The aim of this article is to present the history of Polish-Iranian cultural exchange in the field of design. We show both The aim of this article is to present the history of Polish-Iranian cultural exchange in the field of design. We show both the historical relations of trade exchange between these two countries, as well as contemporary cooperation aimed at educating the young generation of designers, to prepare them for solving global problems such as social isolation, war, climate crisis, or migration. We believe that in a period of such strong sociopolitical and climatic changes, learning across borders forms a necessary basis for potential solutions that can make our lives easier.


  • Institute of Industrial Design Warsaw/Poland
  • Polish Embassy in Tehran/Iran – Irena Kolakowska-Falkowska
  • University of Tehran/Iran – Maryam Khalili, PhD
  • Safavi House & Ivan Cultural Group Isfahan/Iran


  1. Historical outline of Polish-Iranian cooperation in culture and design
  2. Resumption of Polish-Iranian cooperation – bent furniture with carpets
  3. Synesthetic design and sensory objects / design of objects for living in isolation
  4. Polish Design Summer School 2021/22
  5. Learning in the context of working across borders
  6. Further cooperation plan

  1. Historical outline of Polish-Iranian cooperation in culture and design 

Poland and Persia (the official name of the country before 1935) enjoyed amicable relations for more than four centuries. Safavid Persia and Poland favored a respectful and culturally active exchange of products and services, as a result of having a common adversary: the Expansionist Ottoman Empire. 

The very first Polish envoy, Sefer Muratowicz, arrived to Safavid Persia with a specific mission: to buy carpets for the Polish Court. This marks the beginning of the Polish admiration of Persian art, and specifically Persian carpets. 

Polish delegations and merchants continued to visit Safavid Persia for several more times with the main purpose of buying Isfahan and Kashan silk and wool rugs. These rugs were generally of pristine quality, some featuring golden and silver embroidery. A large quantity of rugs that once decorated the mansions of Polish aristocrats survived until 19th century, when the whole Europe was rife with appreciation of oriental rugs. Effectively, Poland was one of the gateways that introduced Persian rugs to Europe. Given the apparent Polish source of these rugs, a common pseudonym of “Polonaise tapisserie” was used in Europe until much later when their true origin was revealed with the backstory of their journey from Safavid Persia to Poland. 

During the 18th and 19th century, several diplomatic envoys visited and stationed in Persia for an extended period of time. To mention but a few: Aleksander Chodzko, a Polish poet and Russian consul in Rasht, Ignacy Pietraszewski, the first Polish translator of holy Zoroastrian scripture, and Karol Bohdanowicz, the pioneer geologist who conducted a first survey on Khorasan mountain range in North East Persia. 

The latter ‘formal’ establishment of diplomatic ties only reinstated the already existing relations between Iran and Poland. The reborn state of Poland, after it regained independence in the early 20th century, signed a Treaty of Friendship in 1927, although the first diplomatic post of Persia operated before the First World War. 

The period between World War I and II was a time of renewing and strengthening bilateral business relations. Polish businessmen showed a strong interest in trading with their Iranian counterparts, especially in industries such as glassware, food processing, textile and furniture. The establishment of an association for the Polish diaspora was marked in these years by Dr. Feliks Mielczarski, the founder of the School of Dentistry (Stomatology) at the University of Tehran.

The mutual interactions between Iran and Poland marked a new chapter in the advent of the arrival of 116 000 refugees from Siberia and Central Asia in 1943. This was considered the largest European exodus through Iran. The military personnel from the General Wladyslaw Anders army quickly evacuated to Iraq and Palestine, later taking part in the battle of the liberation of Monte Cassino, Ancona, and Bologna. However, Polish civilians remained in Iran for much longer, some for a life-time. They married Iranians and established a Polish community in Iran.  

Amongst the civilian refugees, there were crafts people and artisans who worked in the furniture manufacturing facilities in Poland. There is an anecdote from a Polish artisan that is narrated by Isfahani and Tabrizi carpenters about learning the secrets of steam bending of turned wooden poles in the hot tubes. They were taught to shape the bent frame of the back support for a Thonet No.14 café chair. Since their instructor was Polish, the misnomer: “Polish chair” or transliterated form: “Sandaliye Lahestani” in Farsi was developed and proceeded to be the collective name for any bent wood furniture, even bent-wood emulated shapes.

The enduring appeal of Thonet design combined with the Polish involvement in their introduction to Iran makes “Polish chair” a common term in everyday conversations in the furniture market in Iran for these chairs never went out of fashion and have always been associated with intellectual debates that tend to take place in city center cafés, where artists and writers gather. Whenever there is a renovation project of any old building, the “Polish chair” is almost certainly considered as one of the options for furnishing the premises after the reconstruction is concluded. 

