Commissioned to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire, the Azadi Tower has been a site of celebration, unrest, and revolution. In 1966, the Shah (King), eager to display the wealth generated from oil exploration, and to distance himself from past political turmoil, held a competition to design a monument to commemorate his rule, and the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great. Hossein Amanat had just graduated from the University of Tehran when he learned about the competition, and he abandoned plans to continue his studies in the United States, instead forming a small architecture studio in his bedroom to work on a design for the monument. With the help of a few friends who were still in school, Amanat’s design–inspired by his fascination with Persian history–won the competition.
Amanat describes the design as the culmination of everything he had learned in architecture school, and in his travels around Iran, citing many historical precedents as influences. The main archway of the tower combines the parabolic arch of the pre-Islamic ruins at Ctesiphon with the pointed arches of the Islamic period, encapsulating millennia of Persian history. To reconcile the two arch shapes, Amanat took inspiration from the beautifully detailed squinches found in historic Persian architecture. Even the windows at the top of the tower are influenced by similar features in historic tower structures.
To help realize the complex geometry of Amanat’s vision, Arup was hired as the structural engineer. To address the challenges of the both the form and the seismically active location, the tower was constructed of reinforced, poured-in-place concrete, clad in glistening white marble. Because of the complexity of the arches and curves of the tower structure, the shape of nearly every piece of the stone cladding was unique. The tower was completed in 1971, and originally known as the Shahyad (literally “King’s Memorial”) Tower. It is the focal point of the largest plaza in Tehran, and one of the largest plazas in the world, at over 120,000 square meters. The complex also includes an underground museum housing displays and artifacts of Persian history.