Contextual influences

During the transition period from colonial control to independent nations or nation-states throughout the 1930s to the 1960s, many newly established or reconstituted nations witnessed an identity crisis (Khan, 1984). Many of these countries, on their dogmatic path to self-determination, also fed into nationalist sentiments and vociferous demands for social change. Hence, these newly autonomous nations often found themselves in a conflict between the modernisation process and aspirations of nationalism. Chad- irji’s career began developing during the apex of this period of transition and emerging nationalistic ideals.

Iraq, as a modern Arab state, was built on the dispersal of the defunct Ottoman Empire; however, its roots go back thousands of years to the Sumerian culture and the Babylonian Empire established around 7000 BC (Kultermann, 1982). Unfortunately, many of the architectural monuments of this early period fell into ruin or were engulfed by centuries of drifting desert sands. The peak in the architectural development of Iraq occurred in the 9th-century Abbasid Caliphate and continued for several hundred years. This period is often termed the golden age of Islam. The Mongol invasion and later Ottoman control of Arab lands inaugurated several periods of cultural stagnation; however, during the Mamluk period (1780-1831), some modernisation was introduced and the Mamluks created an army, established industries, cleared canals, and even founded a printing press (Metz, 1988). However, in the early part of the 19th century, a severe flood and plague enabled the Ottomans to regain control of Iraq. For the most part, the Ottomans administered their Arab and Kurdish vilayets to benefit themselves but did little to improve social conditions or contribute to cultural development. Even so, they did form a class of public servants, which set the stage for an emerging Iraqi intelligentsia.

At the end of the 19th century and by the beginning of the 20th century, Iraq witnessed drastic political and economic change. The Ottoman occupation came to an abrupt end after World War 1. In April 1920, the Arab provinces of the former Ottoman Empire were carved up: the League of Nations gave Britain a mandate to administer Iraq while France was accorded the territories of Greater Syria. The British had a daunting task to turn this new nation, a volatile and complex mix of ethnic groups and religions, into a modern self-determining state. Iraq gained full independence in 1932; unfortunately, the British had failed abjectly to fulfil the League of Nations mandate to build a sustainable and stable state. Instead, there were three widely disparate provinces and demographic areas formed from the three former vilayets: Mosul with a majority Kurdish population in the north, the primarily Sunni Baghdad region, and the Shi’ite-dominated southern province of Basra, all of which were united under an imported Hashemite king, King Faisal I. The new king himself had witnessed upheaval in his own small nation-state, the Sharifate of Makkah and the Hijaz, and had no option but to stand by helplessly as it was annexed by Ibn Saud, with the help of his American and British co-conspirators, as part of his newly created and unified kingdom.

The Iraqis were not happy with the Hashemite ruler or with his successor despite his modernist outlook. Thus, during the 1958 military coup that culminated in the Iraqi revolution, King Faisal II and much of his family were assassinated (1958). However, despite his shortcomings, King Faisal II had ambitiously tried to modernise the country; he established the Iraq Development Board who were responsible for devising irrigation schemes, housing projects, land reclamation, and agricultural development. Many of the members of the board were well connected and well educated; some of them had studied abroad.

King Faisal II and the Development Board had grandiose schemes for rebuilding Baghdad; they were keen to modernise its public spaces and buildings. In order to create iconic buildings for a new modern Iraq, the Iraq Development Board invited several internationally prominent architects to Baghdad. They wanted modernist, visionary architects. These included Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Gio Ponti and Alvar Aalto. These prominent architects were to design buildings that would establish Baghdad as a modern city (Bahoora, 2020). In 1954, Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus movement, began plans to build a new and modern University of Baghdad Campus for 12,000 students. The plan to build a university was delayed. In 1955, Le Corbusier was commissioned to build an Olympic gymnasium; he submitted various designs for a sports complex that included a stadium, gymnasium, and swimming pool (Wid- mer, 2014). The plans were never realised, but eventually the design for the gymnasium became a reality in 1980, thanks to the efforts of Rifat Chadirji. It was named the Saddam Hussein Sports Complex. In 1957 the famous American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, was asked by the king to design an opera house. Seeing the potential of Baghdad as a new hub for Western architecture, Wright also campaigned to design a new campus for Baghdad University, despite knowing Gropius had already submitted plans, as well as other structures on an unoccupied island in the Tigris. Wright’s scheme was never realised, as King Faisal was assassinated a year later and the new revolutionary government was not interested in his bourgeois designs (WYNC, 2007). While these famous architects produced good designs, most were not particularly appropriate for the Iraqi environment nor its culture; in effect, none of these buildings had any traces of the great and monolithic Islamic architectural traditions which to many orientalists symbolised the grandeur of ancient Mesopotamia and the Golden Age of early Islamic Iraq. The most important project that came to fruition was Gropius’s designs for the University of Baghdad. The cornerstone for the project, whose inception had begun in the 1950s, was eventually laid in 1963.

