Manouchebri House, Iran (shortlisted 2014-2016)

Kashan is a desert city located between Tehran and Isfahan; it became an important town during the Safavid era. The sub-province of Kashan is located between the Karkas Mountains to the west and the Central Desert to the east. This strategic locale has a unique contrast of landscape: from mountain highlands to dry desert lowlands. The city was once the centre of Iran’s textile art, and its goods were traded all over the world (Eshrati et al., 2017). The historic part of the town was built after the AD 1778 earthquake which destroyed many structures. With the reconstruction of the city, local merchants made their houses even grander and larger than before by the use of sophisticated brick masonry and exquisite ornamentation (Mostafavi, 2016). Manouchehri House is located in the Mohtasham neighbourhood, where the many of the most important historic houses are located.

In 2007, artist Madame Manouchehri purchased a partially destroyed house at a government auction and named it after herself. Although there was still a possibility it could be demolished, the new owner decided to restore the house and reuse it as textile workshops to revive the endangered tradition of textile production. As the house was not registered on the Iran’s National Heritage List, the new owner could thus repurpose the house and introduce various new functions and features. For example, she decided to use part of the house as a boutique hotel. Because of a lack of mid-range hotel accommodation in the city, she astutely recognised that this new type of trendy hotel would attract attention and clients as well as, most importantly, keep the textile art alive (Eshrati et al., 2017). As a textile expert and a committed heritage defender, Ms Manouchehri wanted to rejuvenate the neglected house and expand the conservation of the heritage of Kashan by setting up this project as a model (Mostafavi, 2016). The hotel contains eight residential rooms facing the central courtyard, and each room has its own particular decorative features; this boutique hotel includes handicraft shops and a restaurant. Textile workshops were set up in some parts of the house. The former cistern was transformed into a movie theatre, and the lobby became an art gallery.

The house is located in the Mohtasham neighbourhood area where several alleys feature austere blank walls, except for some arched gates and vaulted or covered streets. The modest facades of the structures, which were organised around an internal courtyard, offer a high degree of privacy as well as protection from the desert climate. The urban pattern of the surrounding context is still intact, but some facades and alleys were very decayed. Taking note of the potential of this neighbourhood, the restoration programme of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development introduced a citywide rehabilitation scheme that included restoring residences, facades, and streets (Radoine, 2016).

In a desire to make the neighbourhood more attractive, Madame Manouchehri encouraged family and friends to purchase and renovate historic houses nearby. By the end of the project, more than 100 buildings had been purchased by investors, both domestic and foreign. These houses were later turned into hotels, private houses, and cultural centres. This rehabilitation enhanced and invigorated the historic area’s physical condition (Radoine, 2016).2 The broad scope of the project objectives included the renovation and revitalisation of historic houses and its neighbourhood and the revival of the traditional hand-woven textile tradition. This rehabilitation has raised awareness of the cultural, artistic, and architectural heritage of the town and helped cultivate a strong sense of belonging through renovation works.

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