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A Study of Kish Coral Island in the Persian Gulf / Amir Anooshfar

By March 2, 2021May 2nd, 2022No Comments

Published in 2A Magazine Issue #45

A s a consultant in the Kish International Airport project and also in charge of the restoration of the Old Prime Minister’s Palace, I was invited by the Deputy Minister of Tourism and Civil Engineering to visit kish Island. Kish Airport is a project based on the architectural plans by Paul Andreu, a French architect who designed France’s airports. At present, a company named ATEC Co. is launching this project again and a committee has been created to carry out the interior design aspect which I am a member of. Previously the Old Prime Minister’s Palace had been turned into a kindergarten and later it turned into a women’s center. Unfortunately because this building was not very well maintained it has recently been converted into an international visual arts gallery. In a short period of time the committee put together a team of professionals and started the procedure of making this project happen. When visiting various places on the Kish Island and working on the Old Prime Minister’s Palace, a large number of valuable architectural buildings were presented to me. These structures were designed and constructed by Mercury Consultants in the years of 1965 to 1979. It is during that process that I was introduced to Mr. Alavi, one of the team’s architects (Mercury Consultants). These buildings were built for luxury tourism. Although at that time these buildings were of quality and aimed at attracting luxury tourists, they were unfortunately falling apart or were not being used properly. However the whole complex had the potential to be preserved and restored, therefore I made the request to have the building complex registered as an international heritage site. With a professional restoration in place, this 20 buildings heritage complex, could potentially improve the overall quality of cultural tourism on the island once the site is turned into a set of museums and exhibition spaces. In order to do this project I started researching the most appropriate architecture for the Island of Kish that would both enhance the cultural and touristic aspects of the site and that would also respect the type of local architecture in place. This was particularly important to me as the island really needed to put forward those historical and the cultural assests in order to attract more tourism. This is what motivated me to go forward with the project.

The Deputy Minister of Tourism, under a new management, agreed with those points and considered the project for development. We agreed to move forward with this idea to create more tourism sites and attractions in parallel with the redevelopment and rehabilitation of the indigenous architecture of the Kish Island. This helped with the creation of a new trend of rehabilitation of this type of architecture and the prevention of unharmonious developments that are not in line with these criterias. Some of these developments are unsuitable and needed to be stopped. They are low quality constructions that were encouraged by high rise builders who tried to earn money and sell their projects disregarding the authenticity of the Kish Island’s local architecture. This type of inconsistent and incoherent architecture, which is common in the Island, is not only in contrast with the characteristics and beauty of the Island, but is also a low quality imitation of irrelevant constructions in the north of Tehran which does not meet tourism standards. In Tehran these types of buildings which are fast growing and expanding throughout the city, are in Romanesque architectural forms imitations and some of them are in uncoherent non-cast composites. In the Island of Kish the city planning was modelled based on some of these types of uncoherent architecture and our aim was to prevent that and instead promote a more appropriate, higher quality architecture.

This article is about the relationship of the architecture’s quality with the tourism industry on the Kish Island. I hope with setting new policies, we will witness the growth of both local and international tourism. Three main elements are discussed: – Restoring and converting existing monuments and buildings into museums and cultural centers. -Reviving and developing indigenous architecture. -preventing irregular and unsuitable construction projects. In this article, we will discuss the geographical, historical and architectural conditions of the Kish Island during various periods of time and also the relationship between architecture and tourism will be reviewed. A brief interview with the tourism authorities in the Island is also included in this article.

The white coral Island:

The white coral island, now known as Kish or the Pearl of the Persian Gulf, is a resort island in Bandar Lengeh County, Hormozgan Province off the southern coast of Iran and known as one of the most important tourist resorts in Iran. Known as Ghays in the past, the Island went through numerous evolutions however the accumulation of coralreefs during different geological periods had played a great role in the emergence of the Kish Island. The residents are mostly Sunnis and Arab speaking people. However, a great majority of residents consist of other ethnicities from all over the country. Relying on historical documents, the Island flourished after the destruction of the legendary Siraf Island due to a massive deadly earthquake. (Parviz BaratiMemar Magazine, edition 6)

The Kish Island Climate:

Kish is located in a humid and hot area in Iran. Humidity reaches up to 100%. Summers are long and hot, however winters are short and mild. Its climate balance is due to northwest and south air masses. Rainfall is mainly in the form of thunderstorm and heavy rains. The weather is normally dry with a cool mild wind. The difference between coldest and hottest months is around 16 Celsius degrees. Among the rest of Persian Gulf islands, the Kish Island is the only one which benefits from fresh water.


