Sometimes, it takes the sheer shock of seeing abject wastage happening around you to come up with a new idea for recycling. In Iran, Architect Ramin Mehdizadeh showcases a simple, yet brilliant design for recycling discarded stone.
Mahallat is a town in central Iran that thrives on the mining of travertine stone. More than 50% of the town’s economy comes from this industry. This occupation dates back to the Roman era and the demand for the stone, for exteriors and interiors, continues to this day.
A mountain of discarded stone, however, reveals another side of the story. Mahallat’s stone industry currently lacks the investment or technology to cut stone efficiently with a minimum of wastage. Less than half the stones quarried are really put to use. These ‘rejected’ stones, discarded as trash, create an ever-growing pile of unwanted and polluting material. Official records estimate that there are about 200 stone cutting factories in Mahallat with around one thousand tons of left-over stone generated per day.
Architect Ramin Mehdizadeh of Architecture by Collective Terrain (AbCT) returned to his hometown Mahallat after completing his studies at Columbia University, New York, to start work on a new project. While surveying the site and deciding on the materials to be used for the project, he came across the mountains of discarded travertine and was appalled by the waste. He began research on how the stones were excavated in the quarries and then processed. The sharp angles of the stones and the way their gradient height “resembled a city” inspired him to design a project with the quarry in mind.
The good thing about the discarded stone was that while they were all different in size, shape and colour, their thickness was the same. All the stones are cut in either 2 or 4 centimetre thickness which enabled Mehdizadeh to stack them together in a horizontal line. The rest, as they say, is history.
Convincing the investors in the project was not easy. The idea of using rejects to create a prominent building did not exactly generate enthusiasm.
Mehdizadeh wanted to demonstrate to the conservative local community how recycling the discarded stone could be both environmentally and economically beneficial to everyone.
The five-storey contemporary building was designed with modern angles where traditional sensibilities too were kept in mind. The smooth volume of the building is broken by the sharp angles of the triangular prisms; this gives the building a certain dynamism and is also a clear reference to the shape of the quarry.
The triangular prisms were a solution to the irregularly shaped site and allowed the architect to create more rectangular rooms as well as add a unique dimension to the exterior.
Elements of traditional Iranian architecture show up constantly in the project. Porous walls have been a feature in Iranian buildings since ancient times and Mehdizadeh’s wall of stones has the same peek-a-boo quality, but with an edge.
The size of the windows is contradictory to traditional Mahallti windows, which are small, to protect privacy. Mehdizadeh used large windows to maximise the views and ingress of natural light but added wooden shutters that can be opened or closed depending on the season or the need for privacy.
Smaller windows are also included, to bring in more light. In another nod to local customs, the design of the shutters was inspired by old Mahallti doors which are strips of wood connected to a simple wooden frame.
Interestingly, the shutters are not only useful, but also decorative. They add an organic texture to the exterior of the building and create a sense of movement as they open and close on the various floors; just like unwrapping a gift in slow motion.
Inside the apartments, the architects followed tradition by segregating the private and public rooms. The family room allows for entertaining guests while the bedrooms are accessed separately, providing privacy. A wall of recycled stone shows up here, too, separating the family room from the living room and other rooms.
Mehdizadeh reinvented the traditional “taghche”, a built-in shelf located in various rooms. The new taghches are sleek and of varying heights, enabling the occupants to use them for different purposes. In keeping with the eco-friendly nature of the project, local craftsmen were employed to create a lot of the project including the shutters and the intriguing free-standing handrails.
Through this project, the architect demonstrated that it was possible to use discarded stone with great success, paving the way for a recycling solution that not only conserves natural resources and reduces the cost of building but also creates a visually-pleasing architectural icon that the residents of Mahallat are now rightly proud of.
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
Photographs Courtesy Omid Khodapanahi