The assassination of the king and his entourage during the 1958 revolution resulted in making Iraq a republic ruled by a Baathist nationalist, Abdelkarim Qasim. The new era was characterised by the implementation of modernisation programmes (many of which had, in fact, been promoted years earlier by the Iraq Development Board), a rise in urban populations, and an autocratic government. A provisional constitution was declared shortly after the revolution, but the army soon took complete control and a series of authoritarian regimes ensued. Various conflicts and issues in his government lead to the downfall of Qasim who was executed in 1961 when a new government was established. Conflict and dissent continued amongst the various government factions until it was overthrown in 1968. The new revolutionary command council assumed full authority. Hostility and strife amongst the government leaders continued for the next decade and the aggressive former revolutionary, Saddam Hussein, eventually assumed full control, becoming president in 1979.

However, this turbulent period was also marked by increasing economic gain in terms of oil revenue. This latter was to have a significant impact on the architecture and buildings of the new republic (Kultermann, 1982). During the period between the 1960s and the 1980s, many projects in Iraq were assigned primarily to local architects in an attempt to create a positive and culturally relevant image for the urban environment. Until the 1950s, most of the modern proposals did not respect or have anything in common with the traditional architecture; according to Pieri, it was “common for wealthy families to buy European house designs from local real estate agents who brought them from Europe, and then use local craftsmen for the construction” (Pieri, 2009:34). However, another design tendency, mainly adopted by British architects, was the habit of using classical and historical decorative elements and referencing Mesopotamian and Abbasid civilisations. These were characterised by geometric forms, lively colours, and rich materials and proportions (Al-Faqih, 1989). By the 1960s, designs for large-scale urban renewal schemes, large buildings and complexes, as well as private homes, public schools, and offices began to adhere to traditional architectural principles. Such a desire to embrace the past within the new is a typical construct in newly emergent nations, particularly in post-colonial Arab countries. A contemporary renaissance of the richness and diversity of the Arab architectural style is therefore followed by a response to the aesthetic requirements of the newly independent societies (Serageldin, 1989).

In this rapidly changing context, Chadirji began to analyse the traditional settlement patterns in Iraq and decided to modify and adapt them to serve contemporary needs. Even though he was an admirer of modern principles

(El-Shorbagy, 2011), as exemplified by his efforts to have Le Corbusier’s gymnasium constructed, he still experimented with the authentic traditional building methods, including traditional thermal control practices, such as courtyards, natural ventilation, reflected light, and mashrabiyas or screened walls (Bazarov, 1987). While Chadirji acknowledged the inappropriateness of some traditional methods in dealing with the complexities of contemporary demands, he also endeavoured to adapt them in a new construct - that of a regional architectural language which reflected the past but also incorporated the advances of the present. For Chadirji, vernacular architecture was the base from which he could start developing his own contemporary and signature style (Al-Faqih, 1989). He had already experimented with his new stylistic innovations throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. His designs regularly incorporated the arches and monolithic piers inspired by vernacular architecture. In striving to create a balance between old and new, Chadirji designed buildings with traditional Islamic exteriors, but whose interiors were inspired by functional European designs (Nooradin, 2004). During his period working for government institutions, Chadirji developed the notion of architectural compatibility as a guideline for architects involved in new projects for the city of Baghdad. His premise was that an amalgamation between the old and the new would better guarantee architectural coherence in designs that incorporated elements of both contemporary and traditional contexts (Cantacuzino, 1982).

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