Oil, Utopia, and the Architecture of the Off-Modern: The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Planning in the 1930s Iran

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookChapterpeer-review


In several non-western countries, “vernacular modernism” was considered a strategy to recode modernity through alternative practices. In the generic discourse of architecture, this ambiguous term is also understood as an “architecture of resistance” to preserve local traditions. During colonial expansions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, foreign powers pursued similar design methodologies to accelerate the exploitation of natural resources, offering a new experience of space and place. This practice brought the first encounter with a different state of “modernity” ahead of the reformist commencement of modernisation. This much is evident from the operation of a British firm, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, in the Iranian oil-rich regions in the 1930s. Juxtaposing the “vernacularisation” of the modern architectural language with aspects of Garden City, the company provided a more flexible town planning and living style sympathetic to the custom of local people. In return, the policy was to suppress the nationalist movements and to guarantee the exploitation of the oil resources.

Discussing the Bawarda company housing in Abadan, this chapter decodes the 1930s Anglo-Iranian Oil Company planning in the oil-rich regions of Iran. Analysing the scheme’s morphological, typological, and socio-political aspects, I posit that Bawarda not only met the company’s colonial inclinations but has also successfully responded to the ongoing conflict between tradition and modernity in different historical periods; including the First- and the Second-Pahlavi periods, and the post-revolutionary Iran. Regardless of the company’s exploitive intentions, this colonial-care practice unintendedly resulted in the realisation of culturally friendly oases addressing the notion of Arman Shahr, the forgotten concept of Iranian-Islamic utopia. Utilising the 1930s planning of the company, I also argue that it is not utterly pointless to speculate that “alternative modernities,” literally called “postmodernism,” first took place in non-western countries.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Visibility of Modernization in Architecture
Subtitle of host publication A Debate
EditorsGevork Hartoonian
Place of PublicationAbingdon, Oxon
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781003257776
ISBN (Print)9781032191232
Publication statusPublished - 2023


Dive into the research topics of 'Oil, Utopia, and the Architecture of the Off-Modern: The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Planning in the 1930s Iran'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this