Workshop on Regeneration

Taar 2

September 2019

Texts below are extracted from the Journal of Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism, INTBAU, Spain.

The Story

The villages of Iran are forgetting their wise and sustainable methods of living. They are transforming themselves from primary producers to mass consumers. The value of their vernacular heritage is being neglected and the rural population is leaving for the cities. Villages are left abandoned for the sake of unbalanced development. This group project tried to contribute to overcoming this issue by designing a bottom-up teamwork procedure called “Workshop on Regeneration”. The workshop aims to frame the problem in the context of conservation, sustainability, indigenous construction, and resiliency. It also investigates possible solutions through lectures, discussions, and hands-on work. With the collaboration of INTBAU Iran, the Terrachidia Association, and the University of Tehran, the first Workshop on Regeneration took place from September 11th to September 20th, 2019 in Tehran, Natanz, Targhrood and Taar village.

Aerial View, parts of the village and the location of the watermill (Google Maps)

During the first two days in Tehran, several lectures and discussions were held about regeneration. The next two days were dedicated to observing and analyzing the context. This was finally followed by eight days of hands-on work in Taar village. The regeneration of the main watermill in the Sarar neighbourhood, in Taar village, was the second Workshop on Regeneration experience we carried out. We chose a public space where we could further involve local people in our project during all the phases. Until around sixty years ago, wheat was one of the most critical agricultural products and economic resources of Taar village and of the region. Hence, the watermill, as a place for wheat grinding, played an important role in the local economy. According to Taar’s written information and oral history, there are more than five watermills in the village. They are all abandoned now and some of them are entirely in ruins.

Aerial view of the watermill and its neighborhood (Ali Javaheri)

Sarar’s watermill

Sarar’s watermill was one of the most important watermills and is located in the center of the village. It has been abandoned for almost fifty years and was entirely blocked with debris and trash. The mill was chosen for the case study due to its importance as a public space, its location within the context, its history and social significance, and its current physical state. The layout of Sarar’s watermill consisted of a water channel, a wooden water wheel, a blade, a stone wheel, a driving shaft, a tower mill, a wooden funnel, a main chamber, and a storage room. Besides exploring and studying the site, the workshop requested permission from the mill’s owners and heirs to carry out the work on this building. Once permission was granted, the excavation of the mill was carried out by local workers until the start of the hands-on workshop.

Section of the watermill and its neighbourhood (Arkadeep Roy)

The Work

Almost sixty people participated in the workshop, including more than thirty students, five tutors, fourteen lecturers, six local tutors, six local assistants, and the local hosts. International academic partners supported the theoretical aspects of the workshop, and local partners took part in executing the project. Together, they provided a multilayered approach to the initiative. In Iran, it is usually difficult to get the funds required for a conservation and restoration project, especially in rural areas. Unfortunately, the annual budget allocated to the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism is not sufficient to meet the needs of the country’s vast heritage, and only a portion of it can be dedicated to conservation projects across the country. As a result, the financial support for these workshops had to come from fundraising among local people, which provided the budget required for the restoration project.

The main chamber after its excavation / The storage chamber after the roof construction (Sonia Beygi)

The main chamber after its excavation /  The wheel reassembling at the main chamber / The wheel once it was reassembled (Sonia Beygi)

Once the workshop started, the group was first introduced to the different stakeholders of the building, such as the heirs of the mill and the family of the miller, as well as to local craftspeople, in order to understand the Sarar watermill’s morphology, mechanism, building techniques and anthropological implications. The team developed a participatory procedure through surveys and sessions for discussion and brainstorming about the watermill and the water resources of the village, from various perspectives. This process included several meetings with the local community.

Mud Mortars

is one of the oldest building techniques. It is widely used in the vernacular architecture of the Iranian plateau. The binder of the mud mortar is clay. In order to make mud mortar, a sufficient amount of water should be first poured into a pile of earth (akhoreh), then one must wait for the clay to soak in the water, and finally, knead the mortar well by treading on it. It is then ready to be used. Straw is added to the mixture to prevent the mud mortar from cracking while drying. This kind of mortar was used in the restoration of Sarar’s watermill, according to tradition, to bind stones and adobe blocks, for plastering, and as insulation and covering for the stone vault and the flat wooden roof.

Making akhoreh / Kneading the mortar (Nima Taghizoghi)

Each day an akhoreh was made to allow the clay to soak in water / The existing soil have to get sifted in order to use it for the mortar (Nima Taghizoghi)

Wooden Roof

The entrance chamber to the watermill was originally covered with a flat roof made of wooden beams. These beams were already rotten and had to be replaced. Wooden beams from other dilapidated buildings in Taar were gathered and checked by local experts and then reused to restore the roof. These works were carried out by the students under the supervision of local craftspeople. The wooden roof was finally covered with local bushes, as natural insulation, and mud mortar was used for the final layer. The only innovation in the roof was adding an opening for sunlight, right in the center of the entrance hall.

The chamber after its excavation / Reconstruction of the chamber’s ceiling (Sonia Beygi)

Reconstruction of the chamber’s ceiling / Chamber’s ceiling after its reconstruction (Sonia Beygi)

Stone Vault

The shape and materials of the vault made it a significant element. This stone vault was constructed with heterogeneous pieces of stone, with irregular shapes and sizes. The first course of stone was repaired with the same type of stone and gypsum mortar. A large amount of debris was then removed from the roof over the vault and the vault was reinforced in order to increase its cohesion. Finally, mud mortar was applied on the roof.

The Outcome

After a week of hard work, the watermill and its main chamber had been restored. The works carried out included repairing the wooden wheel and its blades, repairing the tower mill and the water channel path, redesigning the surrounding area and the entrance of the chamber, reconstructing the wooden ceiling, reinforcing the stone arch and finally redefining the accessibility route by constructing new stairs made out of stone. All these works were carried out with the traditional construction techniques of the place under the supervision of both the academic and the local experts. One of the most important public places of the village was revived, alongside this ancient method of wheat grinding. Meanwhile, bilateral cooperation between local craftspeople and the academic team was enriching for both. While local residents were not initially interested in their village’s future development, after this experience they started to creatively think about their land and their architecture as development assets. At the same time, we learnt important lessons from the locals and became more aware of how our work can bring positive change. The whole event was an example of how we can think globally and act locally, and of how the heritage of tradition can play an important contemporary role.

Initial condition of the abandoned watermill (Amirreza Azadeh) / The watermill after its restoration (Sonia Beygi)

INTBAU Iran, the Terrachidia Association, the University of Tehran
Amirreza Azadeh, Sonia Beygi, Niloofar Ghobadi, Arezoo Khazanbeig, Nima Tabrizi
Photos by: Sonia Beygi, Nima Taghizoghi
Header Image

The old building, which is called Baba Abdullah Mausoleum, was the first fire temple in which the Zoroastrians practised fire. Unfortunately, after the eventual discovery of Tar Village, this fire temple was renamed Baba-Abdullah in fear of it being destroyed under the guise was existing as a non-Islamic institution of worship. (Photo by: Ardalan Tayefeh)