The historical image of the Persian Garden is one of an organised and carefully maintained landscape, a representation of a terrestrial paradise (a word that in itself traces its origins to the garden, pairi-daeza = walled garden) and a model for the settlements that eventually emerged on the Iranian plateau.

This image of the garden remains unchanged today, an enclosed space that is carefully arranged, maintained and controlled and within which our idea of ‘nature’ and the relationship between man and plant is presented as a linear narrative.

The idea of Tehran as a garden-city was envisioned by Victor Gruen and Abdol-Aziz Farmanfarmaian in the late 60s. Faced with what can only be called a water bankruptcy, the municipality of Tehran still insists on continuing to pursue a gimmick of a garden-city exemplified by a narrow spectrum of care-intensive species, planted along the highways for maximum visual impact in the public imagination.

Ruderal Acts, Gardening Beyond the Wall aims to question the idea of a garden as an enclosed system within which man controls the natural world. Instead, it imagines a more open and indeterminate space informed by mutual care and cohabitation. Through careful observation, documentation and presentation, the project suggests a different kind of garden in which the left-behind urban and rural sites, ruins and transitional places take centre stage.

The Rayy Cement Factory, abandoned for more than 30 years and walled off from the surrounding city, stands as a symbol of this alternative imagination. It is a place where traces of human industrial activity have been left to gradual decay but also a place where the prevailing forces of the natural world can be observed, a nuanced landscape that is neither natural nor completely artificial.

The project considers the Rey Cement Factory as the starting point for an alternative idea of a garden. One that benefits from blurred boundaries, is shaped by the organic growth of ruderal species and cultivated by often unintended events: the leakage of a pipe, the shading provided by a brick wall or the migration of flora from agricultural activities.

The project develops over time not unlike acts in a play, using the city of Tehran as its stage and its citizens as its actors, custodians, and ultimately gardeners;

Act I Through a collaboration with a local photographer, a botanist and a curator, the garden is carefully surveyed and documented, laying the groundwork for an atlas of the garden.

Act II With access to the site hindered by the power play between the local municipality and other actors, the perimeter walls of the factory becomes a fitting canvas to exhibit visual fragments of the garden growing within, challenging its almost complete inaccessibility. These printed fragments of the garden are disseminated further, spreading to walls and streets of Tehran as part of an open call: to acknowledge the potential of the ruderal landscape and the idea of the city as a garden as opposed to a garden-city.

Act III The call to action asks citizens of Tehran to act as agents of care, enlisting a community of alternative ‘gardeners’ in the making of and caring for a city-wide garden. Their efforts add to the atlas, featuring the garden-city left-behind.

Epilogue Without a defined boundary, Gardening Beyond the Wall meets and merges with the city but also the collective imagination of its citizens. It ultimately acknowledges and suggests that perhaps the last remains of what can truly be considered wild is in fact the city itself.

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