Student Research Opportunities Program
Berlin University Alliance

WiSe 2021-22
Arita Dreshaj, Diana Chvirova


The block seminar “Reconstructing the change, designing a toolbox of strategies” was concerning the research and proposal for the development of the Imamzadeh Yahya neighbourhood of Tehran in Iran. The project process consisted of different parts: guest lectures and input about the area of research, researching the related to the topic literature, exploring the researched area through a virtual tour, development of the idea, conducting the necessary analysis, combining and summarizing the research results and presenting it.

1. Literature Review

In order to delve deeper into project-related topics and to get inspiration for project ideas, various theoretical texts were researched. The first one was “Urban Informality: Toward an Epistemology of Planning” by Ananya Roy. The text brought into attention different areas of research and methods for project development. For instance, the tactics of using multiple sovereignties (NGOs and World Bank), thinking about functional order and infrastructure instead of aesthetics, as well as to shift from the notion of the informal sector to the informality as a mode of urbanisation and giving the population the right to the city. Another research that was analysed is “Rethinking maps” by Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge, which focuses on one of the purposes of cartography, which is a critical exploration of the area and the relevance of the illustration to the aims of the study.

The second text was “Layers of Time in the Urban Landscape - Visions of Socialist Urbanity in Mitrovica” by Pieter Troch & Thomas Janssens. This book tends to analyze the urban society in Mitrovica under Yugoslav and Kosovo socialism. It is essential to mention that the author claims to have prevented ethno-politicization from interfering in his historical research. The book aims to document the intersections of layered meanings in the urban landscape. This was explained through some critical shifts in the areas, such as the collapse of Socialist Yugoslavia in the 1990s, which left the majority of the population unemployed, who were bound to seek new jobs to have some income for their families. The Yugoslav Communists forbade most of the Ottoman Cities’ lifestyle in Mitrovica because it was under the Ottoman rule for centuries but failed to strictly follow their rules. People started moving to the city, seeking new job opportunities, and this was the point where things got out of control for the Yugoslavian administration. Because of the lack of housing units, people started building illegal 1-2 story housing just outside the urban area, creating a strong ‘’border’’ which divided the urban city and the periphery.

Out of this, we suggested that some main points can also be used regarding the given urban situation in Imamzadeh Yahya, Tehran, pre-thought-out urban plans to avoid massive migration, avoiding ''borders'' in the urban concepts, keeping up with requirements, keeping up with individuals capacity (providing financial help, but no exemptions).

2. Lectures and Input

In the first week of the block seminar, there were two guest lectures presented: one by Mohammad Reza Haeri about the contribution of Iran to contemporary world architecture through spatial patterns, and another one by Niloufar Niksar about the observation of the urban change through resistance. The guest lectures helped to understand the existing urban morphologies and typologies in Tehran, as well as the history of the city and the relevance of the topic of urban resistance. The inputs provided by Mahshid Balazadeh over the duration of the course were focusing on the history of the Imamzadeh Yahya, its architectural traits, as well as the information from different fields of studies, were given, including demographic, social, economic, spatial, transportation and urban landscape studies. That helped significantly to understand the background information and studies done on the neighbourhood to use them for the development of our own research.

3. Virtual Tour

The virtual tour was prepared and consulted by specialists in the area of research concerning the housing typologies in the neighbourhood. The virtual tour allowed us to understand the main possible challenges and opportunities for the development of the area and problem-solving. In this way, possible empty spaces for development and new infrastructures in the study area were discovered. Also, various existing problems were detected: lack of sports and recreational infrastructures, problems with the transport situation, such as lack of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. That was a very helpful and important input, as it allowed us to get to know the area of research and development without visiting it.


4. Developing the idea
[a] Initial thoughts and ideas and Workshop with Andreas Brück

We started the process of the idea development by looking out for specific issues existing in the neighbourhood, such as accessibility to different infrastructures, the lack of places for meeting up for older adults, abandoned and derelict buildings, and lack of leisure activities for different age-groups. The existing social system in the neighbourhood was analysed by mapping the socio-demographical information, finding out the weak points from the observation and interviews, and particular parameters for material and immaterial structures. We took advantage of the comments we gathered from the workshop with Andreas Brück and tried to put the words in concrete work. The comments were regarding the way we should approach the problems on the site, as well as the purpose of mapping and different types of illustrations and representations of information. We discussed some ways that can help us find the common things to map (ex. sub-groups, key elements to work with), the lack of different functions and then find commonalities between two waves of research.

[b] Final Plan

Based on relevant information and analysis compiled for Imamzadeh Yahya, we decided to focus on the 21-26 age group (as it is the major age group in the area), in spaces that have the potential to develop and provide different infrastructures for these ages and beyond, and the easy and direct access of individuals to them. Based on the mapping of the derelict spaces and various surveys, we found the weak points (poor accessibility and lack of infrastructure) and possibilities for development (empty spaces and abandoned buildings). Thus, we ended up with a strategy to redevelop abandoned places.

5. Work in Progress and comments
[a] Mapping and accessibility analysis

As developed in the research design, this part concerned the analysis of accessibility of different infrastructures in the neighbourhood. Accessibility analysis was conducted using QGIS software and the data from the official data sources, such as OSM (Open Street Maps) and Google Maps. The neighbourhood was divided into a grid consisting of hexagons with a side length of 200 m, which defines the pedestrian accessibility from one side to another. Therefore, the concentration of different amenities was calculated and analysed, such as eating out places, parks, leisure and sports infrastructures. Hence, the received results helped define the places with the lack of infrastructures and the possible areas for development and introduction of these places.

[b] Exploration and redevelopment of the Abandoned Places

As a result of urban analysis, what caught our attention most was the abandoned spaces and houses. Which also became our main point of concentration. Taking care of the analysis for the existing situation and field photos taken by Mahshid Balazadeh, it became easier to identify these spaces and eventually the functions that we would return and assign to them. Each of the selected houses belonged to a location where a specific function was missing, which we would restore through the redesign of the house chosen. Some of the missing functions are public spaces for entertainment, sport, public spaces for innovation, gastronomy, and others.