Iran is on the verge of a new era for architecture according to local architects, as change sweeps through the Islamic Republic following the removal of Western sanctions.
An expanding economy, growing demand for contemporary lifestyles and booming investment in tourist infrastructure are combining to create new opportunities for professionals in the country.
"Iran is opening its doors to the world," Reza Mafakher of Iran-based firm Xema Architects told Dezeen, citing the election of President Hassan Rouhani in 2013 and the removal of international sanctions in 2016 as key drivers of change.
After that, "The projects referred to our firm were different both in scale and function," Mafakher said.
"This represents the beginning of a boom in the industry," he added. "We believe that we are on the verge of a new era for Iran and its architecture."
The emerging contemporary architecture scene in Iran is evident in several recent projects, including the new 270-meter-long Tabiat Bridge, which was designed by Iranian architect Leila Araghian when she was just 26 years old.
The project ― as Iran's largest pedestrian bridge ― is located in Abbasabad, which is an area originally earmarked as a residential zone for the military that has since been populated with libraries and museums.
Tabiat Bridge is one of three Iranian achievements ― more than any other nation ― shortlisted for this year's Aga Khan Award. The award, which comes with a prize of $1 million (£700,000), acknowledges excellent architecture and infrastructure design that responds to the needs and aspirations of societies where Muslims have a significant presence.
Such architectural achievements are a far cry from Iran's recent past, which was mired by the Iraqi imposed war (1980-88).
"Construction after the war between Iran and Iraq was more user/shelter based and in terms of architecture and art, indefensible," explained Mafakher. "Hence the rupture in architecture and construction in Iran can be seen greatly between 1980 and 2000.
"However, the architecture has found its direction again in the past decade."
Numerous residential projects, as well as a small café in Tehran that was designed to promote the congregation of people, highlight the changes taking place in the country.
"I believe for anyone living outside Iran it is normal to sit along the sidewalk and drink coffee, but there are many social and political factors that make this almost impossible in Tehran," architect Qaem-Maqami told Dezeen last November. "By designing the café, we tried to bring people out of the closed interior to the street."
The emergence of a young, highly educated and increasingly connected generation is the driving force behind many of the new projects, according to architect Alireza Taghaboni of Iranian studio Next Office.
"The young generation are working, they are penetrating the economy and business," said Taghaboni. "They want modern, new things and a higher quality of life, so they design better projects."
Iranians are backing reformist policies in their quest for a higher quality of life, which helped secure Rouhani's election as president in 2013. One of Rouhani's main election pledges at the time was to ease the unjust sanctions placed on Iran by the international community.
In July 2015, world powers hammered out a deal with Rouhani's administration, which promised to scale back Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the removal of sanctions.
According to Mafakher, this move promises to accelerate the architectural changes in the country by boosting foreign investment.
"In recent years, due to the blocked transactions between Iran and other countries, no investment emerged," he told Dezeen. "After the agreement the presence of foreign investors ― especially in the construction of hotels and tourist entertainment centers ― has increased dramatically."
These investors are hoping to cash in as the number of tourists heading to Iran looks set to dramatically increase following the thawing of political relations with the West.
Iran’s Vice President Massoud Soltanifar has said that the Islamic Republic is preparing for a tsunami of tourists in coming years, and unveiled a package of measures designed to further boost the arrivals including the construction of hundreds of four- and five-star hotels.
Increasing investment, a growing economy and more wealth in the hands of the Iranian people are fueling new residential projects as well as hotels and infrastructure. Next Office created a private house in Tehran with rotating rooms on its façade, allowing its residents to open up rooms in the summer, or turn them inwards during winter.
In cities, where space is at a premium, apartment blocks are springing up to meet the high demand for new living spaces, like the six-storey Andarzgoo Residential Building in Tehran by Ayeneh Office, which features a facade of ridged granite and slatted timber shutters.
But despite the accolades and renewed interest from overseas, the development of high-quality architecture in Iran still faces an uphill battle against build-it-fast, build-it-cheap developers, according to Ali Dehqani of Ayeneh Office.
"Iran has a rich architectural heritage but unfortunately the contemporary architecture of Iran is chaos," said Dehqani. "Most of the buildings are often built by people who don't value the quality of space."
Tehran-based architect Taghaboni says there is friction between some of the emerging clients, who simply want to make money, and architects attempting to enhance lives with innovative architecture.
"Building and selling apartments is a very high-profit business, and in this market doing intellectual things isn't always important for the clients," said Taghaboni. "If you walk into the streets of Tehran, you can see many examples of kitsch architecture that are for the new high classes in the country.
"One of our challenges is fighting with the kitsch." he added.
Some architects also believe Iran is losing its architectural traditions as pressure mounts in cities to create more housing units. In response, they are finding ways to incorporate and reinterpret traditions featured in new developments.
Brothers Nima and Sina Keivani of Keivani Architects based the design of their seven-storey apartment block in Tehran on elements commonly found in traditional Iranian architecture. This includes a reinterpretation of the orsi window ― a type of sash window with latticed woodwork and colored glass typically used to help reduce sunlight and heat, and repel insects in the hot climate.
Architects Sara Kalantary and Reza Sayyadian of TDC Office included deep balconies with modular flower boxes on the rear façade of their Saba Apartment Block to reconnect residents with Iranian tradition of urban gardens.
"This project was the result of our efforts in revitalizing this lost heritage and giving a new interpretation to the old concept," they said.
Other challenges faced by architects on a day-to-day basis include filtering of information, a shortage of modern technology in construction, traditional building codes and expensive land values in big cities, said Mafakher of Xema Architects.
There has been an increased awareness in the West of these issues and what Iran has to offer architecturally, largely due to removing the economic sanctions. According to some architects, a lack of wider media interest in issues beyond Iran's political situation has led to a situation where many of the country's achievements have been overlooked.
Taghaboni said, "I think there is a very high demand to know what is going on in Iran. This can help us."
Mosha House, designed by New Wave Architecture for the rural village of Mosha, Tehran, is one recent example of a housing project that has attracted international attention through architecture publications like Dezeen. It comprises a trio of irregularly stacked boxes ― each angled towards a different view of the mountainous landscape beyond.
The Termeh building, housing offices and retail with undulating brick roof that visitors can walk on, has also reached a wide audience after being published online. This attention is encouraging more young firms to publicize their work.
"Now there are young firms with a desire for globalization developing Iranian architecture again," said Dehqani. "We hope that young offices such as ours will create a future of architectural excellence."