©Habibeh Madjdabadi
1. April 2021

„I believe in creating new concepts and meanings.“

Die gefeierte iranische Architektin, Designerin und Autorin Habibeh Madjdabadi wird auf dem ADC Festival Kongress auftreten! Sie wurde vielfach für ihre außergewöhnlichen Entwürfe ausgezeichnet, in denen sie gerne kulturelle und geografische Gegebenheiten einfließen lässt. Schon vor ihrem Vortrag am 7. Mai verrät sie hier, wie sie dabei auch Unmögliches möglich macht.

You will be on the ADC congress stage in May – the motto of this year’s ADC Festival is „Superpower Creativity“. What is your superpower?

One of the challenges I always face with myself is discovering my true self. In one’s life, getting to know the weaknesses and the strengths, the superpower and, more probable, the super weakness is the most important achievement. Especially to know the weaknesses helps a lot. It helps us to dance on our strong leg instead of relying on a broken or weak leg.

Reinhold Messner, the Italian mountaineer once said: to reach the top you should consider the weakest member of your team and not the strongest. So, your superpower is inherent in knowing about your super weaknesses.

We are very much looking forward to your talk. What will it be about?  

I am glad to be a part of this program and I really appreciate its goals. Your target to motivate the younger generation to be courageous, move forward, confront fears, allow a discourse, look into the future, be open to the uncomfortable, as you mentioned in the program brief, is really valuable. Of course, I do not have a solution or formula to achieve these goals, I think there are no such formulas. I will, however, share a few personal experiences with you. I live and work in a specific geographical, cultural, historical and social context that doesn’t make things easy for a woman architect. On the other hand, my country is struggling for survival under severe economic sanctions, while seized by a difficult internal political situation. Thus, my view on creativity is based on experiences that are pretty different from those of an architect living in a Western country.

I am going to talk about a creativity which not only tries to find its way through those limitations, but also is obliged to find its power from the same specific condition and context. It’s a common ground that gives meaning to the work of Iranian Artists, filmmakers and architects. You see, Nasa’s Mars Exploration Program has published a number of pictures taken from the soil of Mars, that many people of Earth looked at with immense interest. However, similar pictures taken from the soil of Hyde Park, would not draw the attention of anybody. What I mean is that context, if grasped correctly, can make the experiences of life interesting and sometimes unique. Any architectural project is based on many routines and common issues; an architect should explore the potentials of the site to transform what is ordinary to extraordinary.

You just started a new initiative called „post pandemic architecture“, What are you aiming for?

The pandemic has drawn our attention to the dimensions of human needs. The minimum space requirements suggested in the canonical handbooks cannot be considered standard anymore.  Standards were created to accommodate a human’s physical activities, but today they fail to satisfy the human needs. Instead of considering the physical dimensions of the human body as presented by Le Corbusier in „Modulor“, today the volume of the air in a room, safe social distances, avoiding infections, etc. must be considered.

We need to address the roots and return to the origins of things and try to re-define them.

Although the pandemic situation is not permanent, it can permanently change our vision for the built environment. At the same time, the possibility of another pandemic in future is always present. That’s why we must be prepared!

The call for ideas under the title „post pandemic architecture“ invites architects to enter a dialogue and a brainstorming about the arguments for minimizing the negative effects of a possible new pandemic in the future.

What were your most outstanding projects from your point of view?

When I finish a project I immediately think about the next and this pushes me towards the future, So I guess I haven’t done my most outstanding project yet. These projects are steps towards a perfect project that will never come. 

How do you start a new project? What are your first steps? What is important to you when starting a new project?

I like to start from flying very high, thinking of the impossible, to allow the most surreal imaginations, and to conceive the most unconventional solutions. Then comes the moment to think of how the design can land on earth. It is the time to make possible what seemed to be impossible; in another word, to make real what was surreal in the beginning. If I start from anything possible, down on earth and cliché, then I’ll be trapped in the limitations, I can’t cross any border and there will be no fresh achievement.

