Doves Love This House

Practice of Sustainable Architecture of Pigeon Towers

Author: Mohammad Ali Manian/ Translated by: Mohammad Ali Haghshenas/ Photo by: Ahmad Khani

In the past, when one wanted to travel from Europe to Asia for example, the route would take the traveller across various fertile lands inhabited by ancient civilisations. Unlike greener regions elsewhere in the world, the central Iranian plateau, however, had no permanent rivers or abundant water resources for great civilisations to form near each other. The people living there at the time had to be creative and to ensure survival invited the now world-famous system of kariz or qanat (ancient underground water channels).

Although the lands of the central Iranian plateau were mostly non-arable, many pigeons would comehere in search of food, and local farmers came to think of using pigeon droppings as a fertiliser. An idea for collecting the droppings was born and with the help of local architects, farmers and scholars a plan was devised to boost the agriculture of the Karizi civilisation with this fertiliser. The first step was to build a home for pigeons, a so-called dovecot (kabutarkhaneh in Persian, kabutar for ‘pigeon’ and khaneh for ‘home’). This can be considered as one of the earliest attempts at sustainable architecture.

Many of dovecots across Iran are no longer hosting pigeons. With increasing use of chemical fertilisers, agricultural engineers feel that they no longer need pigeon droppings and over the years chemical fertilisation has resulted in soil and food pollution. Concerned that the government would decide to protect historic kabutarkhaneh structures on the farms these were built on, some farmers let water inside their dovecots to destroy the base, resulting in the collapse of centuries-old architecture.

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