Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Systems - (Ph.D.)


New Jersey School of Architecture

First Advisor

Zeynep Celik

Second Advisor

Rosemary Wakeman

Third Advisor

Toby Craig Jones

Fourth Advisor

Nukhet Varlik

Fifth Advisor

Karen A. Franck


Abadan is the most prominent of all the oil company towns the British Petroleum Company built in Southwest Iran. Located at the border of Iran and present-day Iraq, by the mid twentieth century Abadan not only accommodated the world’s largest refinery, it had also become Iran’s most populous industrial city. This dissertation focuses on the process of urban development on Abadan Island between 1908 and 1933. Drawing on primary archival documents and secondary sources, this dissertation discusses how Abadan’s establishment and its changing urban form and spatial organization were the product of broader historical processes. Imperial intelligence and practical requirements of the oil industry helped determine the location of the refinery in 1908. Abadan was initially designed in 1909 as a fenced-in oil camp, its urban form representing the vernacular expression of industrial needs. The rapid growth of the refinery, particularly after WWI, turned the company town into a sprawling industrial landscape, with three separate residential quarters, where British employees resided in spacious residences on one end, international migrant laborers overcrowded barrack-type shacks in the middle, and local workmen lived in indigenous compounds on the other end. Driven by economic rationality, industrial order, and colonial ideology, the spatial structure of the Abadan refinery was engineered to accomplish the Company’s larger economic, social, and political goals. This pattern continued until 1924 when the Company management adopted a comprehensive

plan and incorporated some elements of model company towns into Abadan’s spatial-physical structure to ameliorate the difficulties and inequalities created by rapid industrialization. The dissertation shows how urban reformation as well as town planning and design practices implemented between 1924 and 1933 aimed to boost industrial efficiency and prevent labor militancy by increasing the Company’s control over space and populations, while also addressing pressing urban issues, such as housing and public health.



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