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12 Aug 2010 23:40No Comments

The museum

In some rooms Hollein has added moulded wall and ceiling sections...

[ art house ] Perhaps only a very few visitors now have the privilege of viewing the extensive Persian glass collection of the Shahbanou of Iran housed in this eclectic Qajar mansion in Tehran. The post-revolutionary government cannot decide whether the museum is a reflection of Western decadence or of Persian purity.

Undoubtedly the museum is an enigma. Whilst the exterior for the building is essentially Classical hidden under a veil of pseudo-Persian and fin-de-siecle Art Nouveau motifs, the plan and much of the rich decoration could almost be Adam; but the strictly Persian glass collection is now housed in an assembly of exhibition cases designed by Hans Hollein whose wit is everywhere apparent. (Click here for a detailed account of how the museum came to be.)

Persian glass collection

In others he has introduced rather less-satisfying steel grids which including ceiling and panels lowering the room height and obscuring the original plasterwork, although these create joyous contrasts with the rooms beyond.

Hollein pays much more than lip service to Iranian culture. He has probed it, assimilated it into this design approach, but has not been afraid to bring the fresh reaction of an outsider to bear on a very different culture. The result is a contextually sympathetic museum display, both witty and practical.

Hollein has approached gamely the design strictures laid down by the museum authorities. The Rococo and Art Nouveau wall and ceiling decorations had to be left untouched and as little as possible of the building altered to meet its new purpose. In rooms where the dictates of successful display and the plan of the building have clashed, Hollein has resolved the problem by inserting complete new shells into the otherwise unaltered fabric. Elsewhere Hollein's inventive and often playful free-standing display cases dominate.

A planetarium of a gallery

A planetarium of a gallery.

The showcase lighting is so designed that while direct light is pointed down on the exhibits, indirect illumination is cast up to the ceilings, enhancing the sensuous quality of the plasterwork. This simple device resolves the need to for tracked spotlights or insensitive ceiling-mounted downlighters.

Hollein's magic touch has cast a book of spells throughout the building, each room revealing some fresh solution to the common problem.

Perhaps the most successful room is the pre-Islamic gallery where glass from the Achaemenian, Parthian and Sassaniam periods is displayed in tall black cases recalling either ancient Persian columns or a parade of Ayatollahs.

-- December 1980

Reprinted with permission of the Architectural Review.

A more recent collection of museum photos can be found here.

Persian glass collection

Ayatollahs all in a row. These extraordinary display cases ingeniously throw light up to the plastered ceiling and and cast it down to the glassware displayed.

Building layout

Like a scent from Kubrick's '2001' a videotape machine lands in an elaborate fin-de-siecle room.

click here to enlarge »

A rich mix of detail

An example of the rich mix of details drawing on the Iranian vernacular.

Building layout

The rich and imposing staircase. Hollein has added spotlighting and robot-like showcases in the circular hallway.

click here to enlarge »

 

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Building layout

Like a scent from Kubrick's '2001' a videotape machine lands in an elaborate fin-de-siecle room.

CLOSE X

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Building layout

The rich and imposing staircase. Hollein has added spotlighting and robot-like showcases in the circular hallway.

CLOSE X
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