Interview with Mr X (Architect)

Interview with Mr X (Architect)

Former member of Rasht 29

Date: 19 September 2017

Time: 2:00pm

Place: Cafe Door, Vali Asr Sq. Tehran

Interviewer: Sara Shaban-Azad (Research Assistant)


I was working as an architect at Mr. Bijan Saffari’s office when Kamran Diba returned to Iran. After Bijan introduced us, Kamran asked me to help him out with his new office.
At first we rented the basement of a very old house. Kamran loved those old brick houses with arches and porches, so that’s where he first opened his firm in Tehran. It was a while before we moved to the building on Rasht St.
I don't remember exactly when the club opened, was it earlier or later on? Yes, maybe later on because I remember there was an overpass especially made to connect our building to the 3rd floor of the club so I (we) could go straight to the club from work. (It was like the overpasses you see in hospitals these days but back then the style was nonexistent. Kamran designed it himself. Plus, they usually wouldn't give permits for stuff like that but I'm sure he could have got one if it were necessary.)
I was involved in Rasht 29 Club from the start but never invested monetarily. The owners were Diba, Parviz Tanavoli and Roxanne Saba. Later on, Keyvan Khosravani started his menswear boutique (N1) down in the basement. He designed very trendy clothes for men and it was one of the best shops in Tehran. So many people came to know Rasht Club by coming to visit his boutique or vice versa.
A regular goer there was Parviz Tanavoli’s brother, Jamshid. He was a good manager and a fine backgammon player. Many good players came just to play backgammon there. The atmosphere was a bit like a bar or cafe where they served hot and cold beverages, food and snacks. I don’t remember the food really.
It was more an artistic space than a social one. The reason was: Mr. Diba. He was not only a great and knowledgeable architect but an artist too, and a collector of the very finest artwork. He painted very interesting modern paintings and exhibited them. The club was a comfortable spot for literary and artistic figures to hang out. Marco Gregorian would come a lot and he’d bring his friends - other Armenian intellectuals - with him.
There were other private clubs, like the American club where those who had foreign spouses would go and have dinner and hang out. What made Rasht 29 special compared to the other places was that it resembled an English pub. We all knew each other and there was always a friendly atmosphere, full of laughter and jokes. The place was one of a kind, to be honest. In other places you could see a very masculine environment, with the conversation usually having a masculine tone. That was another thing that made the club special. You saw educated women and female artists come there to talk about different subject matter and express their opinions freely. Back in the day, you would seldom walk into a place and see an equal number of men and women. From that aspect it resembled Western places and intellectuals who had just come back from being abroad felt quite comfortable there.
You always saw great artwork on its walls and the lighting was designed very skillfully. Although relatively dark, the light would shine on peoples faces from underneath, contrary to most places that had hard light from above. The small lights and candles caused peoples’ faces to appear warmer.
You couldn’t say it only belonged to a specific class of artists, ones that had graduated from universities abroad for instance. The Armenians were well educated, spoke very good english and were quite informed of what went on in the West. People would mostly speak in Persian rather than in English or French. So in a sense, there was no discrimination among the intellectuals that had studied abroad and the ones that graduated from Iranian institutions. And, there was no prerequisite saying you had to have studied abroad or be married to a foreigner, etc.