  1. Resumption of Polish-Iranian cooperation – bent furniture with carpets 

The lasting impression of the Polish chair story, and the very historical connection that it had with one of the most compassionate moments of the two nations’ recent history, brought about the realization of yet another collaboration between Polish-Iranian intellectuals.

This time the story began when a furniture and interior design studio, Behman in Tehran, was commissioned to furnish a recently renovated residence of the Polish ambassador in Tehran. Given the fact that the founder and design-lead of Behman has an academic background and worked as a guest lecturer at the University of Tehran, a friendly discussion with his excellency Polish ambassador led to the review of the story of Polish chair and its association with Polish refugees. Since the 80th anniversary of hosting Polish refugees in Iran, it was decided that a commemorative furniture design project be defined for the industrial design students of the School of Fine Arts in the University of Tehran.

The project was titled: “Cultural Heritage, Modern Values, and Practical Application: furniture design inspired by Iranian and Polish cultures”. The aim of this project was not only to commemorate the Polish cultural and technical contributions to Iranian industry and craft, but also to review the historical synopses that the two nations had in their previous cultural exchanges, namely the earlier story of Persian-Polonaise carpets.  Interestingly, the students conducted a liberal and thorough review from Polish and Iranian folklore to modern arts that further contributed to the enrichment of the project and designs. Unfortunately, the original scope of the project that was supposed to involve Iranian and Polish students of design was not materialized due to the outbreak of the global pandemic. Yet, despite the continuous lockdowns, travel restrictions, and other major hindrances, the momentum for the project never halted and albeit in a smaller scale was concluded by the end of 2020. 

From the total of eleven designs that were shortlisted for the exhibition, five were selected to be built by Behman design studio as functional prototypes. They will be show-cased at the Lodz Design Festival 2023 exhibition as well. 

The furniture pieces featured bent-wood frames with some Iranian twists, such as a closed-loop frame that was designed to be a make-shift rug attachment loom for its seating surface. Other designs included Polish textile dying color schemes juxtaposed with Iranian architectural elements. 

  1. Synesthetic design and sensory objects / design of objects for living in isolation 

The world, as we know it, is constantly changing. What seemed impossible three years ago, now has become part of our reality. New human experiences, technologies, and geopolitical situations. We observed some of those changes over the years, while others occurred surprisingly fast. 

One of the consequences of the growing speed of life, as well as global situations such as COVID-19 pandemic, is a transfer of significant parts of our lives into the virtual world, to which we, as complex and multi-sensual creatures, are not yet accustomed. By limiting sensory stimuli to sight and smell, refraining from haptic experiences, and growing individualization of our societies, we observe an alarming deterioration of the mental and physical condition of humanity as a whole.

“Ocularcentrism is a poorer experience of the world. The domination of sight and suppression of the other senses pushes us towards exclusion, isolation, and superficiality”, emphasizes Juhani Pallasmaa. 

Synesthetic design attempts to engage all human senses at a time, to make sure that the most common sense, sight, which provides 80% of information about the surrounding world, can be complimented by the sense of hearing, touch, smell, and taste.  As Jinsop Lee explains in his TED talk: “The theory of five senses is not only a useful tool to assess different experiences. It also allows for using the best possible experiences in design projects. Good design looks extraordinary. So why not make it smell, sound, or taste equally good?”.

Therefore, making students aware of the importance of a multisensory approach to design and encouraging them to use such solutions in their projects is extremely important. Projects that engage users on a neurological level are able to support them with struggles, such as mood disorders, anxiety, isolation or migration. Design alone will not solve global problems. However, educating designers on creating solutions that are based on scientific knowledge gives us the opportunity to participate in the process of saving it.

Projects proposed by students during PDSS 2021 showed how important it is for us to be in relationships (HOZOUR by Fatemeh Tohidifar), maintain physical touch (KENAAR by Negal Alimohammadi or MALU by Danial Tolouei Aznave), as well as connection with culture (ETHEREALITY by Fateme ShakouriRad). They also exemplified our human need for communication (DUGI-PEN-FRIEND by Amin Masoudi).


Edition 2021

We had an immense pleasure of working on a series of lectures and a project task called “Polish Design Summer School 2021. Design in support of human wellbeing with regard to isolation and reduced social interactions”, in cooperation with The Institute of Industrial Design, Polish Embassy in Iran, and Department of Industrial Design, Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Tehran. Our goal was to introduce the concept of synesthetic design, as well as encourage students to perceive their clients not only as consumers, but most of all as sentient beings.

