Construction boom threatens Tehran's treasures

Tehran's architectural gems at risk of being swept aside
A general view of northern Tehran taken from Tabi'at (Nature) bridge on Modares highway during Noruz holidays on March 25, 2015. During the Noruz holiday the Iranian capital becomes less polluted than usual as many leave the city.

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Tehran's architectural gems at risk of being swept aside 03:07

Story highlights

  • Tehran is in the midst of a construction boom
  • Some want to build on top of exquisite old homes

(CNN)With its bustling bazaars and traffic-swelled streets, Tehran is a mega-city on the go.

A modern building boom further adds to the sense of urgency and progress in the Iranian capital.
    But scattered around this ancient city of 15 million people lie hidden architectural gems from bygone empires and eras.
    As the city develops, some of its rich architectural history is at risk of being swept aside.
    Mehraz Kaviani is the keeper of one such treasure.
    He owns an exquisite old mansion built by his father-in-law over half a century ago near the leafy Niavaran suburb in the north of Tehran.
    Here, intricately handcrafted interiors, some of which took five years to complete, are complemented by an orchard and swimming pool in the outer grounds.
    The land alone in this 10,500-square-meter (110,000-square-foot) plot is valued at $10 million and Kaviani is currently weighing up an offer to sell up so that a 38-story tower can be erected where the house currently stands.
    Although Kaviani is keenly aware of the potential financial windfall, he acknowledges the importance of preservation.
    "This [house] is very valuable, lots of memories, you can't really exchange it with money," Kaviani says.
    There may be a possibility of building one tower, he adds, and maintaining the house itself.

    Meeting modern demands

    Yet not everyone in Tehran is as sentimental.
    CNN visited a one-story plot close by Kaviani's home where a 20-story block with 59 apartment units was built at the turn of the century.
    One of the developers behind the tower says he is catering to the modern demands of Iran's middle and upper classes.
    "When Iranians travel around the world, they see many things [that] they like to have which are better than the old houses," said Mohammad Reza Mofkham, board member of Iranian construction firm AVA Buildings.
    These modern tastes certainly come at a premium. Ten years ago, a unit at the AVA property sold for $1,800 a square meter (ten square feet). Today, the asking price is $5,000.

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    Yet despite the tidy profit to be made, attempts are being made to maintain Tehran's architectural integrity.
    Over the last decade, the Iran Cultural Heritage Organization has spent millions restoring buildings like the 19th-century Masoudieh Palace in the east of the city.
    Architect Adel Farhangui thinks such preservation projects are an essential part of Iran's development.
    "I think that [the] essence of architecture belongs to the locality," Farhangui said.
    "If we have in the future these buildings, the architects can feel their essence, their old essence, their country's essence, their region's essence ... they can use them for their new (lives)."
    As land values continue to head northwards, however, the temptation to cash in on Tehran's grand old houses will be hard to resist.