The Abgineh Museum which is also known as the Tehran Museum of Glass and Ceramics is one of the famous museums in Iran. It is known not only for the beautiful artifact it displays within but it is also known for the beautiful architectural artifact the building itself is.
This more than a century-year-old building was converted to a museum, by the Pritzker Prize winner architect Hans Hollein. A well-known individual, known for his compelling and unique work in architecture as well as other diverse arrays of designs.
The original structure
The original structure of the Abgineh Museum has traditional Persian architectural elements as well as elements of European and Russian architecture influencing during that time. The building is octagonal-shaped with two stories and a basement.
The façade of the building is decorated with brick reliefs, indicating the Seljuk era. The wooden door windows ornamented with intricate design around them adorn the façade. The Qajar era-style porch and pillar marks the entrance.
The two stories are connected with a horseshoe-shaped staircase. The design of the staircase was inspired by 18th to 19th-century Russian architecture.
Many of such old structures were destroyed under the pretext of modern architecture. This structure is one of the few that survived. The building itself, similar to the objects displayed within it, has significant cultural and historical value. It has served as a house to Ahmad Qavam, an Iranian prime minister and Politician during the Qajar period. Later it was also used as an Egyptian embassy and various other purposes until it was turned into a Glass and Ceramics museum in 1980 by Hans Hollein.
Converting this structure to use it for displaying history and knowledge to the public has played a crucial role in preserving the structure. In 1998 it was registered in the list of Iran’s National Heritages.
During one of his lecture, Hans Hollein explains the concept behind Abgineh Museum as follows:
“The concept behind the Tehran Museum of Glass and Ceramics was a harmonious relationship between the old which was to be preserved, and the new which was being introduced. The new, while having an identity and character of its own, would embody the presence of tradition in its contents and in their Qajar setting.”
Design and construction strategy
Initially, there were two possible routes to take. Either keep the outer shell and make a new structure from within or keep the whole structure and use it as it is. The intricate work and architectural details in the interior weren’t worth destroying, so Hans Hollein and his team decided to keep and preserve the structure as much as possible and change only where it’s necessary. Few challenges come forth with this decision.
The construction of the original building was not done for public use. Hence its strength and durability were questionable when it turned into a public building. Also, the building wasn’t designed for electrical lighting. So the necessary artificial lighting and other technical equipment needed to be added without disturbing the intricate ornamentations and architectural elements of the structure. The addition of electric wiring and air conditioning ducts needed to be limited to as little as possible.
Hans Hollein used two strategies as per the type of space. The first strategy was to strengthen the original thin floors and install independent showcases. This was to avoid disturbing the existing ornamentations and architectural elements
For the spaces which were not in their original state or damaged, Hans Hollein used the second strategy. New spaces with display areas were created by adding a new shell over the original ones.
Contemporary showcases were selected to secure the fragile glass and clay artifacts. Other than housing the artifacts, these showcases also provide services necessary to preserve and display the artifacts. For example, specific lighting, temperature maintenance, humidity control, etc.
Hans Hollein designed the interior that resembles the ancient architecture of Persia in a modern way. Hence the showcases and other display areas were designed based on Persian historical attractions like Persepolis, the Tachara palace pillars, and other elements.
The artifacts are displayed chronologically and grouped by their type, particular importance, and beauty. There are five halls showcasing the items chronologically arranged from the pre-Islamic era to the contemporary period.
Two of the five halls are on the lower floors.
Bolur Hall: Glassworks from ancient Iran (pre-Islamic era).
Mina Hall: This hall displays iconic glass tubes from Choqa Zanbil and clay pots dating back to 2000 BC.
The remaining three halls are on the upper level.
Shell Hall (Sadaf Hall): The shape of this hall resembles a half-open shell. This characteristic was the reason the hall earned its name. This hall displays the pottery from Neyshabur city.
Zarin Hall: The luster wares (gold plates) are displayed in this hall. These objects belonged to upper-class or aristocratic families.
Turquoise Hall (The Lajevard Hall): This hall Displays Ilkhanid pottery and Turquoise.
Other than the display halls, there is also an Audio-visual Hall and library for study and research.
Abgineh Museum of Glass and Ceramics is located on one of the oldest streets of Tehran. Preserving the originality of the structure didn’t only become a good background for displaying the artifact, it has also maintained the historical texture of the area around it and has added value to it by attracting the public to this area. Therefore, giving other structures hope and value to be preserved.
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