The Kish Island is located on top of a salt dome however unlike the rest of islands, such as Qeshm Island, the salt dome has not risen up much to the surface. Kish has an oval shape and is located 12 kilometers off the Shibkooh coast. Kish has an area of approximately 90 km2 and the highest elevation above the sea is up to 35 meters. This island lacks a permanent river. Construction activities are affected by the wind directions as well as heat waves from west to east. (Interview with Eng. Alavi: The Tales of Clay and Brick).

The vegetation and plants:

Various types of plants grow in Kish such as Palm orchards, native Iranian Mesquite trees, Jujube, along with non-native trees such as Pakistani Mesquite (Samar), Eucalyptus acacia, conocarpus and silk trees. Since the arrival of the Portuguese in Kish, the island has become one of the centers of growing the rare Lor (temple fig) tree. Kish is located in the semi-tropical region in southern Iran. (The Architecture and Building magazine – No. 6- author-Pardis Pazira)


Native population – Native inhabitants are residing in various regions: Mashe in the North east, Saffin in the North West, Baghoo and Dihoo in the center of the Island. Saffin people are the original residents of Kish who have been engaged in fishing, livestock and sometimes agricultural activities. The total population of Kish is about 39853 people of which now less than 2% are natives of Safin origin.

Service provider population:

This population refers to people who are not originally from Kish. However they have lived there for a long time to provide various services and their population is approximately 6000 people.

The second home population: This population includes tourists and travelers who annually and consistently travel to Kish and lodge in hotels and villas. Most of these travelers buy their own places and their annual population is about 30000 people.

The population change trends and the average annual growth of Kish Island

The number of tourists and their length of stay are not the same throughout the year, relying on statistics, every year the largest number of tourists travel and live in Kish during the Nowruz (March) holidays. However in months of October and December, kish still welcomes tourists.

A daily statistics review of 2015, 2016 and first half of 2017 show that in the Nowruz (March) holidays, the highest number of tourists who travel to Kish and stay there is about 36015 people. This data is provided by the management of Kish Free Zone Organization. Based on the calculations for the year 2016, the largest number of tourists who will stay for one night is foreseen for the years 2021 to 2046. These results will be taken into consideration when designing water and sewage systems, and the maximum number of residents and overnight tourists are included in the plan and necessary steps will be taken into consideration. So according to these statistics in 2046, the Kish population will grow up to 161468. The following chart shows the changes in the maximum number of people who either reside, travel or stay in Kish annually. Considering data and statistics, the number of travelers to Kish is classified under 3 categories. Based on the third category which is prior to the other ones, the number of travelers between 2016-2046 increases and grows from 1437386 up to 3197779 people. That means 1760393 people will be added during mentioned years. The average annual growth of tourists is 2.7%. Worthy to mention the

size of this growth will be different from time to time and at some point decreases during the course of time. From the other hand, the two other categories could not be separated from the one with priority so the other two categories are considered when preparing statistics on changes in the number of tourists.

Kish Historic background:

During Achaemenes Era, this Island was used for pearl hunting. It was in Alexander the Great’s Era that this island was well identified (about 937 AD). In 1622, in post Islamic era, This Island just like The Hormoz Island, was occupied by Portuguese army. It was in Safavid era that Kish was regained by Iran and until the early years of Pahlavi the second, Kish recognized and remained one of the main destinations of pearl hunting, fishing and commercial ports in Persian Gulf By importing Japanese pearls to Iran, Kish pearl hunting lost its value, which resulted in Kish itself losing its attraction In 1970 an Iranian-American advisor delegation visited the Kish Island and consequently due to its beautiful coral reefs, attractive nature and fresh clear water selected as one of the international touristic destination in Persian Gulf. All modern infrastructures, including hotels, international exhibitions, airports, casinos and various accommodations were planned and constructed. In 1982, the Kish Island was recognized as the first economic free zone in the country. Today’s Kish economy is based on tourism and commerce.

