At the beginning of the 1970s when the earliest groups of Americans began to arrive, Isfahan was a dual city having undergone change throughout the post World War II period.
In the north end of the municipality proper, traditional elements remained dominant — twisting streets, bazaar routes, courtyard houses, mosques, madrasehs, caravanserais, and hammans. In contrast, the more modern south was highly structured, based on a gridiron design imposed on neighborhoods which had once housed gardens, pavilions, and palaces.
Both areas were threatened.
The north was endangered by indiscriminate development and by a desire to create east-west links. The construction of Ibn-e-Sina Avenue in the early 1970s, for example, had devastated a dense housing district north of the Friday Mosque.
Although the project and others like it were probably inevitable, they were the subject of great controversy because they were officially endorsed by a master plan drawn up by Western planners. Subsequently, the Ministry of Culture headed by Bagher Shirazi (with the assistance of a coordinating committee set up by the Empress) stopped all new road building in the central areas. These groups also determined to stop both migrants and industry from coming to Isfahan, policies in direct contravention of the Fifth Development Plan.
The south was also subject to overdevelopment. The demands of the burgeoning military-industrial complex and its support staff placed additional stress on agricultural areas with little attention given to agricultural impact. A majority of the 1,800 Bell Helicopter International (BHI) employees and their dependents moved to Hezar Jarib on the south side of town.
So far as the expanding F-14 community was concerned, at first some of the newcomers moved into luxury housing in the middle of town with local landlords gaining windfall profits from their presence. By late 1977, however, as housing costs soared out of control — and as sweetheart deals were made with local developers — Grumman required its employees to move to Khaneh Isfahan or Shahin Shahr, US style subdivisions on the northern fringes of town. In opposition to the integrated and cosmopolitian situation that had marked the American presence in the early years, distinctively separate communities were now the norm, divided by wide differentials in income and living conditions.
Khaneh Isfahan was an example of the type of planned community that was gaining worldwide recognition during this timeframe. ( The development of Columbia, MD, one of the world’s first planned communities began in the early 1960s.)
Built by private developers for local residents but, instead, housing the American community, Khaneh represented a substantial expansion of the city in a direction sanctioned by the Master Plan of 1968.
As previously mentioned, Shahin Shahr, farther north, was also co-opted by the American community.
Built on rich agricultural land and on a much larger scale, the “new city” of Shahin Shahr was billed in the press as “the world’s largest-ever private real estate development.” Moreover, whether serving the needs of the Americans or Iranians, the town was a break with tradition. Designed to house 300,000 residents, it was to include no major industry, thus destroying the traditional Iranian integration of work and home. Importantly, in stark contrast to the major (Russian) industrial town of Aryashahr, also in metropolitan Isfahan, the housing of American workers in both developments focused a great deal of attention on the foreign community.
Since Khaneh Isfahan and Shahin Shahr had been profiled as “developments of the future” for Iranian residents, the Americans were perceived to be usurpers “living in the lap of luxury.” Despite the perception, this was not the case. While American homes were palatial by most Iranian standards, basic services were lacking. The building boom placed untenable pressure on Isfahan’s fragile existing infrastructure. During the summer months when water was desperately needed for agriculture, toliets could be flushed only once a day, showers and baths were limited, and washers and dryers were useless because of water shortages and power blackouts. Because the new homes had been built on a western model, air conditioning was essential, but –since rooftop coolers required water to operate — they were usually non-functional.
Existing problems couldn’t be resolved because militarization necessitated additional infrastructure expansion for bases, airfields, and industrial facilities. There was a shortage of essential materials and an inadequate construction industry for such large-scale projects.
The housing needs of the proliferating American community meant that their neighborhoods were complemented by large tent cities sheltering low-wage construction workers from Afghanistan and Pakistan who were rapidly building the additional residences necessary to accommodate anticipated demand.
Housing pressures also arose from the arrival of large numbers of Iranian technicians and military personnel from other areas of the country.
im an Iranian architect based in London. i am currently working on my PhD at the Architectural Association, and im teaching at the University College of London.
at the moment, im looking into a series of housing project that took place in Iran in the 1970s, and Khaneh Esfahan is one of my key cases.
i was wondering if by any chance you know of the architect in charge of the master plan of Khaneh Esfahan. or if you know of the original layout of the houses. or perhaps you could connect me with a couple of people who have lived in those houses, so i could try asking them a few specific questions about the houses.
Lisa Reynolds Wolfe says
I’m happy to help.
Mark Sekerke says
There is a facebook site American school of Isfahan. The members are Americans who lived in Kaneh ,Shain Shar and in the city. There are maps of the residences.