van alen institute has launched an online auction of art and design experiences, offering the chance for bidders to take part in 25 unique activities around the world. the encounters will be experienced alongside notable figures in the fields of art, architecture, and design — including a hands on studio session with the haas brothers, an urban hike through beijing with architect ma yansong, and a visit to donald judd’s compound in marfa, texas.


the online portion of van alen institute’s annual auction of art and design experiences is now live here via web platform paddle8, and closes at 5pm (ET) on wednesday, april 27.

the itinerary will take in a number of landmarks, including 17th-century heritage sites




described in an old persian proverb as ‘half the world,’ the iranian city of isfahan is home to a great number of spectacular sites. as one of the experiences on offer, the winning bidder will have the opportunity to explore the region with architect nader tehrani, the dean of the irwin s. chanin school of architecture at the cooper union, and principal of NADAAA — a boston-based architecture practice. the itinerary will take in a number of landmarks, from 17th-century heritage sites — like the sheikh lotfollah mosque and naghsh-e jahan square — to isfahan’s famous bazaars and gardens.


to find out more about the experience, designboom spoke with nader tehrani, who explained the nature of the tour in more detail. read our interview below, and see more about the auction here.

naghsh-e jahan square is a UNESCO world heritage site




designboom: can you describe your role in the experience and what it will involve?


nader tehrani: my role is to develop the itinerary, and moreover to translate — literally and culturally — the delights of isfahan. depending on the taker, this might also require architectural translation, which is premised on traditions that are particular to the region. food will play a significant role in that promenade, so the prerequisite for the trip is a fasting period prior, independent of ramadan, to be able to earn the trip.


DB: which of isfahan’s architectural features do you wish to highlight on the tour?


NT: beyond the maidane nakhshe-jahan and the masjede jameh as anchors of the urban promenade, there is the bazaar that sets the main course; maybe the most important stop is azam restaurant within the bazaar, which serves beryooni, a speciality that is only available in isfahan. the promenade along the river, the bridges across zayande-rood, and the gardens of hasht-behesht, and the cafe’s along the river… these are all important to round out the couple of days.


DB: what do you think makes the city so unique?


NT: it is an urban artifact like no other, and it remains intact throughout the centuries. though much of the social, economic, and political framework of iran has transformed, this city’s urban fabric remains sewn together as an extended field, almost monolithic, however delicately. it is a city that operates virtually as a mat building. stunning!

nader tehrani describes isfahan as ‘an urban artifact like no other’




DB: in what ways do you hope the winning bidder will find a new understanding of isfahan, and iranian culture in general?


NT: there are many here in the west who know iran through the writings of arthur pope, the analysis of klaus herdeg, among a range of other scholars who have written about the jewels of the region. however, it is altogether something else to be immersed in the odor of the place, the weather, the people and its culinary culture. to that end, I see this as an opportunity to gain a more immersive understanding of the place, understood less analytically, by way of experience, pleasure, and interaction.


DB: personally, what do you enjoy about the city, and how has it influenced your creative work?


NT: my own work has evolved a great deal from studying the masonry logics of the seljuk and safavid periods, however abstractly: think of casa la roca, or tongxian art of the earlier period, but also some of our more recent work on large scale precast interlocking systems, from the MSD in melbourne to the compressive catenary installation in boston. I am fascinated by the emphasis on structural tectonics as part of the ornamental tradition of that era.

see all of the art + design experiences up for auction here



about van alen institute


van alen institute believes design can transform cities, landscapes, and regions to improve people’s lives. it collaborates with communities, scholars, policymakers, and professionals on local and global initiatives that rigorously investigate the most pressing social, cultural, and ecological challenges of tomorrow. building on more than a century of experience, van alen institute develops cross-disciplinary research, provocative public programs, and inventive design competitions.