I had been wanting to visit the Tabiat bridge for some time now. I had heard so much about it. After all, it is the longest pedestrian bridge in Iran with a length of 270 meters. But what appealed to me even more was the concept and the brilliant Iranian architect who designed it and made it reality.
It all started when Leila Araghian was a student. One day she was walking with a friend near a small bridge that gave into a river. Nearby there was a house and outside somebody had left an old sofa. The idea was whoever needed it, could take it.
Leila and her friend took the sofa and put it on the bridge. Then they sat and looked at the river. Leila thought how interesting it was, that when you take the time, you can see the same place with a different perspective. A bridge is usually just used for crossing from one point to the other.
And this is how, years later, at 26 she decided to put this initial idea into practice and developed it to enter and win a competition in Tehran to build a bridge. This bridge was to be built over the very busy Modarres highway and would connect the Taleghani park to the Abo-Atash park.
The main concept for Leila Araghian was to build a bridge where people would want to stay and not just pass from one point to the other. She was also inspired by the Khaju bridge in Isfahan where people meet and spend time.
Tabiat means nature in Farsi and it was important for Leila Araghian to destroy as little as possible of the nature surrounding the bridge. That implied finding the best spot with the fewest trees to build the bridge and preserve the environment.
Another interesting point was to envision the bridge with a curvy shape to allow different perspectives. Adding a curved path means you don’t see the destination ahead which makes it more appealing to explore. It is always nice to add an element of surprise.
The bridge has two continued levels with a third one over the columns. This gives people the freedom of choice on which path to take. The lower floor is the main stay floor with more benches, green areas and coffee shops. It is also where you find more couples. You can, sit, rest, have food, meet your friends. Leila Araghian says this is her favorite part.
The next floor is the most active one and family friendly. Children can bicycle, use rollers and play. It also has a planetarium and other restaurants nearby at the Abo-Atash park.
And the upper floor is great to enjoy the view of the city.
The bridge is easily accessed with both stairs and ramps. People in wheelchairs and parents with strollers can experience the bridge as everybody else.
To execute this project with such a complex vision was not easy. There were many factors to consider but Leila Araghian had a good team in particular an Italian engineer who tried faithfully to put her vision into practice. It is such a beautiful design. A design that has been recognized internationally with the award of several prizes like the Architizer A+ Awards and the Aga Khan award for Architecture.
The two times I was in the bridge, I saw Leila Araghian’s concept come to life. There were many families strolling, taking pictures and lots of selfies. Some were carrying picnic baskets to enjoy family picnics in the parks. Others were sharing food or coffee in the various restaurants and cafes that you can find in the bridge.
It is nice to go in the late afternoon in summer. The heat subsides and a fresh breeze from the trees starts to rise. The bridge was still full and lively. There was a relaxed, happy atmosphere that made me think how much I enjoy these moments in Tehran. I felt safe and grateful I could be part of it. It is these moments that you get to mingle and share the same experiences with the local people that are special when you live in a foreign country.
And this is part of what Leila Araghian wanted. By allowing free access for all, it gives people from different social and economic groups the possibility to mingle and enjoy their city and its parks. This, in a city where cars usually rule and pedestrians are left with hardly any space to walk.
So it was good to take the time to sit and enjoy the view, you never really get tired of it.
I was with Iranian friends and we had brought a picnic basket. We crossed over to the park. The sun was slowly setting and we looked back at the bridge. It was still so busy.
It was time to sit in the park and enjoy the early evening. The Taleghani park was already full with families having picnics and grilling meat at the public barbecues. It smelled of grilled chicken and lamb. Children were running around playing, families were gathered, happily talking and laughing. We set the picnic and while drinking coffee, I observed quietly.
My daughter cheerfully asked for a story. While we told stories and laughed about how sometimes the meaning of certain words got lost in translation from Farsi to English, I felt at peace with the world. I felt grateful to share this beautiful space with Iranian friends.
It’s these kind of moments that I will cherish and remember when one day I leave Iran.