Spiraling into oblivion
Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation's deteriorating masterpiece
By Nima Kasraie
June 4, 2004
If only Frank Lloyd Wright were alive to see this. How can great
architecture simply crumble to ruins. While the shrine of Imam
Khomeini continues to blind the visitor in awe and wonder (contrary
to his humble abode in Jamaran), a modern and rare masterpiece
of design quietly nears its final days in a suburb of Karaj >>> See photos
Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation has three buildings in Iran recorded
under its accomplishments. These are The Damavand Higher Educational
Institute (presently Payam-e Nour University), the summer residence
of Shams known as Mehrafarin Palace in Chalous (presently occupied
by the local police), and the most prestigious and spectacular
of them, the Morvarid Palace in Mehrshahr, Karaj, home of the
deposed Shah's sister and her husband, Mehrdad Pahlbod - the
then minister of culture and art.
Built in 1966, the project's construction was directly supervised
by Wesley Peters, FLW's son in law and first apprentice,
who did the calculations for his designs of Fallingwater and The
Guggenheim Museum. Thomas Casey, who represented the FLW Foundation
in the Middle East, and was also a senior Fellow at Taliesin, served
as chief engineer for the project. Other Taliesin principals who
contributed to the design and construction of the Pearl Palace
were Stephen and Frances Nemtin, and Cornelia Brierly.
However, in view of its similarity to two other monuments constructed
by FLW in the US, namely a Roman Orthodox Church in Wisconsin and
the famous Marin County Civil Center in California (featured in
the movie Gattacca), it has occurred to some foreign engineers
and architects that Morvarid Palace in Iran may be one of the monuments
initially designed by the American architect during his lifetime.
The diversity of the interior design, its raw materials, decorations,
sculpture and paintings, along with the proportions of the space
recall FLW's completeness of design. Furthermore, since
the palace was originally designed for an oriental princess, the
interior decorations are selected to suit the Iranian taste.
realizing the concept of "Door" and "Sun" are
frequently applied, while most of the paintings and designs observed
in the furniture, chandeliers and lights are full of circular designs.
The diversity of the erected spaces and the internal connecting
channels are marked by a particular boldness and creativity. A
free inspection of the different angles of the palace from all
perspectives - if allowed - will cause the visitors to praise what
In a video interview in January 1991, Wes Peters related the story
of his visit to Iran with former apprentice Nezam Amery and the
subsequent development of a design for the palace for Princess
Shams. Peters described his relationship to the Princess and commented
on her sense of grasping the philosophy of FLW. He presented a
basic design made up of two intersecting domes with a series of
other buildings clustered to form an enclosed space of nearly
50,000 square feet. A long rising spiral ramp culminated in the
Princess's bedroom with a spiral ziggurat.
"Before she told us about
what she wanted she sent me to see some of the historic spots
of Iran," Peters said. "Nezam
Amery and I went down to see Persepolis and Isfahan and a number
of other beautiful sites and cities in Iran. I was very much
impressed by the great tradition there."
"I don't usually like most
domes because they're enclosed. But if you want to build a dome,
I want to have one that's
floating and has spaciousness and light" the princess explained.
"[So] we made a model of the building," Peters related, and said
the Princess was "absolutely taken up with [it]." The
Princess then decided that everything should be specially designed
with John Hill's participation, who designed the gold bedspread
that cost $25,000.
The total cost for the entire project came to about $3.5 million.
Peters recalled the initial presentation and the effect it had
on the Princess. Suddenly she burst into tears and
the room. When she returned she explained that the drawings
depicted the palace she dreamed of as a small girl, and she
Unfortunately, the palace was finally recognized as an important
monument deserving restoration, only after Iran's National
Heritage Foundation registered it as a national heritage
on May 26, 2003. The palace has been rapidly deteriorating
years and is still currently used as a recreational base
for Basij militias.
Because of almost thirty years of constant neglect, deterioration
of the Plexiglas domes have led to massive erosion of the
concrete structure. The dome in fact has suffered so much
its collapse is imminent unless immediately attended to.
Currently, a simple cover over the dome and spiral sums
up the efforts
to preserve this architectural gem. When this author
in May 2004, the building did not even have persistent
electricity as there was constant water leakage problems throughout
building. Hence the palace's refurbishment to grandeur
is a tantalizing
prospect, and its restoration a complicated one.
in 1917, Shams was the eldest child of Reza Shah from his second
wife Taj ol Moluk. A Christian convert
main responsibility was to direct the Sheer o Khorsheed
Iran. Ironically, in 1984, the palace was sold to
the Bonyad Mostazafan foundation upon the order of Iran's
Shams had two other palaces, one in California, and
one in Spain. Following the revolution, Shams moved
died in 1995 at the age of 78.
From a pragmatic point
of view, if Iranian officials wish to debase the memories of
the Pahlavi era, then
edifices like the Pearl Palace, their preservation
and introduction to the public will serve as a
of an era of
grand corruption, helping further their cause.
Furthermore, a worthy
restoration of this masterpiece will surely generate
millions of revenue from visiting tourists from
FLW is America's
legendary architect after all. His legacy in
a place as far as Iran is bound to draw numerous visitors.
that tourism is the top candidate for succeeding
fossil fuels as
a national source of income in the future.
example, one cannot stop from wondering that instead of building
grand but aesthetically
brutal presidential reception quarters in Sa'd
Khatami could have hit several birds with one
stone by restoring the Pearl Palace and using it instead
The presidential guests would have been totally
From an academic point of view, the
diversity observed in the forms, spaces, colors
and materials make this palace quite distinct
from all other contemporary monuments of Iran.
a priceless opportunity for architects, interior
engineers, and students to inspect and reflect
Preservation of timeless monuments like
a duty of any government,
whether Islamic, Pahlavi, secular, or other.
This is a treasure that must be protected and
passed down to
for them to remember their history. Not sadly
until it crumbles to oblivion >>> See photos
.................... Spam?! Khalaas!