The Kish Island Architectural Structure:

Kariz underground city: The world-famous underground city is a combination of Iranian art and the beautiful nature of the island. This city is one of the reasons where both local and international tourists travel to southern parts of Iran. Kariz history goes back to 2500 years ago. 16 meters below the ground level, is one of today’s spectacular and entertaining destinations which reveals the artistic taste of that times’ Iranian artisans and architectures. The unique characteristics of this coral underground structure are including fresh clear water stream, coral ceilings covered by ancient fossils and last but not least inside cool air which made this city one of the most attractive sight-seeing not only in Iran but also in the whole world. With an area of almost 100 hectares, this ancient city is one of the Kish tourist’s attractions. This large wealthy city once was populated and successful but now only some ruins has remained on the sight. Harira has a history of 800 years. The architectural style reminds you of Kashan, Yazd and Isfahan. This city is constructed on the shore line and presents unique and exceptional type of various spaces. The complex of horizontal underground canals and numerous scattered wells form a very interesting

and rare collection of uniqueness however their functions are not clear yet. Nevertheless, chances are that they were built in order to access easily to the sea and to facilitate fishing and pearl hunting.

Native architecture:

This type of architecture could be found in Saffin, Baghoo, Dihoo and Mashe, which would be recognized as tourist attractions and could be copied to re-build bionic and organic structures. From the other hand, organic architecture demands to apply natives and organic materials which comply with local geography and surrounding nature. Most of the structures are formed in a simple style which contains small court yard at the center. These types of structures attract cultural tourists so their restoration and reconstruction needs to be considered. It is worthy to mention that traditional mosques belong to the same era.

Native structures

Pre-revolution (Mercury) architecture:

During the second Pahlavi era and in the 60s and 70s, construction projects were mainly concentrated in the east and north parts of the island. The focal point to develop Kish

in that period was to turn this island to one the competitive tourist destination among other prominent Middle East destinations. The modern buildings were constructed by up-to-date technology and relevant materials which were in harmony with the rest of structures, following specific bylaws. The first step was to build military airport and to settle air force in Kish. Compilation of the initial Kish Master plan along with construction of infrastructure projects such as airports, ports and accommodation spaces were also included in Master plan and through public budgets these projects were executed. Regarding the very limited sources of information about this type of architecture, numerous possibilities should be considered. Before 1979, the basis of Kish development was planned according to a Master plan which was designed by a professional and accredited company named Mercury Consortium; the one whom was in charge of launching it as well. The above mentioned company’s personnel (around 6-8 thousand people) entered Iran with support of Pahlavi the 2nd and started the project in connection with so many different foreign corporations. Questions arose on formation of this type of architecture at that time (Pre-Islamic Revolution). The most important impact was a global trend that was happening at the time of providing Kish Master Plan. Other elements in this formation could be named as up to date professionals including architecture undergrads and professor’s presence, modern architecture movements and new trends in Europe such as brutalism and minimalism influence. This so called new architectural contemporary style in Iran named after Kish as “Kish Architecture Style”. This architectural style was in accordance with world-wide modern architectural that has been localized by creative professionals in order to be sustainable, adaptable and integrated into native architecture and Kish beautiful nature. The consultant team who projected the Master plan assigned the East and North sandy beaches for the first phase. The native residents also settled down at the same beaches because of its rich soil and fresh water. At the time of starting the Master plan project the villages and small communities were living in unpleasant conditions, so The Kish Development Organization decided to move them to a new place named New Saffin and constructed them new buildings with the same style, preserving native architectural designs which facilitated with modern amenities. “These architectural designs are inspired from Iranian architecture, says Mahmoud Monsef the CEO of The Kish Development Organization.

Shortly after the Master plan was projected, the houses of the largest community of Kish (Masheh), on which more than half of the island’s population resided, were demolished and people were moved to a new community far from where they used to live. So the kish Development Organization houses in New Saffin) replaced by Masheh. Hence, Masheh designated as kish tourism and entertainment center in which all the architectural, social- cultural and economic structures had to be updated and converted to a new community In compliance with modern science and technology, Kish architecture style transformed into triangle, rectangle and square, vertical, horizontal, sharp lines and trendy geometric designs. Although all structure designs tried to be inspired by Iranian architecture, sharp lines and geometric forms are outstanding in this new style. An obvious example is the Prime Minister Palace structure which its design inspired by Kashan and Yazd traditional water fountains (Hozkhaneh). However, Kashan and Yazd Hozkhaneh curved lines are replaced by sharp and geometric lines in Kish Prime Minister Palace. This type of architecture exclusively belongs to this period of time. Kish was lacking neither a proper airport, nor fresh clean water or any sort of safe roads. A team of Engineer Aslani, Eng. Behmanesh Eng. Alavi, Eng. Malik, Eng. Babyian accompanied by Mr. Akhavan along with foreign consultant teams designed this project. The majority of this project was done by Mercury Co. including construction of 1, 2 and 3 floor villas. These new designs were sent to get printed with up-to-date printers in order to create professional PLM brochures in France and then shipped to Iran. Even the ceramic tiles which were designed and used in this project were basically manufactured in France and even marketed there as well. The park between Shayan and Mir Mohanna Hotel was designed by Eng. Monsef and launched by Mercury team. Rahimi (or Mercury) camp site constructed by Eng. Alavi

