Apartament Nº1, in Mahallat, Iran

This project is built in Mahallat, an ancient town in the central region of Iran where more than 50% of the local economy is engaged in the business of cutting and treating stones. In this project, leftover stones from the local stone-cutting factories are recycled to use for both exterior and interior walls of the apartment complex. The apartment complex is situated in proximity to the central area of Mahallat, consisting of two retail spaces on the ground level, and eight residential units on the four upper levels.

From the conception of this project, one of the major goals of the architect was to demonstrate to the conservative local community how recycling of discarded stones can prove to be environmentally and economically beneficial to both builders and residents of Mahallat.

Huge amount of energy mostly based on fossil fuels is used to excavate and cut the stones. Yet, due to the inefficiency in the stone cutting technology, less than half of the stones are utilized, and the rest of the unused stones are thrown away as trash, further polluting the natural environment. Unlike most of the industrial countries where left-over stones are recycled into other materials, the left-over stones in Mahallat had not been recycled due to lack of investment and shortage of technology they need. By recycling the discarded stones from local plants in this project, the architectural solution enables the locals to preserve precious natural resources in a creative way, and significantly reduce the cost of the project.

Moreover, this simple yet broadly applicable technique of compiling discarded stones has had a considerable impact on local builders’ use of recycled stones. At the beginning, local developers and builders were highly skeptical of the success of using recycled stone in a high-design contemporary architecture. This mainly came from an old idea prevalent among residents of Mahallat that recycling means using obsolete materials and by doing so, a project with recycled materials is doomed to fail due to low quality of materials. Also, they believed that locals will be reluctant to buy a project built with recycled materials, since recycling is likely to stigmatize a building as being cheap and of low quality.

However, once this project was completed and was favorably received by the local community, recycling of discarded stones has become a more and more popular practice among local builders, as they actively adopted the stone compilation technique developed in this project. Hence, the project demonstrates how an architectural innovation can motivate major recycling activities in the local community by providing incentives for the developers and builders to lower the building costs. This in turn will reduce the housing costs for the residents, which can ultimately contribute to the improvement in the general environment of the local community.

Furthermore, with an endeavor to create a project that is not only innovative in its use of materials, but also is truly architecturally genuine, the architect has carefully blended a compilation of different kinds of discarded stones. In applying this compilation of stones for the exterior walls which consist of façade with emphatic angles resembling the carved rock in quarry, the geometry of the project is enhanced in a subtle manner. Slight roughness of compilation of recycled stones creates somewhat a warmer texture, effectively complementing sharply tailored façade. Such coherent theme of locally-recycled stones is also reverberated in the interior of the project, where simple structure is accentuated by stone walls, creating a space that is expressed in a natural yet intimate manner.

The building’s smooth, austere, abstract prismatic volume is only broken in the areas around the deep-set openings, where triangular additions stick out to protect those apertures. The outer petrous surface is prolonged in the walls inside, using the same rock pieces collected in the local stone-cutting plants, with an immense variety of colors and textures that, because the pieces are so small, is diluted in homogenous surface of the walls.

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In the exterior, the larger windows are hidden behind wooden shutters that can be opened during the winter to let the sun shine in and can be closed in the summer to keep it out, still allowing natural ventilation because they are permeable lattices. With such a simple strategy, users regulate lighting and temperature in their homes, and considerable amount of energy saving is achieved. Also, shutters allow modern architecture to embrace the culture of traditional Muslim housing in giving additional control to the residents in what can be seen from the outside, hence, keeping their privacy more intact.

Together, the project, which speaks the language of contemporary architecture, uniquely blends with verdant trees and surroundings of Mahallat, an ancient city which has seen more than a thousand years of history. Furthermore, by developing a simple technic to compile recycled stones and implementing it in a genuine design, the project is able to fulfill a bigger goal of providing a solution to the lack of recycling in the local community, which has since then impacted and benefited the town of Mahallat and residents therein, in preserving the local environment and helping the local economy

History of the inception of the project; how the project was initiated
After the architect finished his school at Columbia University in New York, he went back to Iran and decided to design a project in his home town of Mahallat. He decided to have a joint venture project with a contactor and the land owner, each of them getting shares relative to their contribution.

As the architect was deciding on materials to be used for the project, he was appalled by the amount of precious travertine used by locals in non-designed buildings, and in an unattractive way. In order to have a deeper understanding on locally produced materials, he started doing research on how stones are excavated in the quarry and processed in the plant. As he explored the quarry, he was impressed by the beautiful sharp angled stones and their combinations. Also, the shapes of the quarry which resembles shape of a city inspired the architect to emulate them in designing the volume and massing of the building. The beautiful sharp angled stones and their combination in the local quarry resembling a city inspired the architect.

As he was engaged in the research on the stone cutting process, he found out that more than 50% of the stones are wasted during the process. In more developed countries, the stone cutting process is usually more efficient, and such waste tends to be minor. Moreover, most of the left-over stones are immediately recycled. However, in Mahallat, where recycled stones are not used by builders, nor are recycled, are typically thrown away. According to Mayor’s office, there are 200 stone cutting factories in Mahallat. Each factory, on average, produces 50 tons of left-over stones per day. A simple calculation shows that 365,000 tons of wasted stones are produced by local stone cutting plants in Mahallat each year.

