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The Double Life of N.K.

100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution: research, collections and events at IISH.

The Bolshevik Revolution not only had a huge impact on Russia’s socio-political structure, but also marked the beginning of a new geopolitical order, which immediately affected its neighbouring countries, including Iran. The Soviet social reforms promoted a new form of life that was very much an urban vision, to be accommodated in existing cities as well as in newly planned settlements. Discourses of architecture and planning thus were at the heart of the geopolitical project at large. In Iran, it was the Iranian Communist Party, known as the Tudeh party, which carried this banner during the post-WWII reconstruction years, when the party was at its most influential. Besides their political activities in forming workers unions, organising demonstrations and gatherings, they also aimed to train and to educate the public, specifically the working and middle-class, about the socialist way of life. The discourse of city and domesticity, as well as the organization of space, were an inseparable part of the political agenda of the Left. This addressed issues such as productivity, economic performance, ways of living and domestic labour, as well as spaces of representation and action, and spoke to women in particular as a forgotten half of the active political mass.

Kianouri at a TV debate with the founders of the Islamic Republic Party. Iran – 1981. Source: National Library and Archives of Iran (NLAI).

A key figure in this socio-spatial mission was a young architect and a political activist named Noureddin Kianouri (1915-99). He had received his doctorate in architecture from the Technical University of Aachen in 1939. After returning to Iran he joined the Tudeh Party in 1941 and soon became one of its leaders. Together with several other architects he founded the Association of Iranian Architects in 1945, whose members were put in charge of the design and planning of large-scale housing projects, first in Tehran and later in other cities. These housing projects became a test ground for the new socialist way of life.

On 4 February 1949, the Tudeh Party was accused of an assassination attempt on the Shah during an annual ceremony to commemorate the founding of the University of Tehran. The party subsequently was banned and most of its leaders were imprisoned. After two years in jail Kianouri escaped from prison and fled first to Iraq and then to Italy. There, with the help of the Italian Communist Party, he received a new identity as Dr. Silvio Macetti (N.K.), a professor of architecture, whose works and writings are still valid references for the theory of socialist architecture. In 1955 Macetti moved to Berlin (GDR) and was later appointed as one of the research directors of the Deutsche Bauakademie developing theories of socialist architecture and city planning in close cooperation with his Russian partner Georgy A. Gradov. He stayed there till 1977 when he was selected as the Secretary General of the Iranian Communist Party. Leaving his double identity behind, he returned to Iran in support of the 1979 Revolution, but a few years after, he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment, accused of working for the Soviet Union as a spy. However, Kianouri’s (aka. Macetti) theories of the socialist architecture and city indirectly found their ways to the Iranian architectural scene. “Macetti’s” work was widely referred to by others, many of whom were members of the Association of Iranian Architects. His legacy has essentially turned the domestic architecture of Iranian cities into spaces of resistance. When public spaces of cities are policed and controlled, the interiors become crucial stages for political manifestation.

Article written by Hamed Khosravi Hamed Khosravi is an architect, writer and educator. He is a former research fellow at the IISG and a lecturer at the TU Delft Faculty of Architecture.


28 July 2017