Urbanism of Grandiosity: Planning a New Urban Centre for Tehran (1973–76) | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 3, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2045-5895
  • E-ISSN: 2045-5909



In the 1970s a grand-scale ceremonial urban centre, with an extensive programme of governmental, commercial and residential buildings, was planned for north Tehran. Construction began in 1975, but was soon halted by the eruption of the street protests that led to the 1979 revolution. This essay analyses the project’s conception, socio-political underpinnings and ultimate failure, by contextualizing it within Tehran’s urban landscape and by tracing its design trajectory. As a grandiose project made possible by the oil boom, the final plan of Shahestan, drawn up by the planning firm Llewelyn-Davies International, not only reflects the megalomania of Mohammad Reza Shah (r. 1941–79) but also reveals the totalitarian nature of the Pahlavi regime in the 1970s. But prior to hiring the planning firm, Queen Farah supported a rival design by the internationally famous architects Louis Kahn and Kenzo Tange, who were indeed involved in the project for a few months before Kahn’s death in 1974. I argue that this duality of patronage, and all the oppositions that it embodies, is echoed in the gendered representation of monarchy in the final plan and signifies how the project subverts a liberal narrative of modernism. Moreover, the new urban centre was not at the city’s physical core but rather at the centre of its northern part – the locus of an expanding upper middle class. The discrepancy between the intended purpose of the project and the social realities of its urban context epitomizes the regime’s paradoxical approach to modernity and modernization.


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