supervision and Aloopen French corporation imported project’s glasses to Iran. English Allen Newman Company was responsible for project’s carpentry and manufacturing its doors. Eng. Monsef introduced an Australian Eng. Named David Hillard whom was designated as airport and casino supervised Eng. His initial design was accepted and constructed as how we see it today. Different teams were active in this project; French were in charge of Port design and Greeks for technical aspects. Administration offices were centralized in French market area which still remains the same. That means the service providers should be at the same location of Bazaar and market place. French Bazaar structure is one of the examples of compliance traditional structures in accordance with the geographical conditions. The body of the market itself looks modern and European, but a close comparative study shows that it is completely compatible with the native architecture suitable for semi tropical weather. This Bazaar is one the most prominent structures in the whole island interview with Eng. Alavi)

Major structure characteristics of this era:

1- Applying geometric forms, sharp lines, fractured forms and shapes 2- Applying 90, 60, 30 degree angle steep lines 3- Simplifying Iranian traditional concept (conceptual abstraction) and focusing on minimal architecture (forming abstraction) in overall and detailed structures 4- Implementing repetitive paralleled elements and applying consecutive rhythm in structures 5- Creating a harmonized atmosphere in structures while unifying materials and paints 6- Low rise construction in coast line along with the island itself 7- Utilizing non-Euclidean geometry in the system

Major structures of this era:

Shayan Hotel, Kish beach building (used to be kish casino), French Bazaar, Winter Palace, Kish Elite Palace, Marjan Palace, Prime Minister Palace, Eram, Ferdous and Dolphin Complex, Abadgaran Hotels and Villas, Simorgh and Top Rose, French Bazaar Admin building for present Azad university building), Memar residential complex, Private podium and Goldis Hotel (Monsef Eng.)

Post-revolution architecture:

Master plan consultant of the time:

After Islamic Revolution of Iran, Kish development recessed for a period of time. It was early 1990s that kish development re-started its activity. According to new bylaws, free industrial and commercial zones including Kish were officially recognized. Consultant engineers presented 2nd Master plan on the basis of free industrial and commercial zone mapping. In 1995, in order to improve tourism, a project presented by free zone consultant engineers to develop Kish tourist strip. In the early 21st century, the 3rd Master plan presented to attract local and foreign investors. To make this happen, researchers, engineers, consultants and architects stressed on the importance of Kish port and airport infrastructures. They also were concerned about investment turn overs in residential, commercial and trade centers for a prosperous outlook. 23 pages of research and reports on this project prepared and presented but never practically used. The Islamic Republic government recognized Kish as a potential commercial, industrial and touristic destination so in 70s, Kish development projects re- started by GNU and Bavand Iranian consultants. Simultaneously with the start of new residential projects, called “Nobonyad Residential Area”, a number of high and low rise buildings, residential towers, cultural and commercial centers along with entertainment areas developed in Kish. Though, lack of structural harmony is of great architectural concerns. Hotels and accommodation facilities were built at the beaches. At this era, construction of shopping centers, commercial and office buildings and villas in various Western styles were common, even Greek and Roman style structures throughout the beaches were outstanding. Numerous modern-style bazaars with high density crawled and covered the island. These nonharmonized, inconsistent and discordant concrete and iron base structures mainly blocked the view of the sea. To achieve Master plan goals and transforming kish into a free port, we witness a number of industrial, commercial and touristic developments. These development project’s outlooks considered followings: residential developments including constructing touristic villas, residential towers, shopping malls, 3 to 5 star hotels, touristic and entertaining sites, infrastructure developments and university construction. Today’s statistic shows up 13544 low and high rise second homes, 26 shopping centers with area of 20 to 220 thousand square meter, hotels with capacity of 1200 beds, ranging from 140 rooms up to 400 rooms are completed all around the island. The 8th edition of Sadaf Magazine declares the highest number of density in Kish is approximately 8000 residential units, so large scale projects are doable. From the other hand, the most significant issue on these developments is that applied designs are tasteless copies of west or eastern countries. They are not compatible with native traditional architecture and are not matching with the rest of Kish structures. Low quality materials such as composites are used in these developments. Romance and fancy architecture are common among the rest of mismatch designs. Some structures were labeled by “traditional architectural designs”, they looked like nothing but comic copies of ancient time’s icons. The following pictures show the mismatch architectural structures. It is suggested to hold a committee in order to supervise these types of structures and make sure they are in accordance with the latest Master plan guidelines which specifies certain requirements

