign architects and become in charge of construction of major buildings such as museums, train stations, stadiums, etc.
Project: 20th Century Iranian Architecture: A Shift from Tradition to Modernism through the Paris Ecole des Beaux-Arts