Pitt to build Iranian Nationality Room

By Anjana Murali / Staff Writer

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

E. Maxine Bruhns doesn’t like how Iran is portrayed in the U.S., so she’s taking its perception into her own hands. 

Bruhns is the director of the Nationality Rooms at Pitt and after two unsuccessful attempts dating back to 1958, Pitt — after it secures funding — is nearly set to transform room 352 of the Cathedral of Learning into an Iranian Nationality Room. For a country that has been under recent scrutiny for its nuclear program, the Iranian Nationality Room committee hopes the new nationality room will redefine how Americans portray Iran. 

According to Ali Masalehdan, the ad hoc chair for the Iranian Nationality Room committee, fundraising efforts will dictate how elaborate the room’s design can be, but the committee cannot begin raising money until it has an official approval from Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. This is Pitt’s third attempt to build an Iranian room, a project this committee of 10 members including representatives from Persian Panthers and the American Middle East Institute, has worked on since 2011.

 The Iranian Nationality Room committee doesn’t know how long it will take to construct the room, but it set a five year deadline to begin construction, according to Bruhns.

In 2011, the Iranian Nationality Room committee submitted a request to Pitt to have an Iranian Nationality Room in the Cathedral of Learning. According to Bruhns, the University approved the request in December 2014. This approval, however, is only the beginning of what will likely be a long project.

 After Pitt approved the request, it gave the committee three months to submit fundraising and design proposals, which it submitted several weeks ago, Bruhns said. She then approved it and sent it to the director of the University Center of International Studies. 

Once the director approves it, Bruhns said, he will send it to Provost Patricia Beeson and Gallagher, who will finalize it. 

Bruhns said she hopes the Chancellor will sign the proposal by the end of the summer.

“Fundraising is the Achilles heel for the project,” Masalehdan said.

The total cost of the room will be between $800,000 and $1 million, he said. 

To fundraise for this project, Salim Malakouti, a computer science doctoral student and vice president of the Iranian Nationality Room committee, plans to have private fundraising campaigns in Pittsburgh and nationwide, as well as host a local Iranian food and film festival in Pittsburgh.

He said more important than the fundraising, though, is having the chance to show Pittsburgh Iranian culture.

“People think there is war in Iran all the time or people killing each other in the streets, but it’s not like that,” Malakouti said. “I get the chance to show the people what is the truth about Iran. The media just shows the portions of Iran that they want to.”

Masalehdan said Americans have a skewed view of Iranian culture and civilization because all they hear about Iran in the news are the nuclear issues. 

“The nationality room will put a human face to this culture that has had a huge contribution to world science and literature,” Masalehdan said.

Although the nationality rooms are not meant to be political, Bruhns said, this project restored her faith in politics.

“We were on TV in Tehran,” she said. “The Iranian community was so happy and optimistic, and the mood was just wonderful.”

 Coincidentally, Bruhns said, when the group got the approval in December, Masalehdan was planning to visit Iran. There, he met the deputy minister of arts and culture and Nader Ardalan, a well-known design professor to help with ideas for the design of the room, and he continued to stay in touch with them after he returned to Pittsburgh. 

 Masalehdan said the plan is to hold a contest to determine the design of the room among Iranian architectural design students and private companies. Then, Iranian ministry officials will approve five of the designs and send them to Pittsburgh. An Iranian-born, Boston-based designer will help with final decisions with the design and the room’s implementation, Bruhns said. 

If these plans are successful, Pitt will complete a project that has been in the works since 1958. Back then, former Iranian ambassador Aliqoli Ardalan and his nephew, Ardalan, who is now going to be the final architect for the room, initiated the first attempt to build an Iranian room at Pitt. 

Their attempt was unsuccessful because the ambassador returned to Iran and no one followed up on the project. The Iranian embassy made a second attempt in 1976 but failed because of a lack of a cohesive Iranian community that was willing to support the cost, Masalehdan said.

The nationality rooms, as popular as they are, can be difficult to fund. According to Bruhns, the Indian room, which cost $500,000, used to be the most expensive room, but the Korean room, which is currently under construction, could cost more than $600,000. But despite the potential financial roadblocks, the Iranian room has given Bruhns hope for good relations between Iran and the U.S.

“This is [an example of a] peaceful relationship between Iran and the U.S.,” Bruhns said. “I’m pretty proud of that.”

Leave a comment.