10 PM, rooftops, chant: Allah-o-Akbar
The single-line announcement is circulated quickly through #tweeter, #Facebook and email campaigns. Then at night, the concise message is carried through an amalgamation of male and female voices; their echoes rise from all around the block in the heat of summer nights.
Thirty years prior to the summer of 2009 the very same chants and delivery style (from the rooftops) had helped moving the Islamic Revolution forward. As the night’s blanket stretched over Tehran, the trembling effect of voices from around the block recreated a sense of unity, what I prefer to call collective orgasm, yet isolated from the heated moments of street struggle. Rooftops played a central role in the protestors’ bonding and refocusing. This was the place where the older and the younger who would not step out to street protests would join the non-conforming activist youth. The rooftops became elevated quasi-private platforms which displayed the continuity of the movement.
The significance of rooftops in Iran’s contemporary society goes beyond political struggle. In mid 1900s, mainly prior to when sky scrapers had become common in large cities, sleeping out on the roof was common practice among urban families. Seemingly, electrical air-conditioning was rare; so escaping the heat and seeking refuge to the cool summer night breeze would only make sense. Who would not want to sleep under the stars and wake up with the rays of sun – at least before it’s too hot to remain horizontal on the often-asphalt surface of the rooftop?
This didn’t end with the expansion of electrical air-conditioning or massive growth in the number of tall buildings. In the absence of pub-like places in which obeying the Islamic republic’s dress codes would not be a requirement, neighborhood gathering, building meetings and even family dinners (that were too large to fit in the relatively tiny apartments) were held on the rooftops. I would also argue that this served a form of reproducing branches of a life-style that the current middle class mid-age Iranian has experienced – and possibly wanted to pass on to their kids.
Socially speaking, rooftops appeared as an index for the level of intimacy and trust in social relations; a guest who is invited to the rooftop has already passed the corporal formalities and has achieved a family-like level of closeness. See, the average guest who comes to an apartment/house has no choice but to pass through the building’s yard, lower level stairs and commons areas that are shared by other neighbors. But the guest who is given access to the rooftop is in some ways invited to conquer the building in full form, to experience a part of the building that does not observe much traffic, is not cleaned as often and is normally not particularly taken care of – as if this part is a detached section of the “home capital”. He or she is allowed to pass the stair levels and the front porches of neighbors who will not necessarily encounter other neighbors’ guests. And then gets exposed to the elevated [e]state, where he or she would see the very scale of the building presented in the shape of leaking rusted faucets, peeled off asphalt, and roaring air-conditioning stations or, demonstrative plants, small DIY storage spaces and children’s play material.
For my brother, rooftop is a sacred place; he goes up there to visit the moon whenever it is visible. I challenge him that he can see the moon form the balcony too and that, going up a couple of floors is too insignificant for getting closer to the earth’s satellite. But there is something about the rooftop.
My memories of rooftops go way back to almost my birth. According to my parents, they would take me up to the roof so I could be under the sun and My memories of rooftops go way back to almost my birth. According to my parents, they would take me up to the roof so I could soak up some sun and be exposed to fresh air - to experience the outdoors on a daily basis without them having to dress up to take me out – and plus I assume they’d rather keep the infant-me away from cars and city noises. Some of my earliest pictures show a few-days old me in my mother’s arms on the rooftop; with her contending the dusty urban layout behind her as the wind blows through her long dark sleek hair and her floral skirt. My dad describes nights when I had been vaccinated and would not go to sleep, rooftop was the first and last resort for them distract me from the vaccine’s pain and instead attend to the moon and the stars above my head.
continue with me learning to stand on air conditioning stations (which appears to have been a must do so that I will learn not fear heights), learning to point directions (as my dad taught me basic geography and navigated the cityscape by identifying building), screaming (because where else would you have the child let our their young energy at the top of their lungs with the least amount of disturbance for neighbors) and, riding my first ride which was a four-wheeled ant-shaped toy-cycle. Discovering snow is a defining moment for every child who lives in moderate to warm climate. And I stepped in inches of snow for the first time in my life on the roof. I barely remember playing snow-ball with my neighbors’ kids anywhere other than on the roof. Snow-mans would definitely last longer on the roof than on the street or pavement – even once they had the rooftop shoveled they would normally leave that creature to melt by itself.
If anything, during the first few years of my life, the ability to go to the rooftop equated the absence of air raids by Iraqi forces. #Rooftopping then in essence would bring forward the opposite sensations of going to the basement at the onset of civil defense siren.
John Urry, British sociologist whose research stretches from politics of revolution and power dynamics to regionalism and mobility, says that there are various theories of romanticism, sublime, picturesque and performative that could explain why particular people feel a burning desire to live by a given spot.
As a teenager I day-dreamed of living in a pent-house, so that I automatically will get this elevated cityscape outlook from my windows. I still find myself in a much better position on the rooftop, at peace, eye to eye with the city. Life might be super interesting “down there” but, unlike when I play the passer by on the street where I am bound to absorb the sense of places one by one as I approach, up on the rooftop I visit that geotectonic as a whole. The city, any city, is much more honest from the roof level as it reveals its non-cosmetic side; on the elevated [e]state the eye sees the details of each unit from the rusty rind, the decayed back doors, the rotted clinkers, to the beautified main entrance, gazillion dollar car and the graffiti-ed skateboard lying on the lawn. That whole picture is much more directional than any walk-around in terms of gathering knowledge about the dynamic of a place; rooftop provides a clear vision towards the chaotic or rather orderly fashion in which buildings are arrayed in one shot. It reveals their age of the place by the shape of window panes, deck lay-outs and brick and mortar (or shield glass!). Before you now, you’ve also made up your mind about the municipality by skimming the nearby roads and pavements.
In my current life in Canada, I have understood that rooftops are considered cool but mainly in the absence of other public places which one can visit without a significantly different dress code and social construct form that of balconies/rooftops. Nonetheless, that elevated [e]state has its own sensory implications. Among the very few moments I’ve allowed myself to miss home since I moved half of the world away was when I “discovered” Mount Royal in 2013. There was something in the height, the blinkering city lights, and the unbelievably packed-ness of an ordinary place. I could say, it was the iconic similarities this spot had with “Baam e Tehran” (Tehran’s Rooftop). Although, that would be just a simplified version of contemplating about visceral desires that went through me as Montreal was looking me in the eye. These, Urry says, mobalize people regularly to travel, to orbit, to move.
 Although the political upsurge was distinctively different in Islamic Revolution (1979), and Green Movement (2009); one demanded and utter end to Iran’s 2500 year monarchy, the other resisted a right wing pushback to the reformist the regime had already taken up. One, was an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist revolutionary with a quest for an alternative mode of governance, the other demanded correct conduct of democracy within those ideological boundaries the former had set.
 I’d assume I could stretch this to rural areas as well however, to my understanding they generally had and still have much higher chances of sleeping out or camping, without a particular need for travelling outside of their residential area. Therefore in comparison rooftop nights would not be the most significant.
 No shorts or sleeveless tops for men and mandatory uniform and hijab for women as it stands in Iran currently – during summer this dress code can counter to cooling effect of eating outside.
 This holds especially prior to the expansion of elevators or in smaller buildings that using the elevator is not necessary (for climbing a couple of levels for instance).
 Just run a quick hashtag search on instagram for #rooftop #rooftopping #funontheroof
 Stretched on the skirts of Alborz mountains north of Tehran.