Introvert and Extrovert Houses From Ancient Persia

Introvert and Extrovert Houses From Ancient PersiaIntrovert and Extrovert Houses From Ancient Persia

There are two distinct and dominant forms of traditional architecture, known among Iranian scholars as “introvert” and “extrovert’ architecture. These two major spatial forms represent two different social organizations that have developed in diametrically opposed societies. Based on an article called “Gender Structure and Spatial Organization” by Minoosh Sadoughianzadeh, published in Sage Journals, the two types are elaborated as follows:


An introvert house has a sharp separation between private and public life. Introvert architecture is a spatial pattern that tends to conceal what exists or occurs inside, insisting on privacy, seclusion, and secrecy of the house. The very beauty of the architecture could be observed only when you are inside the building or in its courtyard. The family life is in the inner parts; the “outer” pertains, inversely, to the public and the public activity.

The roots of Introvert architecture can be traced back to the ancient Persia, the pre-Islamic Iranian empire; however, it started to dominate urban architecture style since the 7th century, during the Islamic period.

Introvert architecture is mostly observed on the plains peripheral to central deserts of Kavir and Lut, in hot arid zones of Iran. It has been the dominant form in the most developed urban areas of the country, such as the city of Isfahan, the capital of numerous Iranian dynasties. Later, Tehran followed Isfahan in culture and architecture style, including introvert lifestyle.

There is an internal courtyard in the center of the building connecting most of the internal spaces; thus introvert form is mainly known as the “courtyard house” or “central courtyard house.” This architectural pattern has likewise been historically interpreted as a typically Islamic form of housing.

The closed spaces of a building are all set around the central courtyard that plays a decisive role, not only as a multifunctional space for the house or as the main space for circulation, connecting various spaces of the building, but as a provider of light and air for the peripheral spaces as well. The closed spaces have no openings to the outside. All doors and windows open into the courtyard, whether directly or indirectly. The internal spaces have a very limited contact with the external ones.

In the case of wealthier houses, the architectural separation of the private space in each house has often been developed into a rich composition of two housing sections placed in one house. One, the andarooni, meaning “the inside,” is inhabited mainly by females, and the other, the birooni, meaning “the outside,” is used by the family males and their male visitors.

The separation between private and public spaces has eventually culminated in the devising of special door-knockers, exclusively used by males or females, installed on the entrance door of each house and thus specifying the gender of the person knocking at the door and entering the private space.

The visitor’s gender was told by the sound of the knock. If a man, the women disappeared or adjusted their veils, if a woman, men withdrew.


Extrovert architecture is characterized by a more open spatial layout. It displays more flexibility in private/public separation due to its respective social life, gender roles, and spatial organization of the built environment.

Architect and architectural historian Mohammad Karim Pirnia likens the extrovert buildings to a cage where there is a view of the outside world. According to him, most houses, both in West and East Asia, such as Japan, are constructed in this way.

Extrovert forms appear either on the slopes of the mountainous areas or on the fertile fields in north of Iran, south of the Caspian Sea. In Kurdistan and Lorestan, two western provinces of Iran, and in some other areas of the country, an extrovert house includes some rooms and probably a balcony.

Extrovert spatial organizations are in two prevalent forms, either in the form of buildings with yards that are located on the plains of the Caspian Coast or as houses built on terraced hills or mountains. In the former kind, the yard usually surrounds the closed space of the building or house, while in the latter, there may be no yard at all, chiefly because there is not enough flat land.

In both types of the extrovert spatial organization, the private space of the house provides an open connection to, and is relatively in greater contact with the outdoor spaces around the house. This is made possible by means of windows, doors, and especially balconies, which open to the outdoors.

The yard is a very significant space, just like a balcony, which comprises an area allotted to much of family’s private life. It enjoys direct connection to the outside world. There might be a short wall or a transparent fence around the yard, or it might totally lack an enclosing wall or fence of any sort.

The semi-open balcony is an important multifunctional space of the house, especially in the absence of a yard. The balcony not only plays a communicative role, mediating between the closed and open spaces, but it also acts as a major space for the house, where various daily activities might occur in most seasons. It opens into a yard or a public space in the neighborhood, enabling one to have a better view of the surroundings.

In the mountainous lands where doors, windows, or balconies directly open into the public passages, the separation between private and public spaces is at its minimum.

Extrovert architecture openly exhibits its facade, elements, and beauty to the outdoor public and does not much refrain from showing what happens within the house.


In certain nationally famous old villages in the mountainous areas of the country such as Hajij in the west and Masouleh in the north, the geographical features of the land have given rise to a type of spatial organization where no clear boundaries can be found between the private and public spheres. In these two villages, for instance, the roof of each lower house generally acts as a yard for the upper one, the connected neighboring roofs forming a route for passers-by. In such cases, the distinction between the private and public domains seems to be extremely obscure.