During the last few years the world has witnessed dramatic changes. Our world is no longer rural, economical models are struggling, there are new commodities, and the centres of innovation and political power have shifted.
It is in this context were the the recently held competition for the new Tehran Stock Exchange has a relevance beyond the building. In a country with a very particular economical moment, a two-stage international competition chaired by Nader Tehrani (MIT Head of Architecture, principal at NADAAA, former founding partner of office dA) has convened some of the world’s most influential architecture practices, from which Alejandro Aravena (founder ofAlejandro Aravena Architects, Executive Director of ELEMENTAL) together with local office VAV Studio have been selected as the winners, with an artful, considered, minimal, and soulful project that is the result of the equation between functions and forces, geometry and geography, and the timeless (yet fast) character that the stock exchange has these days as an institution that mirrors the current state of a country.
What informs the form of the Teheran Stock Exchange?
Why does our proposal have this design and not other?
Every building is shaped according to a set of questions and the consequent answers that it gives. Some of the questions are given (by the client, by the place, by the budget, by the legal constraints, etc) and others are raised by the professionals involved in the proposal. So, if a project is an equation, the result depends as much on how the terms were identified as from the way one chooses to solve and synthesize them.
Let’s start by identifying the terms of the equation from the more concrete and objective to the more abstract and open to interpretation.
The first thing that wanted to respond to, was the program, the use and the set of functions that had to be accommodated in the building. Our first decision was to place the more public part s of the program in lower levels so that access could take place in a fluid smooth way. Stock Exchange Hall and Auditorium were placed close to the access of the building, on the south side of the lot. From this same front we propose the access the Bank Representatives, the Training Classes, the Museum and the Tea House, forming a kind of Public Plinth for the whole building.
This operation, which may seem obvious, has to solve 2 problems that are not evident. The first one is that despite their public condition, these programs have to respond also to a force that pulls almost in a contrary direction: Security. The way we propose to conceal public and massive use with security procedures is by organizing the sequence of access around a series of introverted voids (halls) that are open to the light above.
The second difficulty is that of making space for such bigger volumes of air with subsequent bigger spans under typical office floor plans that have a more conventional span. In a seismic context that has to respond to horizontal loads as well as to the gravity force such an operation may weaken the structure. Our proposal is to introduce a wall structure in the perimeter the complex able to take the loads transferred to them by the triangular grid slab at the upper level of this public base. The resulting opaqueness of the landing of the building is then coincident with the need for security described previously.
Walls on the perimeter of the building take the vertical gravity forces; arches reflect that compression is the main force in play on the edges of the building. For responding to the horizontal loads, walls on the perimeter have a slight slope so they brace seismic accelerations. We also introduced a triangular grid in plan; this way the floor geometry dissipates the seismic forces in a field instead of structure lines.
For the offices’ access we distinguished two fronts: for the Stock Exchange and management offices we used the access and square on the south side. For accessing the independent offices we propose the north alley that given the slope of the site, allows still for continuity with the street level.
Independent offices are placed in 2nd and 3rd floor; by concentrating them in these 2 lower levels, we can stop their own vertical circulation system from the 4th floor up, allowing for a more efficient ratio between serving and served spaces for the rest of the Stock Exchange offices.
Geometry and Geography
The way the Place influenced the form of our proposal may be understood from 2 different starting points. On one hand is the lot with its allowed occupancy at each level and on the other hand the achievement of the right working environment for Teheran’s weather.
Given the amount of square meters that had to be allocated, the compact proportion of the lot and the allowed occupancy (80% for first basement, 70% for ground floor and 50% for upper levels), whenever we tried to solve the project in one single volume, the result was invariably very deep plans with low quality working spaces. We were looking instead for as much direct contact as possible for each working space with natural light, natural ventilation and views. Besides that, given the height limitation, the silhouette was not vertical, nor horizontal, but a kind of chubby form that missed a vertical proportion that we thought was important for the Stock Exchange’s urban presence.
So our proposal was to explore a pattern that expanded through the site in many directions with a typical floor plan that maximized the perimeter so that more square meters were in contact with the surroundings. In order to achieve a maximized perimeter, we articulated the footprint of the building with geometry able to unfold alternatively around open courtyards or facing the city in different directions. Given the pattern is always open, the resulting volume is composed by vertical elements and yet is still perceived as a unity. It is simultaneously one volume and many volumes proving a richness in the urban reading.
We defined built bays wide enough for efficient use but narrow enough for easy cross ventilation and natural light access for each piece of the program. The typology of a matt-building extruded in height, where interior and outdoor are woven around each other was the natural strategy to increment the contact between the two. The hexagonal grid allows for reducing circulation close to the courtyard serving a maximum amount of square meters unfolding towards the outer edges of the building.
For the skin of this matt building we propose a hollowed block in the outer faces of the plan and a glass curtain wall around the courtyards. Block are always oriented in the north south direction, protecting the working spaces from undesired direct solar radiation and the consequent green house effect, but still offering transparency, views and cross ventilation on all sides.
Timeless and Fast
Business and Negotiations are based on trust; so, in times of troubled economy and concerns about the role of exchange markets in the recent crisis, we thought that we had to refer to the old institution that is embedded in a Stock Exchange as a way to find a more solid ground on top of which founding this project. Louis Kahn, one of the great architects of all times, states that architecture is the art of institutions. So we thought we had to dive deep into time until grasping the archaic institution that is at the base of every Stock Exchange. What appears at the core of this search is the old notion and institution of the Market: a place where people come together to negotiate, which is an art and not just an occupation.
Our proposal look for different levels of encounter, from small face to face meeting in social spaces, to group meetings in more private environments to collective trading activities. That is why we distributed gathering spaces throughout the height of the building, inside and outside, to qualify those encounters, taking advantage of the views. By doing so, we are looking for a certain timelessness in such an antique human activity.
Simultaneously, current times need and allow for instantaneous operations. Speed and anticipation is crucial for being successful in the art of trading. Technology and information plays a key role in that performance. But all this can remain invisible and be only a service provided by the building; we wanted this to become a more structural part of the design.
So we thought of using the skin of the building itself as a way to communicate what is happening in real time inside. Our proposal is to use the blocks as bits that allow the whole city and the citizens to be included in the art of trading. This happens by simply illuminating (or not) the hollowed space of each block, so it’s a low-tech system for high impact operation.
By moving backward in time to the origins of trading and forward towards the state of the art information technologies we hope to be able to create a building that is both pertinent and fare to the local context and simultaneously a relevant and significant player in the global market economy.
Architect: Alejandro Aravena Architects / VAV Studio Client: Tehran Stock Exchange Project manager: Psychical Development Research Center Chile Team: Alejandro Aravena, Juan Ignacio Cerda, Carlos Bisbal, Tomas Palmares, Takuto Sando Structural Engineers: Dynasys(DS) Mechanical Engineer: Pars Mohit