Qibla Plaza Urban Design Competition

Elmira Jafari+Erfan Farahmand en tant que Architectes paysagistes.

Location: Mashhad , Iran
Design team: Erfan Farahmand, Elmira Jafari, Abbas Sarrami, Meisam Amirsadat
Technical team management: Morteza Malek Jafarian
Structure and civil engineering: Masoud Mofid
Mechanical engineering: Hossein Vaseghi
Traffic engineering: Amir Rouhi
Architecture consultant: Majid Amir-Abadi
Urban design consultant: Kamyar Enzevaei
Client: Astan Quds Razavi & Mashhad Municipality
Area: 5.8 hectares urban plaza + 134,350m2 underground development
Status: competition- 2nd Prize
Competition date: 2015


Mashhad—home to the shrine of the 8th Imam of Shiites—is the most significant religious city in Iran which attracts more than 25 million religious visitors per year. The obvious need for reorganization of the surrounding urban fabric of the shrine and providing facilities for pilgrims has lead to major decisions in the recent Master Plan of the city. The Master Planning Vision has shifted from the strategy of isolation of the shrine via a green belt to a strategy of re-connection via an intertwining network of boulevards. Each thoroughfare is to be lined with large scale buildings, which provide accommodation, shopping, and other crucial functions for the migratory populace. The site of the competition is located at the end of one of these main boulevards meeting two main gateways to the religious site.
Located at south-western side of the Holy Shrine complex or at the direction of Qibla (direction to Mecca), the proposal for "Qibla Plaza" architecture and urban design competition, which won the first prize in the initial stage (curated from 129 submissions) and the second prize in the second stage (limited competition), offers modest exposure and spectacular views to the city’s most symbolic landmark. Both conceptually and functionally, Qibla Plaza can be defined as a "Link" which one the one hand intellectually, connects the Holy Shrine to Kaaba, and on the other hand structurally, brings together the Shrine complex and the urban fabric of Mashhad. Therefore the plaza gains its identity blending the characteristics of two concepts.
According to the project vision, "Qibla Plaza" is the most significant urban interface to connect city to the religious complex located at the historical center of Mashhad. The plaza is mainly programmed as an in-between space to facilitate entry and exit of pilgrims to the complex alongside hosting events and overflow crowd during Special Occasions.
Additionally the project consists of 6 levels of urban subterranean space including public transport stations, public spaces and facilities, besides access to the underground level of the religious complex at level -1, commercial and cultural spaces at level -2, 1302 parking spaces at levels -3 and -4 , line 3 subway station and related spaces at levels -5 and -6.
The team was to deal with multifaceted challenges of the site, while taking into consideration religious significance and unique potentials of the context. The major problems to cope with are severe interference of pedestrian movement to and from gateways with vehicle traffic at the site, the urgent need to increase connectivity between surrounding urban fabric and the religious complex and last but not least promote integrity of some outstanding urban and historic focal points at the peripheries of the site.
Conceived as a "multi-functional active surface", the concept allows uninterrupted movement and extended views to the Shrine. The proposal is based on the idea of creating maximum usable surface at the plaza level to be able to accept the influx of population, yet considering the essential need to provide porous surface to supply light, ventilation and easy access to the underground levels. Providing a variety of movement, access and gathering spaces, the undulating surface metaphorically evokes dome-shaped roofs in traditional Persian architecture.
The central dome-shaped structure, embracing the multi-functional sunken plaza, covers the central void through underground levels which visually puts emphasis on the Iwan and minarets. Additionally, two fluid surfaces on the sides, shelter green space of the plaza for sitting and small gathering purposes alongside having main vertical access shafts underneath. Two gentle openings of each of these structures face on the one hand direction of population flow to and from the gateways and on the other hand, the urban fabric, to ease the access to underground levels.
In the existing situation a main traffic corridor and square disconnect the site from dense south-western urban fabric. The concept has proposed a traffic underpass at level -1 with access to parking spaces at levels -3 and -4 and has considered the released surface as extension of the plaza to promote interconnection between the plaza and the neighborhoods. Vehicular circulation at the plaza level is limited to BRT lines and emergency and service access. Additionally an axial trail at the south-western edge, connects two old bazaars at the corners of the plaza. The axis passes through a series of tent structures which bus stations and two subway exhaust vents are disguised in them.

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