Old is the New New
During the early 50s, Iranians were struggling to nationalize their oil from the British. after a long battle, they finally succeeded to take control of their own natural resources. This resulted in numerous political and social events during that time. The effects of which are still felt and remembered by today's generations including a Coup against Iran's prime minister Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh.
One of the outcomes of nationalization of oil was the fact that a huge sum of new income became available to the Iranian government.
At that time Iran's infrastructure was in desperate need of modernization. So, the government started to invest a vast amount of its oil money on development programs, especially in big cities, and in particular, Tehran. This resulted in various incredible projects, such as museums, stadiums, universities and etc. However, during this rapid urban reconstruction, many of the capital's old neighborhoods and buildings fell victim to Tehran's redevelopment program. Perhaps the most famous example will be the destruction of buildings around Toopkhaneh Square, in particular the Telecommunication Infrastructure Company's old building, which was replaced by an ugly, generic concrete structures.
This destruction and decay of Iran's capital's old quarters continued at a more rapid pace throughout the Iran-Iraq war. During that period, Tehran was hosting a huge immigrant population from the war-torn areas near the border. This put a heavy toll on Tehran's infrastructure. In order to meet the demands for the city's population, Tehran went through a rapid, messy, mostly unplanned and not carefully thought through developments, which mostly neglected the old historical districts and buildings in the city and it focused on constructing new apartments and highways to be able to meet the demands of it rapid population growth.
Pictures and films from old Tehran sparked a nostalgic feeling among Iranians. It reminded them of losing a beautiful city center with charm and character. Over the past 20 years there have been numerous discussions among architects, urban planners and regular people regarding the loss of Tehran's historic districts, and even how some amateurish and unskillful attempts to reconstruct old neighborhoods have had opposite effects. This public awareness has created a very attentive mindset amongst people, who would like to preserve the old buildings and neighborhoods in Tehran.
These days, you can see many old buildings throughout the city that have been meticulously renovated, refurbished and put back into service, in forms of restaurants, cafés, hotels, and even art galleries. When you spend time in these newly restored buildings, you realize the perfect balance they have made by mixing the old and the new; the historic and modern. The designers have managed to renovate and modernize at the same time while giving a Persian/Iranian touch to their projects.
Most of these renovations have been made by young private investors, who have injected these buildings, neighborhoods and even the city with new blood. These previously abandoned buildings are now vibrant parts of their community where people can meet, relax and enjoy their food and beverages.
Renovating outdated abandoned buildings and converting them into new use, have saved these old structures to fall into a disease very familiar with every citizen of Tehran. The disease of destruction of old buildings and replacing them with new, characterless multi-story residential apartments or another shopping mall, which is happening all over the city!!
The successes of these renovation projects have proven that not only we can save the old neighborhoods by restoring the old buildings, but we can also inject new life and regenerate the businesses in old districts much more effective than newly built structures, buildings, and districts, which most of the times look like they don't belong to that area. In short, newer isn't always better.
After years of neglect, ill-prepared urban planning and an increase in land value, which paved the way for the destruction of many of Tehran's old buildings and neighborhood; public awareness and the success story of these newly renovated old buildings have shown the community and the citizens the importance of preserving their historic buildings, and it has even awakened the local government to be more protective of the city's old districts and edifices. Parts of the old city are gone and they aren't coming back, but we can preserve what is left.