The leftover stones are diverse in size, shape, type and color but they all have one common characteristic – their thickness. All of the stones are cut in either 2 cm or 4 cm thickness. With the realization that huge amount of energy is being used to process stones, the architect decided to embark on a novel approach of finding a way to use left-over stones in his project, which can potentially help save the environment of his hometown, and save the cost for the project at the same time. Having similar thickness of the left-over stones enabled the architect to put them next to each other and create a horizontal line. By adding more rows on top it, a beautiful rough surface emerges with variety of colors and sizes of stones. This technique has been developed and employed by the architect throughout the project.

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All the stone have the same thickness, which enables the architect to put them in the horizontal lines and create a rough surface.

In order to convince the investors, the architect built a sample in the contractor’s yard. By doing so, the contactor and the land owner were persuaded that the material is aesthetically attractive in a unique way. Also, using the combination of recycled stones would save them a lot of money. By using recycled stones, the project even had a surplus budget, which the architect made use of by adding wooden shutters to the windows, giving the residents additional privacy. Also, these shutters help the residents to regulate the light during different times of the day and season to save energy costs.

The project has a contemporary form carved from a heavy mass with sharp edges. The project as a whole resembles a big rock in the quarry which is carved with sharp edges in an artistic way. It has a complex geometry with a texture coming from a context which makes it properly fit to the site. By using the locally recycled rough material, this project comes to negotiate itself with the context of Mahallat and blends well with the neighborhood in spite of its unique design.

Form is a response to a limited inside space due to the irregular shape of the footprints. In all angels, the project is very proportionate and all the parts are well combined to create a holistic ensemble. By adding triangular forms to the geometry, the architect creates a more proportional space inside the room. Also, it helps the light to penetrate the space in a more subtle manner. The triangular prisms are added to the mass in different sizes and locations which gives dynamism to the exterior façade.

Façade consists of a heavy mass carved with sharp angels which resembling a big rock in the quarry. The triangular prisms protruding from the façade produces dynamic shades on the façade. Windows are covered by wooden shutters which help control the light and heat inside the units, and provide privacy for the residents. The rest of the façade is covered by recycled stones collected from local plants. Windows which are not covered by shutters are small in size, consistent with traditional characteristics of Mahallat’s architecture.

In traditional Mahallti houses, windows are small. One important reason for this is that conservative people of Mahallat are keen on protecting their privacy. However, such preference often results in sacrificing the view and nature for the residents. In this project, the architect deliberately employs big windows in the façade to give the users the option of not only enjoying the view and the nature, but also having enough light penetrating inside the units. At the same time, in order to give users the choice to choose their preferred level of privacy, the architect adds a system of wooden shutters, which can help the residents to regulate light at the same time. Also, by closing the shutters, users can reduce the noise from the street and filter the carbon pollution.

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Design of the shutters comes from old Mahallati doors which are stripes of woods connected to a wooden frame behind the door. In the new design created for the project, there are simple stripes of wood connected by a metal frame which create one panel. Panels are connected to each other and folds easily in the rail. These shutters are designed to be buildable by local craftsmen. All the materials used in shutters are locally produced, with locally saturated Iranian hard woods and Iranian steel angles for the frame. Also, all the rails and accessories are from Iran, which makes construction of the shutters more affordable for the project.

The main material used in the project is left-over stones collected from local stone cutting plants which are recycled and used in various forms throughout the project. According to the Mayor’s office, one thousand tons of left-over stones are produced in stone cutting factories in Mahallat every day. The main characteristic of the left over stones is having the same thickness and flat surfaces. The architect notes that this unique characteristics coming from the way stones are cut in the local plants make them to be applicable in different formats. Putting them next to each other in a row results in having a row with a consistent height. Repeating these rows on top of each other creates a coherent yet diverse texture from the horizontal rows of rough-edged leftover stones. This texture covers the whole exterior walls and is used in parts of the interior spaces. Also, the architect has used the left over stones in the mosaic form for the finishing of the parking area. The combination of left- over stones with sands creates an interesting protection and finishing for the water-proofing membrane in the roof. Also, these rooftop mosaics give the residence the option of using the roof top area during seasons with moderate climates to enjoy the view overlooking Mahallat.

At the beginning, investors and potential buyers were highly skeptical of recycling the leftover stones. For them, recycling meant using obsolete material, which adds no value to the project. Also, they believed that using recycled stones would make the project look cheap, hence, decreasing the value of the final product. However, after the project was completed, not only the perspectives of locals have changed, but also the techniques used in this project have been emulated in other projects. Recycling also turned out to be an especially attractive option for builders during tough economic situation in Iran in the midst of sanctions.

All the windows are covered with shutters custom-made by local craftsmen with simple local techniques. The combination of hard woods and rough stones texture is unique yet very attractive. The rest of materials have been chosen from Iranian manufacturers and have been used in a coherent manner. Inside the building, most of the space is covered by local gypsum applied by local workers. This system in much more affordable than any alternative system such as drywall given the high cost of importing the gypsum boards and studs, and low cost of labors trained to apply the gypsum on the bricks walls in Mahallat.

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