Tehran’s Changing Skyline and Apartment Culture

Tehran’s Changing Skyline and Apartment Culture  Tehran’s Changing Skyline and Apartment Culture

One can find tall buildings in many cities around the world. Skyscrapers and towers are today the common landscape in many large cities and capitals but a glance at metropolises where planning and urban design standards are observed shows that towers cannot rear their heads wherever they want; rather they follow certain guidelines to prevent urban problems and the formation of eyesores.

But when it comes to the Tehran, tall buildings - with a few exceptions - seem to be erected at the developer’s whim. When financial gain takes precedence over everything else, the mushroom growth of buildings will recognize no boundaries even if it means trespassing narrow lanes or blind alleys or even streets with steep slopes. The strange phenomenon of skyscrapers being constructed in dense areas like narrow alleys does not seem to have generated detractors but rather it is gaining ground and is even becoming the target of expensive purchases by the wealthy class willing to splash megabucks on their homes. This is in spite of all the hassles these crammed buildings have created such as traffic congestions, scarcity of parking space and diminishing green space.


The president of the Engineering Council of Iran told the Persian Iran newspaper that the granting of building permits by the municipalities in an “uncontrolled manner” is the main culprit behind the current urban chaos.

“Unfortunately, buildings rise in narrow, crowded streets although this is against urban planning rules,” Manouchehr Sheibani says. “According to city planning rules, tall buildings should come with playgrounds, parking and a nearby shopping center not to mention the standard distance that should be observed from adjacent buildings so that each building will maintain its outside view - a principle widely ignored today.”

Sheibani refers to the antiquity of the building codes which dates back to the 1960s and 70s. These laws are no longer applicable to the present situation, he says, and called for a major revision of the building laws.


Construction of tall buildings per se is not the problem as is the work done by non-experts and the unprofessional. He suggests that the initial construction work as well as the maintenance of these buildings be handled by professional engineers in the field.

Since technical know-how and good designs are signature features present in Iranian high rises, Sheibani sees the solution “in efficient and updated rules” and not halting all skyscraper constructions. “This technical knowledge should help serve the civil rights of the citizens not to be infringed upon,” he says. “When a tower is built in a narrow street, it should be determined upfront how much traffic the residents of that building will add to that street.” On the other hand, it should be known that if a fire breaks out in the building whether it is possible for the residents to evacuate the building without casualties. These factors should play a prominent role in designating the location for a construction. Next is the importance of architectural facades and their effect on the urban landscape; thirdly ancillary issues such as access to green space and shopping malls.

 Living Culture

The problems of apartments are not limited to technical issues; but the living culture “is also in need of some repair.” Crowded apartment buildings and towers have given rise to a host of problems for the residents. Sheibani opines that Iranians have not yet adapted to living in apartment buildings and “are still in the mindset of residing in houses with big yards and gardens; these attitudes should change.”

People have to learn to live together as a community; the high rate of lawsuits indicate they should be educated regarding this issue,” he says. “As buildings rise, so should the people’s culture and behavior.”

Tehran Mayor Bagher Ghalibaf recently announced that the population of Tehran will exceed 22 million by 2021, which is indeed indicative of the greater need for apartment buildings and complexes.



A new act entitled ‘The Comprehensive Act for the City of Tehran’ is in place to put restrictions on the number of floors and offer incentives for landowners not to fragment their lands.

But as Sheibani puts it, the law is not being upheld entirely by the municipal offices. He says that in clear violation of the act permits are being given to apartment owners to build additional stories and exceed the six-story limit for most buildings.

“Some buildings have even two maps: one is for the issuance of permit and the other is for the actual construction, which is drawn to satisfy the greed of the owners,” Sheibani maintains. Almost all of these second maps are not in accord with construction rules.

Alireza Naderi, urban deputy at the Tehran Municipality says the civic body is not to be blamed wholly for the concrete jungle of high rises coming up in affluent northern Tehran since “they are only acting upon the rules enacted by the government.” There might be very few cases of misconduct but all the buildings are erected according to the rules over which the municipality has minimal authority.

With safety issues also a cause of concern - there were 50 safety-related accidents reported last year- the need for a major overhaul in construction laws is felt more than ever before.