I begin with the subject, site and the project conditions: context, time, program, sociocultural issues, budget, available materials and techniques, etc.  The architectural solution lies in the project conditions and restrictions. Every new project, from the very beginning, hides its basic Ideas. The project itself suggests what to do and what not to do. The role of architects is to think of priorities and to understand which aspect of the project can inspire the main architectural solutions: the idea that can respond to all the issues in a unique and clever way. A creative reaction to the problems outlines the architectural ideas. In each project, before the form, I look for a virtue which can fit the program. The form comes as a solution that allows me to achieve that virtue. It Is essential to decide what should be highlighted in one specific project.

I believe in creating new concepts and meanings. We need to address the roots and return to the origins of things and try to re-define them. As Philippe Starck says: to design a new faucet you should think about the water that constitutes a human need and not the faucet itself.

From your point of view as an architect: How do we want to live together after the pandemic while respecting the planet and protecting our environment?

To our surprise, some scientists say that humans are the only animals that their extinction will help the planet to flourish, while their survival is damaging in an unreversible way the nature. So paradoxically, if we really want to help the environment, we should do nothing to prevent the pandemics.

„40 Knots house“ ©Barzin Baharlouie
„House of approximation“ ©habibeh madjdabadi architecture office
Sculpture concept: „Bottles who didn't want to be ordinary“ ©habibeh madjdabadi architecture office

You’re internationally recognized for projects like the „40 Knots House“ and the „House of approximation“. Can you tell us about those buildings?

In both projects I tried to valorize the environmental conditions in which I was working. Untrained workers, hired for their low-cost wage, took part in the implementation process. For the design, a specific role was assigned to the workers and in the executive process wherever possible, labor performed the tasks that are normally handed to machines. In countries like Iran, where the wage of workers is lower than the advanced technologies, it is better to turn this into value.

For the “40 Knots House”, which is a low budget five-story residence in a middle class area of Tehran, we decided to use bricks as the main construction material in order to reduce the construction costs. Bricks are ancient and modern at the same time, they belong to earth, our culture and land. In order to implement the complicated brick texture in the facade, the workers were trained on site to perform a few specific simple tasks. The workers built that complex facade without using any technical drawings.

We conceived an ad-hoc building method for this project: To make the project understandable to the workers we needed a specific language for transferring the technical information. We prepared a detailed narrative instruction in text. The instruction was gradually recited on site like a poem. This verbal method drew inspiration from the method used in carpet workshops. For making a carpet you need generally three basic characters: the carpet designer, the man who translates the drawings into spoken instructions and the weavers who are not aware about the final result of their work, but execute different knots and colors each moment they receive one simple instruction. The same system is used for creating a very complex work by hand of inexperienced workers using recited instructions instead of drawings. We also left a certain freedom to the workers for deciding the position of the bricks. This way, a fresh and spontaneous aesthetic was achieved on the exterior of the building.

I like to start from flying very high, thinking of the impossible, to allow the most surreal imaginations, and to conceive the most unconventional solutions.

Approximation House is also a five-story house in Tehran, consisting of two duplex apartments and a flat which will reside a father and his daughter. The narrow facade of the house, made out of thousands of pieces of wood, are individually formed and shaped by the workers. Within a defined degree of freedom, the craftsmen expressed themselves through personalizing their way of shaping the wood pieces belonging to the facade.

At the end, every piece of wood became a unique handmade statue and when installed on the facade, the result was an artwork belonging to all the people participating in the construction teamwork.

The tridimensional wooden texture can be moved over the windows and its function is to mitigate the strong sunlight of Tehran and to create a play of light and shadow in the interior space. It also provides privacy for the building’s inhabitants.

Getting back to the ADC’s festival motto „Superpower Creativity “: What has to be done to unleash your creative power? Under which conditions can you get creative?

Throughout history, creativity has either emerged when humans faced a tangible problem or when a problem arose as a mental curiosity. When we are in a difficult situation, when we are in trouble and looking for a solution or when we fantasize with our unlimited minds, we probably get creative.

It is like when you get curious about something or your mind is engaged in solving a problem, it stays active in the back of your head until a creative solution surprises you in an irrelevant moment and in an irrelevant place. Not following stereotypes and standard books in all aspects of your life can probably lead you to a more creative life.


Habibeh Madjdabadi spricht am 7. Mai auf dem ADC Festival 2021. Alle Infos dazu hier.