In memory of Soheila Beski

Posted on June 12th, 2015 by Nicole Sakr

Posted under: Things We Like

Soheila Beski memar

It has been almost 11 years since I heard her voice for the first time on the phone: “Is this Amin Tadj?” a voice said on the other end of the line, “Yes?!” I answered after a moment of hesitation. “This is Soheila Beski from Memar magazine, do you have any better videos of your building? The jury is making a decision and your video is not helpful at all”; beyond a direct critical interface, she was almost yelling at me. This voice was from a woman who was not an architect but one who has had a huge influence not only on my professional life but on an entire contemporary generation of architects in Iran.

I was around 26 and still a student, and Soheila Beski was editor-in-chief of Memar magazine. The magazine was the only architectural journal in Iran at the time, but was operating with a quality that was competitive with the ranks of many other international press that we were sometimes lucky to receive from across the borders, but with one very important difference: the buildings in this one were from “our country”: a nation that had lost much during the revolution, a subsequent war with Iraq, and the ensuing hardships that followed in the years to come. In short, it was hard for people to believe that such a journal would have something to offer.

It was some 10 years after the end of the war, and most of the ruins had been already rebuilt, except one thing: hope.  There were few people out there who wanted or had the courage to change this gray atmosphere but Soheila was one of them. She always had hope and wanted to share it with everybody; “There are a lot of things here that merit exposure, discussion and debate.” She was a writer and a novelist. Maybe that was the reason that she was seeing everything differently. She had a literary ability of dreaming about another world, one with potential.

The Memar Awards were in their fourth year. The award was launched by the magazine to find, show and judge what had been built in the country on an annual basis. But in what turned out to be a huge boost for the architectural culture of Iran, this competition served as a platform for a whole new and young generation of architects. That year was no exception with the majority of awards going to young architects, with me as one of the youngest.

At the moment, she was the engine behind the whole show. A charismatic, energetic, brave, tall, beautiful, middle-aged woman who was orchestrating the architectural discourse of a generation with incredible success within a masculine community of architects – in a country where women do not automatically enjoy the same rights as their male counterparts. It is fair to say that, prior to Beski, there was no coherent architectural community to speak of, and she single-handedly had to build it from scratch, educating the broader community as much as her architectural cohorts. And certainly, this was the case for me; it was the first time that I was seeing myself amongst a group of other “architects” and in my eyes she was the bridge connecting us.

It was at the ceremony dinner of the annual awards. Shervin (my wife) and I were standing shyly at the very end corner of a dining table staring at the people that we had just met.  “Soheila, do you know anybody here with whom I can collaborate?”—one of the jurors of that year, Nader Tehrani was seeking to associate for possible projects in the region. This was his first trip to Iran after 25 years, back to his country of origin.  He was excited about everything; food, people, smells, crowded cities, among other things. He wanted to build something in his native land. “Work with them, he is a good boy”, she recklessly pointed at me. This casual introduction initiated one of the deepest and longest friendships I ever had and definitely she was the “bridge”.

Now, 11 years later, I heard last week that she is not amongst us anymore. She passed away in her 64th year of an illness with which she had been struggling for a long time. She was always full of life and hope and fought with her illness, never revealing it as a concern, such that no one could have imagined its ultimate results.  Last week, in recognition of one of its champions, all architects in Iran hung a white curtain in front of their buildings in her honor; she of all people, without a building to her name, nor a degree to the discipline did more for architecture than any other recent figure, bringing a generation together. Soheila Beski, you will definitely be missed!

– Amin Tadj

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