The ancient town of Mahallat in central Iran, located roughly halfway between Tehran and Esfahan, boasts Hellenistic ruins from the time of Alexander the Great, Zoroastrian fire temples, castles, caravansaries, lush gardens, mountain caves, and curative and therapeutic hot springs.  It’s also home to one of the most modern, innovative, sustainable, eco-friendly and cool-looking apartment buildings in the country, if not the entire region.

The primary driver of the Mahallat economy is the mining of travertine, a type of limestone deposited by mineral springs that has been used as building material since the Roman era (the Colloseum is constructed mostly of travertine).  Because of the inefficiency of stone-cutting technology, the manufacturing of travertine tiles produces over 50% of excess waste. This means that less than half of the mined material is actually used in the final product. The incredible amount of unused and discarded stones contributes to the pollution of the natural environment.

In 2007, architect Ramin Mehdizadeh, a native of Mahallat, along with the team at the Tehran-based Architecture by Collective Terrain (AbCT) designed an extraordinary building in Mehdizadeh’s hometown, exploiting these discarded raw materials to their fullest economic and environmental potential.  Dubbed “Apartment No. 1,” both the building’s exterior and interior walls are made of recycled travertine stones. “In doing so,” the architects explain, “we demonstrate how an architectural solution can help us preserve precious natural resources in a creative way, and significantly reduce the cost.”

As described by Inhabitat.com, “The five-story project features retail on the first floor and four stories of apartments. Each floor has two 3-bedroom apartments, and the local stone used on the exterior is also brought into the interior to create a unified theme.”

The designers themselves note:

The recycled stones used for the exterior create a subtle effect on geometry of the project, which consist of façade with emphatic angles. Slight roughness of mixed recycled stones creates somewhat warmer texture, effectively complementing sharply tailored façade. As a result, the project, which speaks the language of modern architecture, uniquely blends with verdant trees and surroundings of Mahallat, an old town, which has seen more than a thousand year of history. Such coherent theme of locally-recycled stones is also reverberated in the interior of the project, where simple structure is accentuated by stone walls, creating a space that is expressed in a natural yet intimate manner.

The 1,300-square-meter building is built to conserve energy. “The stones provide thermal mass to slow the transfer of heat throughout the day, and operable shading devices help control sunlight and heat gain,” as detailed by Inhabitat.com. “When the shades are open during the winter, more light and heat reaches into the interior. In the hot summer months, the shades can be closed to keep the sun out. Angled facades near windows help control the amount of daylight that enters the interior.”

Construction of “Apartment No. 1″ began in 2008 and was completed in 2010. That year, it took first prize for residential structures at Iran’s Memar Awards. In 2013, the project was shortlisted for an Aga Khan Award for Architecture.  The building has already influenced local builders and masons to begin utilizing recycled travertine in their own constructions.

Below are photos by AbCT associate Omid Khodapanahi and a short film about the project:

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Apt-No-1-Mahallat-D All photos by Omid Khodapanahi