styles, all are the reflection of the specific region’s identity and architecture. One of the most precious architectural forms could be traditional architecture in any region. Based on marketing methods, goals and regions’ specific characteristics, tourism could be potentially marketed in any area. Hence, preserving heritage traditional architecture styles significantly contribute to tourism industry. Recently, traditional architecture recognized as a vital part of cultural heritage, so it is necessary to determine monuments real nominal price. Maintenance, restoration, re-using and re-modeling of this valuable heritage looks crucial, however today’s modern life style demands construction of facilities within these sites. Traditional architectural heritage evaluation is one of the numerous methods to preserve this heritage away any damage. Many areas, as we see in the next article, owe their expansion and prosperity to architecture specifications, so architecture attractions play a significant role in rural and urban tourism. As said earlier, two main roles of architecture in tourism are highlighted as we review the importance of architecture in tourism industry.

including height, building facades and quality of structure. It is worthy to mention that a number of development projects are planned and executed by Deputy Minister of Development to improve public spaces such as Fisher’s center, vegetable market and kish cultural iconic tower which all benefit quality structure and suitable architecture. To transform Kish to a prosperous touristic resort, following requirements should be considered:

– Valuable structures should be preserved both by general public and by government – Revitalization of Iranian authentic architecture by architects and professionals – Restoration and reconstruction of old monuments and attention to tourism infrastructure styles – Creativity in contemporary architecture along with preserving inherited identity – Suitable global marketing for region’s architecture – Conducting festivals in historical monuments and planning authentic cultural events – Designing marketing systems to introduce historical sites and Iranian heritage and also make it a trademark locally and internationally – Construction of various museums and cultural centers

Architecture and Tourism:

Architecture is, by itself, created to meet humans’ needs however from tourism point of view, architecture plays two different roles which are recognized as “attraction” and “necessity”. Necessity is one of the tourism infrastructures while attraction is core part of cultural tourist sought sites in travel business. Among all above attractive elements, one is considered as architectural attractions. Architecture plays a signifi

  1. Architecture as a “Necessity”: Tourism infrastructure includes services and accommodation and transportation such as airport transportation, train stations, bus terminals, ports etc. Services include travel agency offices, entertaining centers, road service – welfare centers and so on. Accommodations cover hotels, motels, camp sites, villas and boarding houses.
  2. Architecture as “Attractions”: One of the most sought after tourist attraction in each region is natural beauties. Sceneries, beaches, sea sides, flora and fauna life, also ecological characteristics such as mountains, natural caves, hot springs, geology formations, parks and reserved areas could be named among them.

Cultural attractions could be defined and categorized as:

all cultural manifestations of artificial or material forms. Cultural attraction properties are also known as historical sites: museums, general architectural styles, historic and religious monuments (mosques, temples and cathedrals), cultural centers, archeology sites and up-to-date residential areas. Intellectual attraction properties include music, literature, poetry, drawing and painting, sculpture, carving theatre and local common tradition and culture also handicrafts, Artificial attractions could be named as theme events, conferences, theme parks, shopping centers, seminars, sports and entertainments and some other sorts of man-made attractions. In general, regional architecture specifications, structure characteristics and unique styles or historic monuments related to a special era are attached to cultural tourist attractions. To conclude, we execute global experiences to attract high quality local and foreign tourists, so we have to characterize the island and create an identity either through architecture or imitation of other countries’ events such as Morocco holding FEZ music festival, Arles France photography, Edinburgh theatre festival, Venice Biennale visual art and architecture and some others which could be reviewed and researched as potential examples.

cant role to attract tourists. Most of the tourists travel to Iran to visit Iranian architectural works. The main goal of Kish tourism is to provide architectural, commercial and entertaining attractions, in order to have a financial outcome for the island. Civil development projects, different monuments, various structures and architectural