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Iran's Plan for a Hideous New Embassy Enrages Londoners

Prince Charles, please save the neighborhood!

Iran, that nuked-up redoubt of Islamic traditionalism, wants to reinvent its image with a sleek modern embassy in London. The problem: They picked the wrong place to do it. And they picked a really ugly building to do it with. Neighbors are so vexed by the design, they've gone and tattled to the father of neo-con architecture himself, Prince Charles.

Oh, funny Brits, getting all hot and bothered over modern architecture. Then again, the proposed building isn't exactly the next Guggenheim Bilbao. Designed by Vienna-based Iranian Dr. Armin Mohsen Daneshgar, it's a blocky, five-story behemoth with a massive cantilevered arch. It looks like a cross between a prison and a sand-box version of CCTV. In East Berlin, it'd look right at home. But in west London, set against a raft of Victorian manses and Georgian terraces, it looks like a fat middle finger.

That's not the intent. Says the architect: "The cube-shaped building at the corner could be accessed freely by the public and feature exhibits such as contemporary artworks made by young Iranian artists. We believe Iran's rich cultures, especially contemporary movements, are still largely unknown to the west."

Be that as it may, the design doesn't tell us much if anything about "rich cultures." Would something gentler or more innovative mollify residents? As we reported before, architecture, when done well, can be excellent diplomacy. Moreover, so can the choice of architect—how great would it have been if Iran had chosen a top-tier British architect to do the design. Maybe that's wishful thinking for a theocracy, but still, it would have been a masterful political move.*

But we have a feeling the specifics of the design are only part of the opposition. The rest probably has something to do with history: Iranian separatists seized the old London embassy 30 years age; Britain is often wary of enemy architecture; and embassies in particular are an extension of nations' political and cultural ideology. And yeah, a little racism might be in play here.

We'll see if the locals get any traction in their complaints—perhaps the local zoning boards can squash this thing?

Meanwhile, entreating the prince to wield his inbred influence, which he did when he convinced the Qatari royal family to scrap a mixed-use redevelopment scheme by Richard Rogers, is almost endearing (in a totally-horrifying-this-explains-why-we-had-to-quit-you-England kind of way), but we're thinking his crown won't hold much sway in Iran. Iran, you might remember, doesn't do monarchy.

*We meant to suggest a top-tier British-Iranian architect. Apologies if anyone took offense at the appearance of cultural snobbishness.

[Images courtesy of Dr. Armin Mohsen Daneshgar]

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  • Ryan Witte

    First of all, the building is very cool. Here in New York, we're accustomed to seeing wildly different styles of architecture on every individual block. Personally, I think it makes a city infinitely more vibrant and interesting. More importantly, though, what did you want? Some half-baked phony neo-postmodernism disguised as a contextual response to the neighboring architecture from a century ago? Watered-down Islamic architectural symbolism colonialized into a British idiom? Either way, it wouldn't have been as maddening as this building seems to be, it would have been equal parts laughable and pathetic.