Heritage Conservation versus Urban Development and Politics: Persepolis Tent City in the Aftermath of the Imperial Celebration, 1971-1979

Taheri, Mehdi

Ngā Pūtahitanga / Crossings: A Joint Conference of SAHANZ and the Australasian UHPH Group

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In 1971, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the former Shah of Iran, invited the most then-influential individuals of the world to Iran to commemorate the 2,500-year Anniversary of the Founding of the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great (The Imperial Celebration). To accommodate the guests, Iran set up a city of prefabricated apartments by Persepolis that looked like tents, hence Persepolis Tent City. In the aftermath of the Imperial Celebration, the government proposed or received six different plans to reuse the Tent City. Such attempts were mostly to make the site profitable, hence responding to criticisms of its extravagance. The primary stakeholders in the conception and realisation of these plans were NASCO, an architectural and urban planning consultancy firm; Homa, the National Airline of Iran that owned the Tent City; and the Planning and Budget Organisation, a governmental body that planned and supervised the public budget. There was also a Shah whose orders had to be accommodated. The plans, however, could not bring reconciliation between active stakeholders, leading to their rejection or abandonment. As a result, the Tent City slowly deteriorated to the degree that no more than its steel structures exist today.

This paper contributes to a better understanding of the relations between nationalism, heritage conservation, institutional architecture and political disputes manifested in Persepolis Tent City. The paper also offers an account of a remarkable architectural intervention, the largest-ever intervention in the first-level buffer zone of the 2500-year-old site, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, that either because of the content or the (mis)reading of the messages it carried, has remained undervalued. To pursue these objectives, the research draws on previously unexamined archival documents retrieved from the National Archive of Iran and print media published in the 1970s.