Investigating privacy principles’ formation in vernacular architecture of arid and semi-arid parts of Iran

Aida Shayegani, Viera Joklová


Traditional Iranian architecture principles have deep roots in this region’s culture, thoughts, and climatic conditions. Privacy, as one of these principles, which regulated all aspects of life, was beautifully embodied in the vernacular residential architecture of Iran. It had profound effects and resulted in a specific spatial organization of the house and the placement of various functions, either private or semi-private. Many pieces of research have claimed that privacy was an attribute of Islamic rules in Iranian architecture. Based on historical and phenomenological analyses of vernacular Iranian architecture this paper strives to confront the privacy principle according to Iranian (or former Persian) culture, climate, and security conditions. Changed geopolitical and cultural conditions in the 20th century raised new forms of architectural residential morphology almost completely negating the principle of privacy. The question is whether the vernacular principle of privacy should be embodied in the new design of Iranian residential houses or just be preserved as an expression of ancient culture and thus increasing the quality of the image of the city and its attractiveness. The research completed by qualitative morphological and analytical methods clarifies mentioned principles and identifies the definition of privacy, the factors affecting it, the roots of its formation, its influence on the physical-spatial organization of traditional residential architecture in Iran, and its continuation in modern residential architecture in Iran.

Based on the morphological survey of traditional Iranian residential architecture, we can consider main elements affecting privacy in Iranian vernacular architecture as indicated below:

(i) Privacy principles according to culture and religion. Traditional Iranian housing has been merged with religious rituals, principles, the spirit of thinking, traditions, characteristics, and the attitude of generations. The culture, religion, and art in Iran mixed with new factors after the rise of Islam. Privacy, as an Islamic principle governing all aspects of life, has formed traditional Iranian housing and has had profound impacts on and outcomes in its spatial organization and function.

(ii) Privacy principles according to climatic conditions. Weather in the major part of the Iranian central plateau is hot and arid, and many historic cities with valuable architectural designs are located in this hot and arid region. Residential structures in these conditions were characterized by narrow streets and dwelling units turned inward. Narrow streets provided shade from the scorching sun as well as greater protection from the expanding desert. Over thousands of years, people were driven to find astonishing solutions to reduce the disturbing aspects of the climate and use its convenient aspects. We can observe brilliant morphological solutions developed in such difficult climatic conditions to provide thermal comfort in vernacular Iranian architecture. Building orientation, methods of communication with the ground and underground, introversion and closure, wall thickness, the height of rooms, and applied materials confirm the maturity of the traditional builder’s respect to and semiotics with the environment.

Another point worth mentioning is the issue of security and freedom in the home environment. A person in their private territory achieves a kind of freedom and a sense of security. As it is evident, the strategies used in plan design and supported climatic architectural approaches act in harmony with introversion and hierarchy principles in reaching the house’s private zone and separating it from the public area. Among all the constituting features of privacy, cultural and religious or climatic, a specific architectural morphology can be observed, developed, and blessed by both these compelling reasons. However, changes in the way of life, and in social and cultural spheres, led to the need to reassess the sustainability of the privacy principle being strictly applied in residential architecture in Iran. The contemporary residential architecture of Iran extensively adopts the features of global modern architecture without considering the roots of ancestors’ deep creative attitudes. State policies that supported women’s education and employment in the last century freed women from households and supported their aspirations for modern housing. We can observe that contemporary people desire to reveal, express, and expose themselves to others. Therefore, the concept of home, paternal home, ancestral land, homeland, and private home will no longer evoke that traditional concept in them. At the same time, one should know and respect the local styles of architecture and house building. Knowing that the relationship between housing and culture will never be the same as in the past, a new logic and research should be established on how to preserve and evolve the native architectural culture in different regions of the country by creating a relationship of another kind. The research surveys the principle of privacy, its historical and phenomenological aspects, and the manifestation in the vernacular residential architecture in Iran; defines the influence of cultural and religious backgrounds as well as climatic conditions on Iranian architectural style. It raises the questions about the sustainability of this principle in modern architectural design in Iran.

Keywords: climatic architecture, Iran, Islamic rules, privacy, vernacular residential architecture