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One of the basic and essential needs of humans concerns the possession of a safe shelter, a need which since pre-historic era has been with them up to now. This basic need has been met in different ways in accordance with the prevalent socio-cultural and geographical conditions. The settlement of man in his own-built environment revolutionized his life bringing about fundamental changes in his lifestyle and his relationship with natural environment. The formation of a structure called house originated from man's ideas and ideology, but the manifestation of this ideology has taken various meanings with the passage of time. In other words, though the various environmental and occupational conditions dictate different housing patterns, but what connects these different realizations of the underlying needs for shelter can be traced back to man's beliefs during the history.
Referring to Persian House, it is necessary to consider this concept in a wider scope of Iran's cultural geography. Iran is a four-season country enjoying diverse climatic conditions, and these conditions have had a great impact on Iranian architectural style, as a result of which we can find thatched houses in the north, porch-houses in the west and houses with a central yard in the hot desert parts of Iran. Though climate can be regarded as the cause of variety in architectural styles, but what is shared among all these various forms concerns the family and its relationship with the Persian house. In fact, Persian house is a gathering place for the family members, a place to serve their material and spiritual needs.
Water, tree, and sky are valued in Persian House; therefore, yard is also valuable. Parents and grandparents are also appreciated and each one holds its unique position within this unique private boundary. In Persian House, every moment is regarded as invaluable and that is why sunrise and sunset, spring and autumn are felt and comprehended in it. Human is a value in Persian House and so is his life.
Persian House provides a place for production, education and transfer of traditions and customs; it is where man is invited to lead a life.
The first Persian House was built in Neolithic Era when man was engaged in agricultural and cattle-breeding activities. Afterwards, the architecture of Persian House witnessed changes and progresses in the design and configuration of spaces in different historical periods. Gradually, with the progress of knowledge and technology and the introduction of new tools, man managed to create special coverings based on the materials available in his immediate environment, houses which ultimately turned into various forms of vaults and architectural patterns with the passage of time. The extant archeological evidence show that the "Char Sofe House- a square or rectangular shaped house with interconnected rooms- goes back to pre-Islamic era", kiosk being another expansion of it. With the enlargement of the dimension of Char Sofe Houses and the expansion of its spaces, the central parts could not be covered and thus this space was transformed into yards. In the new design, roofed summer houses were located on one side of the yard and rooms were built on the other side. There is a house approximately with the same design in Persepolis, in which there are small porches on one side of the yard and rooms on the other, a replica of which has been observed in the City of Kashan.
Major changes in the housing design go back to cultural evolutions taking place in post-Islam era in Iran. As a result of these new developments, Iran witnessed dramatic and unique samples, some of which are architectural masterpieces in their own right. To provide comfort for its residents, all materials, construction techniques and architectural patterns were deployed for the mere function of a space called house. Based on the above, the development of new house patterns in Iran can be attributed to the changes in ideas concerning the materials application and the emergence of new construction techniques and skills.
Concern for the environmental conditions and cultural concepts can clearly be seen in all the components of a traditional Iranian house including the entrance space, porch, private space (interior), guest space, central yard and frontage. The original architectural patterns and symbols of Iran's traditional houses which go back to the pre-Islamic architecture were modified, expanded and applied in post-Islamic era.
The plan of the rooms within the residential context and configuration of internal spaces are all based on these patterns and environmental features. The external façade of Persian House is simple without any windows or decorations and its only distinctive feature relates to the entrance door. The entrance consists of a door embedded deep inside the wall and is identified with various ornaments on its surface. Immediately after the entrance gate, there is a space called "hashti or vestibule" which separates the private areas of the house from guests areas, access to each of these spaces is made through a roofed corridor. Passing through the corridor, one enters the central yard which is regarded as one of the main architectural features of Persian House. Iranian architects used to organize different parts of the house around one or several central yards, and by doing so, they created a private building separate from the outside world, and "Hashti / vestibule" was the only linking between the two. Being constructed around the yard with their small gardens and water pools, these houses were like a mini paradise for their users, giving them a controlled micro-climate and a safe shelter against all environmental risks. In fact, the entrance door, vestibule, corridor and yard formed a hierarchy for a private access to different spaces of the house.
