This Iranian City’s River Dried Up, So Why Not Put A Park There Instead?

Making lemonade out of climate change lemons: An architecture student wants to turn an Iranian riverbed into a combination of housing and public space.

During a visit to Iran last year, architecture student Mateusz Pospiech learned about a problem that has been overshadowed in all the news about war: The country’s rivers are disappearing.


For more than 1,000 years, the Zayandeh River was the heart of the city of Isfahan–picture the East River or the Hudson in New York City, or the Thames in London. Because Isfahan is in the desert, it wouldn’t have been built without the river as a source of water. But around five years ago, thanks to mismanagement, the river dried up completely for the first time.

“What is left is a dried riverbed, a scar in the urban structure and the city’s identity,” says Poland-based Pospiech. In a new conceptual design developed for his master’s thesis at Silesian University of Technology, he proposes a new solution. It’s half-park, half-housing, and it fills the riverbed.

If the river ever comes back, the mega-structure can coexist with it. “The core concept of the project is compatibility with the river,” says Pospiech. “It’s impossible to say if the river will ever return, but it’s simply irrational to not leave the possibility open.”

The water would flow into the three new levels of the structure, making it easier to control. “You can easily imagine it as untangling the rope,” he says. “Normally rope is thick and stiff, hard to shape in desirable way, but as you untangle it into several threads it’s much easier to control it. In the exact same way, the river would be divided into three separate channels … creating a sort of weave with the structure.”

Underground, the project includes space for parking and a channel for a tram. At ground level, there would be housing and a “hardscape aquarium”–micro-landscapes that look as good dry as when underwater. On the upper level, there’s a winding park and space to grow crops.

The garden on the top is a crucial part of the design, despite the fact that the city is now in a water crisis. “It’s important to mention the incredible Iranian devotion to the green areas, almost like a ‘garden culture,'” says Pospiech. The garden would use a closed-loop system, irrigating plants with greywater from the homes downstairs.


Ultimately, the project is designed to transform a part of the city that residents now find heartbreaking. “My goal was to create an alternative for the river, instead of wiping it from citizens’ memories,” he says. “Right now Isfahanis are looking every day at vast, dry, depressing piece of land in the heart of the city. Changing this area into something iconic, lively, and purposeful could, hopefully, change citizens’ mindset and enhance their lives. The possible return of the river in the future will only make the project more complete and integrated.”

As a student project, it’s unlikely ever to be built. But Pospiech hopes it makes more people aware of the problem. “Right now the most important purpose of this project is to raise awareness about the global water crisis, and spark a discussion about the possible use of dry riverbeds all over the world,” he says.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.