- Architects: Contemporary Architects Association
- Location: Isfahan, Isfahan Province, Iran
- Architect In Charge: Amirali Zinati, Behnaz Motarjem, Aidin Emdadian, Sonia Beygi, Bahar Mehdi Pour, Hamidreza Malek Khani, Ramtin Ramezani
- Area: 69.0 m2
- Project Year: 2017
- Photographs: Anis Eshragi
- Consultant: Pouya Khazaeli
- Local Partners: Mohsen Mehdizadeh, Mostafa Yaghoubi, Hosein Bagheri, Mehdi Hoseini
- Text: Behnaz Motarjem
- Association: Contemporary Architects Association CAA
From the architect. It is the last days of winter. The weather is going crazy again. The pressure to finish everything before new year has pushed everyone to the streets. It’s as if it were a small rehearsal for the end of the world. We see each other in this mayhem. When there’s no time to start anything and everything must finish in the fastest way possible. We start in a weather for which we’re not quite sure how to dress, minutes away for the alarm to ring, some steps behind the finish line. It is 10 o’clock, March 10th, 2017. Our meeting is on the first floor at The Contemporary Architects Association.
We introduce ourselves the way we think we are.We get to know each other. We’re a new group but the decision is the same as last year’s. To build out of soil, in Esfahak, Southern Khorasan, to go by train, 17 hours away. This time we’ll build what they want us to. “an observatory”. In a lot near the school. A circle for twenty people to gather around. One meter above ground level.
Tomorrow afternoon we’ll build the adobe moulds out of wood.The adobe bricks will be 2 cm x 2 cm and 0,5 cm thick. Now we’ve really got started. Various halfway done designs are built on the tables. We choose one and decide to keep working on it. Sometimes we work more, other times we talk. Soon We realize this can’t be done by talking. It can’t be done until it’s built. In the middle of our talks there’s always someone saying “let’s build!”
Three concentrated circles. The one at the center is the highest one and will be where man meets the sky. And two other circles that encompass a single person passageway that leads to the center. The place where we don’t want to see anything other than the sky itself. The design changes whilst building it. It seems as if everyone wants to become smaller so that they can walk inside the model before it’s actually built. We decided that the aim of this design is to concentrate. We won’t leave this circle. The walls go up and a week later, the job is done. We clean the surroundings and stand back with our mortar covered hands to observe. The observatory dream is ready.
Two days later we leave for Esfahak. We arrive at midnight. We barely sleep. We meet again in the morning. The old and the new that have recently joined us, and most importantly – Esfahak itself. Now we are a group from Montréal, from London, from Tehran, Kerman and Mashhad. What loud noise has brought us all together? Our work with adobe and dirt starts. The working lot is next to an old cob wall. This is where we’ll spend the next days. Nobody waits. There’s enough to do for everyone and more. We collect stones for the foundation. Some people mix the mortar with their bare feet. We laugh loudly. Our inhibitions are soon gone. Clean and ironed clothes are soon covered with dirt. We get to know each other better. One day working under this sun, with our feet deep within this soil and dirt equals to months of painful getting to know each other in the city. When we leave for lunch, the mortar is ready, the foundations built and we all know each other just so much better. After lunch at “Haji Pedar’s”, which is where we’re staying, we rest for a bit. Our working schedule is like the sun’s. We work just like the sun. Whatever we do is during the day. We balance the surface with mortar and adobe. The building of the walls starts with the outermost one.
We don’t have a plan to divide work, but we ask each other. We can tell what our bodies can and cannot do. Now everyone has their own place. With each brick over the other, row over row, we get to know ourselves better. One by going back and forth between different tasks and another by constantly working on a single one. Practice makes perfect. Constant shoveling has left our backs hurting. But we get better at it. We finally get what’s the best consistency for the mortar. Meanwhile, “Abbas Agha” arrives every once in a while with a new fresh batch of adobe bricks. We line up and empty the bricks. Reza and Pooyan make tea. How good it is to drink a cup of tea when you’re so tired. Everything must be mentioned, remembered. The greens that we had, the lunches, the short afternoon naps, the tea, the laughter, the joy of discovering each other and ourselves. They all were needed just as much as the adobe bricks and mortar to build the observatory. Just as involved in the process. We wash our tools in what’s left of the sunlight at the end of the day and store them in a small room where there are also two graves.
We have already started worrying about how we’re going to go back, even though it’s still early. Here, each moment that we work we’re connected to it all. Free of paperwork, the threads of life, the promises we’ve made, the gloominess and the need of anything from outside. This is an entire world by itself. We work and we eat and we talk and we are happy. We gather at nights and try to stay awake as much as we can. Our bodies are worn out and that means that, for the first time, our bodies are there –present. How could we ever go back?
The next days, newly shaped clouds, the wall keeps going up, people talk with us through the wholes of the cob wall. We have as many visitors as the adobe bricks we have used so far. What is it that you’re building? An observatory. It is for Esfahak? Yes. So it stays here, for us? Yes, it stays here, for you. The children join us. Our work excites them. Sometimes they help us out by handing bricks to us, other times they bring “chaghale badoom” for us. Now the walls have gone so far up that we are the first to fall victims of our own design. We’re inside and our connection with the world outside is severed. The sky is overhead and now we must work at nights with whatever lighting we can get. We get to observe the starry sky before anyone else.
We put up the middle wall last. With a 45 degree rotation per each adobe brick. The texture it creates looks like the palm trees we see every day and perhaps sleep in their shadows. We build the biggest palm tree in Esfahak with our newly acquired and faster skills. The last days everyone comes to help. Mustafa, Mohsen, Reza, Adel and the rest. It’s the last rows of brick and the wall has gone far higher up than our height. We are already missing this all. You can’t see the entire work from a single place. It doesn’t fit in our eyesight. We climb up walls and even go up the rooftop of some ruins next to the lot we’re working on. You can always hear someone yelling “come see how it looks from up here!” A child grown so big that its mother can’t look out for it anymore. The last day we take out all of the barrels and wooden boards we used to climb up and down and work. The passageways are now empty. Each time we are passing through them we meet each other. We go up again to the central innermost circle, one meter above ground level. It’s as if we’re on top of a castle. Our work is done. We built a castle. We conquered it. The observatory doesn’t need us anymore. It can stand on its own.
How do we go back? In silence. Hurt and hopeful. We are discoverers.