Traditional architects tended to shift all ornaments and decorations to the interior of the house and the external frontage did reveal nothing but a simple entrance door. They attributed this lack of glamour to the Iranian culture which disapproves any form of showoff. As a result of this approach, there was no distinction between the houses of the poor and the rich, the only difference could be the entrance doors. Hospitality being of paramount importance in Iranian culture, the exterior or the guest section of the house was filled with the most luxurious items. The internal yard was accessible only through a meandering corridor to prevent anyone having a furtive look at the interior. All these factors led the architecture of traditional Persian House in the central plateau to be regarded as introverted (or solitary) architecture. The design of summer and winter spaces, cellars, wind-towers, porch, sash windows and living spaces were designed by considering the climatic features and conditions such as sunlight, wind blow, green areas, precipitation and etc. Close attention was paid to cultural concepts in the design of Persian House, and these concepts ranged from the door knocker to the configuration and overall format of main spaces. In fact, the Persian House was a perfect and unique model of human habitat in which well-represented cultural patterns can be seen.
The development trend of the Persian House can be depicted on the basis of events occurring in different historical periods. However, in general, considering the houses left from various historical periods up to now, Iranian urban style and house architecture underwent radical changes since the mid of Qajar dynasty (the time of Naser-e-din Shah), a change which was triggered by the enhanced political contacts with Europe.
Utilizing pre and post Islamic architectural styles, Persian House has created new concepts in the architecture of houses. Concepts such as introversion, orderliness, respect for neighbors, avoidance of showoff, spatial variety, hospitality, interaction with environment, confidentiality, avoiding waste of time, multi-functionality of the spaces and provision of privacy are some of the constituents of Persian house. The observance of these patterns and styles has given Persian house a distinct and outstanding identity. Persian house represents a unique and magnificent model in the field of house architecture in the climate of Iran's central plateau, the materials, construction techniques, decorations and intangible values of which play a vital role in the realization of Persian house.
Persian house as an outstanding sample from its counterparts all over the world provided patterns for house-building which paved the way for significant progress in this field, it was a van guard for the modern methods in the application of construction techniques, designing, spatial hierarchy, decorations, façade design, space arrangement etc.
Criterion (ii): Persian house has developed during thousands of years and it has been inspired in each era by the knowledge and cultural values of that period. All these inspirations reinforced by environmental capabilities and climatic features and other borrowed concepts have led to the creation of a new architectural style for residential spaces in this part of the globe, giving a new comprehensive meaning to the life in a house. Persian house as an outstanding sample from its counterparts all over the world provided patterns for house-building which paved the way for significant progress in this field, it was a van guard for the modern methods in the application of construction techniques, designing, spatial hierarchy, decorations, façade design, space arrangement etc.
Criterion (iv): Persian house is a sample of architectural collection which has gained a distinctive identity due to its unique design. Some of the identifiers and distinctive features of Persian house compared with similar residential spaces relate to its constituting elements and patterns including: the central yard, vestibule, interior (private space), exterior (guest space), special entrance, porch, and many other architectural elements which can often be found in Iran's traditional houses. This kind of residential design based on Iranian's unique lifestyle can be regarded as an important representative of human history in the architecture design and concept of the house.
Criterion (v): Iran enjoys divers climates ranging from hot and dry to cold, temperate and wet. Persian house has been designed in such a way that it can be regarded an integral part of its surrounding environment. The layout of the houses and their expansion, access hierarchies, height and depth of the houses are clearly affected by the form and features of the surrounding natural environment. This influence is so obvious that the role of climatic conditions and geographical features in the arrangement of the houses and also the layout of the neighborhoods can be felt. The formation of internal spaces of Persian house indicates a wise interaction between man and his natural environment. This formation is in such a way that there are two separate locations in each house reserved for winter and summer uses. Being exposed to direct sunlight, the winter space is situated in the northern section of the central yard whereas the summer residential spaces are situated in the southern parts of the central yard away from the sunlight with a higher elevation and bigger openings in order to facilitate cooling process. Spaces like cellars (a cold space underground) garden pit, and also elements such as wind towers are other examples supporting this interaction with the surrounding environment. This adaptability with the environment can also be seen in the materials used for the construction of houses. All the construction materials used in the houses are taken from the nearby environment, an issue which guarantees the easy repair and maintenance and also preserves the integrity of the houses during time. It is one of the best manifestations of man's compatibility with his surrounding environment.
