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Kapsad Housing

Courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners
Courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

In the 1970s, as the United States struggled with recession, inflation, and the oil crisis, architects sought work in the Middle East. “It was not a strategy, but sheer necessity,” Pei explained, as his firm struggled to survive (exacerbated by the backlash of the John Hancock Building’s glass failure). Rich opportunities were found in Iran where the Shah had launched the “White Revolution” in 1963, aiming for aggressive modernization, industrialization and economic growth. Office buildings, housing, infrastructure – instant cities – were wanted, although not always afforded the planning or thoughtful architecture required. After years of development work with William Zeckendorf in New York, and foundational planning projects like Raffles International Center in Singapore, Pei’s firm was uniquely prepared for the challenge.

Kapsad was one of several projects undertaken in Teheran: a new mixed-use development on a 36-acre site northwest of the capital city. Included were four high-rise apartment towers and a segmented low-rise residential building on the east side of the main street. In a separately zoned commercial district on the west is a 73-story 2,000,000-square-foot office building, a 400-room hotel, banking, and support, all interconnected by 150,000 square feet of plaza-level retail. Also including parking for 6,000 cars, programmed and unprogrammed public spaces, and horizontal movement on different levels, the project was designed for varied and lively mixed uses throughout the day and evening.

The project stalled after a major seismic fault line was discovered nearby and presumed to bisect the site; no movement had been detected for hundreds of years but the fault was nonetheless considered active. Leslie Robertson, an engineer working for Skilling Helle Christiansen Robertson devised an effective, but expensive, solution that was favorable to all, except the client’s accountant. Although Kapsad did not progress, it was significant nonetheless as it introduced Pei to Robertson. In the following years, the architect and engineer would collaborate on more than a dozen projects, including some of Pei’s most important, among them: the Bank of China Tower, Meyerson Symphony Center, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Miho Museum, Suzhou Museum, and the Museum of Islamic Art.

Design Team: I.M. Pei, Henry Cobb, Design Partners; James Ingo Freed, Harold Fredenburgh, Bartholomew Voorsanger, Design Architects
I.M. Pei & Partners