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Culture Clash

An Iranian-American architect mixes old-country practices with modern designs

Local architect Simi Razavian has guarded optimism for the recent obsession with green building trends. “Sustainable- design principles have been used in my homeland for hundreds of years,” says the Iranian-born Razavian, AIA, who’s been incorporating ancient architectural practices into her residential and commercial projects since moving to San Diego two decades ago.

Eco-conscious long before it was cool, Razavian says it is pos sible to use centuries-old design elements in contemporary architecture. For example, wind towers and tunnels, which have long provided homes in Iran’s hot and arid desert climate with cooling crossventilation, today serve as passive airconditioning systems in an ocean-view home she designed atop Mount So - ledad. Similarly, capturing rooftop rain for landscape irrigation and other water uses is a timeless technique she’s including in the design of a 12-unit rowhome project in Linda Vista.

Razavian’s energy-saving home designs that brighten the Pacific Beach and La Jolla coastline also dispel cli ents’ perceptions of green housing structures being “big, ugly geodomes.” Instead, these multilevel modernist buildings feature floor-to-ceiling glass walls, covered decks and patios and expansive floor plans that embrace indoor-outdoor living.

“Not only can green be very attractive and livable, but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune,” says Razavian, revered by her clients for meticulous attention to money-saving design details and use of cost-effective materials and suppliers.

If you’re an immigrant, you have to work twice as hard to get half as far. Since I was a foreign female architect, it was four times as difficult to get to this place.

Razavian also practices what she preaches. Her recently remodeled La Jolla home and workshop house the offices of MSA & Associates—the architectural firm she operates with her husband, Mehrdad Hemmati, a structural engineer—and it is also a showcase for attainable green design. The workshop, for example, is an old garage rede - signed to suit six windows salvaged from one of Hemmati’s projects. The sloped roof and dramatic windows may be eye-catching, but for Razavian, they serve a purpose higher than aesthetics: By strategically placing the recycled windows and building around them, she was able to capture wind and light without sacrificing privacy or wasting electricity.

Razavian credits much of her success as an American businesswoman to her late father, who forced her to go to English classes and strongly encouraged her to use her math and drawing skills to pursue architecture. She persevered, and, shortly after the 1979 Iranian revolution, emigrated to the United States with her husband and their young child. It was a struggle uprooting herself to move to a foreign country, raising a family and passing architecture li cens - ing exams. In addition, while immigrants commonly wrestle with problems of cultural assimilation, she experienced career complications because of her gender.

“If you’re an immigrant, you have to work twice as hard to get half as far. Since I was a foreign female architect, it was four times as difficult to get to this place,” says Razavian, an active member of the San Diego chapter of Wom - en in Architecture. She is also involved with local efforts to design and build an Iranian Cultural Center.

Often collaborating with her husband and business partner on build-to-suit projects, Razavian thrives on turning problem properties into wildly successful projects. “The harder the better. We’ll take on things no one else knows what to do with,” she says, bringing out a sketchpad to illustrate how they turned an underpriced lot labeled unbuildable into a lucrative development on Loring Street in Pacific Beach.

Her trademark may be designing million- dollar homes overlooking La Jolla Shores and remodeling classic Spanish estates in Rancho Santa Fe, but this mother of two says she is also a “people’s architect,” taking great pride in creating high-design and high-function structures, such as a gas station in Lemon Grove, a storage facility in Mission Valley and a mixed-use retail/residential proj ect in Del Mar. Like her ancestors, Razavian believes it is important to leave a legacy of “people-friendly buildings and homes that are aesthetically pleasing yet blend harmoniously with the environment.”

To learn more about Razavian’s design philosophy, visit MSA & Associates at msahome.com or call 858-459-5665.


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