As part of classes, we invited top Polish professionals specializing in human senses, to give a speech. Kama Wybieralska (Aurora Studio) talked about the importance of lighting, Justyna Puchalska focused on the 5th element of design, which is technology, Aleksandra Pawlowska explained the world’s oldest sense, that is smell, while Maria Przybyszewska introduced us to the sense of taste. The whole series of lectures was an extremely significant experience for both me and my colleagues, as the students were engaged, prepared, and determined to understand these topics. 

During our collaboration, the students of University of Tehran demonstrated their creativity and sensitivity towards designing sensual objects. Their ideas were well-thought-out, socially engaged, and answered actual human needs. The entire process was conducted under the supervision of the dean Maryam Khalili, which offered great support to both sides. I am grateful to both Mrs. Khalili and Mrs. Irena Kolakowska-Falkowska from the Polish Embassy, who came up with the idea and enforced a meticulous plan to combine design beyond the borders.

Over 30 students participated in the classes. The project ended with selecting the best 10 concepts, creating prototypes, and presenting them in the form of an exhibition and catalog.

The exhibition was on display:

  • 9-16 May 2022 Hozeh Hoonari, Isfahan/IRAN 
  • 14-17 June 2022 Safavi House, Isfahan/IRAN
  • 19-30 June 2022 Tehran Gallery, Department of Industrial Design, Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Tehran, Tehran/IRAN



Edition 2022

Continuing the concept of Polish Summer Design School 2021 with the opening of the borders, we decided to do a live workshop in Iran. Joanna Jurga and Fater Saadatniaki prepared a 3-day workshop under the slogan: “Challenge: synesthetic design principles applied to creation of the ambience and its artifacts in post-pandemic life”. The workshops were held in the third week of June in two locations: at Safavi House in Isfahan under the flag of Ivan Cultural Group, where participants were representatives of both design and architecture faculties, and at the Tehran University, where students came from design departments. Over 70 students participated in the classes. As a final effect of this summer school edition, students prepared 10 projects of objects for public spaces, forcing us to create real, interpersonal interactions.

One of the concepts was dedicated to the airport space, to enable kids to make new friends and have something to do while their parents are waiting for their luggage. Another one concerned children’s wards in hospitals and was designed to provide fun and relaxation during the hardships of treatment. The next project touched upon today’s digital nomads uniting around fire. Moreover, students introduced an idea of sensory paths in parks, as well as street furniture conducive to integration, for example, at universities. As part of the workshops, we also searched for solutions for swimming pools, prisons, and libraries. Together, the students noticed the need to create solutions that integrate and enhance communication in the real world. They also drew attention to the problem of alienation and shared their experiences with difficulties in functioning in a group.

We decided to prototype selected projects and exhibit them in Poland in 2023.

  1. Learning in the context of working across borders

We are confident that as lecturers we should share knowledge, interdisciplinary approach, and mental flexibility with our students, which allows them to easily adapt to the constantly changing world. Multicultural projects such as “Polish Design Summer School 2021” are a great start. We believe that as designers, researchers, and entrepreneurs we should do everything in our power to make knowledge about sense of security, biological mechanisms of human bodies, and our overall functioning, more accessible. This way future generations will easily design not only beautiful objects, but also environmentally-friendly ones, thanks to which we will grow and expand, instead of merely surviving.


The main idea behind DAB is to bring design awareness to various corners of the world, in order to use the knowledge and experience of lecturers and students all around the globe.

Science that includes intercultural and trans-ethnic understanding is the basis for finding solutions to global problems, such as armed conflicts, migration, climate change, and environmental crises.

DAB is not only “carrying the torch of education” in the countries of the global South. It is about building relationships and friendships, as well as learning to work in interdisciplinary teams in a world of constant change.

As part of DAB, we want to send lecturers to schools in the farthest corners of the globe, help create curricula, share knowledge, organize workshops and student exchanges, as well as show the works of young designers from less visible regions of the world on the international stage.

  1. Further cooperation plan

Our plan is to promote Iranian design in Poland, by showing the effects of cooperation, as well as the history of Polish-Iranian design relations, at the exhibition at the Institute of Industrial Design in Warsaw and during the Lodz Design Festival 2023. Apart from student projects, we wish to show Iranian craftsmanship that uses traditional local methods to create contemporary functional forms, which fit the trend of creating objects locally using resources and raw materials without the need to transport them over long distances. This way we can prove that countries such as Iran, often overlooked in thinking about contemporary design, have a lot to offer in the international arena. Our goal is to go further into the world with the idea of ​​DAB. Not only do we plan to create a short-term cooperation, but also develop long-term projects, allowing for the modernization of the existing structures of design science in Iran and creation of long-distance relationships, as well as intellectual exchange.

Joanna Jurga PhD, Fater Saadatniaki MS



Editor: Kamy Wojtkiewicz