Criterion (vi): The architectural design of Persian houses is directly and clearly affected by the cultural customs, beliefs and ideas of the people and it has been greatly affected by its residents. In fact, in the traditional Iranian houses, interaction with the natural environment and the fulfillment of human needs has become meaningful along with concerns for concepts in the design and layout of the houses. Emphasizing the ideological beliefs such as safeguarding the family privacy, hospitality, god-fearing, humbleness, and many other cherished beliefs, the architects of traditional houses had designed the houses in such a way that all those above-mentioned concepts can be seen everywhere from the smallest items (i.e. the door knockers) up to the overall plan and decoration method of the house. The most prominent example for the integration of these beliefs and customs can be found in the introversion concept (meaning turning inward and arranging and concentrating the spaces around the central yard).
Authenticity and integrity of a large number of Persian houses manifested in elements and concepts such as: the central yard, the interior and exterior spaces, vestibules, corridors, decorations and entrance doors are well preserved. In fact, the authenticity of the houses in terms of their form and plan, construction techniques, usage of materials and function have been preserved in their original form. Thus it can be claimed that Persian house enjoys a distinct and different style compared with its counterparts in other parts of the world. The possession of these patterns gives Persian house an Iranian identity so that it easily portrays the signs of authenticity and integrity.
House plays a vital role and enjoys a special position among all nations and cultures of the world. Since house requires a kind of community coexistence among people who have a sort of relationship with each other, it has undergone changes and development during ages in all territories and nations. Each nation based on its surrounding environment and its people's culture has built a suitable residential place for itself. In the same line, there are similar houses in other parts of the world which are comparable with Persian house including the Japanese, Turkish, Yemeni and Moroccan houses:
Turkey: like Iran, house building has a long history in Turkey and many of its traditional houses have central yards. However, the central yards serve two different functions in these two countries. In Turkey, the rooms facing the yard on the floor ground are used for service affairs whereas the rooms on the first floor (above the ground) are used for living. But in Iran, most of the traditional houses used to have a ground floor and basement where the latter was used for storage or other purposes while the rooms in the ground floor adjacent to the central yard were used for living. As a result, the residents spent most of their daily activities in the yard. In Turkish houses, the role of Islamic culture in the formation of house spaces is apparent. There are areas in the house called "Salamlek" which are used for entertaining guests and private spaces are called "Haramlek", the same concepts are used in Iranian architecture but in a different format. The facing of the Turkish houses have opening / windows towards the alley, whereas the facing of Iranian traditional houses lack any window or decorations with an inward orientation.
Yemen: The climatic conditions of Yemen have had a great impact on the emergence of its various residential properties. The mud-brick houses of alluvial lands and reed houses in Tahame Plateau are spread on the surface but the houses in mountainous regions are often high-rise building ranging from two story to nine stories. The preservation of privacy in Yemeni houses is taken care of by a multi-floor system in which private spaces are located at higher floors whereas in Persian houses this function is defined horizontally as spread over the land. Yemeni houses have an extrovert orientation in direct and complete relationship with the surrounding environment whereas the external frontage of Iranian houses lack any window or decorations and the spaces' ornamentation is oriented inward around the central yard, a style which signifies the introversion tendency of Persian houses enabling them to create an indirect and modified relationship with the environment and its constraints.
Japan: Both Japanese and Iranian houses are easily distinguishable due to their distinctive features, interaction with environment can be seen in its highest level in Japanese houses, an interaction which is well displayed in the use of local materials like logs and wood in house buildings and also the form and shape of the houses along with the steep roofs. Interaction with nature is continuous and direct in Japanese houses, but this interaction in Persian style houses was turned inward in order to protect the residents against the harms and constraints of hot and dry or cold and mountainous climates. Like Iran, the Japanese' beliefs and customs like Shinto and Buddhism have had a great influence on the form and style of the house, the presence of walls and partitioning (Shoji) with sliding doors create flexible spaces, a similar function in Persian houses has been achieved in some cases by the use of middle sash windows. One of the most remarkable features of Japanese houses concerns their small size, flexibility and light weight which is a function of their surrounding environment and the scarcity of lands. Privacy and private space is not as significant as it is in Iran, yet, the portioning between nearby spaces are quite obvious.
Morocco: Like Iran, traditional houses of morocco also enjoy the structure of central yard where other spaces are organized around it. It needs to be noted that the shape and the configuration of peripheral spaces around the yard differ in Morocco. The use of local materials and the presence of simple external walls are two features of Moroccan houses. Despite the long distance between the two countries, one of the common features concerns the influence of Islamic culture on the formation of houses in both countries. It has to be reminded that the application of Islamic culture and its teachings throughout the country is more apparent in Iran than any other Islamic territory. In fact, Persian house displays interaction with environment, fulfills human needs along with concern for Islamic values.