The House of Tyranny: Thoughts on Iran’s Pyramid of Power

Representatives of the first Iranian parliament, National Military Academy, Tehran, Iran, 1906. The National Library and Archives of Iran, World Digital Library, 

The House of Tyranny: Thoughts on Iran’s Pyramid of Power, a piece I presented as part of the panel: 'Exhibiting Democracies - Religious and Colonial Assemblies', in Parliament Buildings Conference hosted by the Bartlett School of Architecture and the UCL European Institute. 


The nation state is not visible, it is … an ‘imagined community’ that must be rendered visible through an iconography of buildings, maps and monuments, often represented on money and stamps, that affirm the story of the nation, enabling citizens to imagine what they cannot see. Kim Dovey, 2018

Architecture is not politics, but it serves it unequivocally! It embraces power and the powerful. The states often employ architecture (of symbolism) to demonstrate strength and stability, as the word ‘state’ itself “shares the Greek root ‘sta’ with words like stand, stable, static, statue, statement, standard, stage, status and establish”. Hence, a building can simply be conceived as a means of political and ideological manifestation. With 114 years of history, the Iranian parliamentary establishment has been struggling to function as a democratic means of power to this day. Drawing upon a sociohistorical and political narrative, this piece aims to portray a critical reading of the Iranian power structure, providing a semantic analysis of the parliamentary buildings in Iran, with a particular focus on its most recent edifice accommodating the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majles-e Shūrā-ye Eslāmī).

Viewing the Islamic Consultative Assembly from Bahārestān Square, one sees a fortification, embodied in a solid, impenetrable pyramid of secrecy. The form of the building conveying a sense of closedness, and a lack of transparency, suits perfectly the Iran’s structure of power. The parliament fails to reflect the voice of the nation as it is the result a carefully-controlled electoral procedure under the authoritarian rule of the Supreme Leader. Through a theoretical approach to power I will discuss in the paper in details, why this is the case.

It is intriguing in a way that the Iranian Parliament, with all its formal determinations to express power and stability, is the most fragile of all in Iran’s convoluted structure of power. It can be seen, in its entirety, as a political instrument at the service of rahbar (the Supreme Leader). As a potential candidate, it would be almost impossible to get into that House, if you simply fall out of favour with the Big Brother. The final say belongs to him; and this is not something personal; the Guardian Council (Shūrā-ye Negahbān) – under the utter influence and rule of the Supreme Leader – supervises elections, and all candidates standing for election must meet with its prior approval. The Council can even withdraw the elected MPs.

Parliament Buildings Conference, University College London, 18-19 February 2021.

Popular posts from this blog

‘Errors of Scale’: The Story of Tehran’s Abbasabad Lands

'The Right to the City' and the Problem of Tehran

City as Stage: Performative Body and the Authoritarian City