City of Mirage. Baghdad from Wright to Venturi is the most complete study to date on the subject of Modern Western architecture in Baghdad, in the 1950s and at the beginning of 1980s. Presented as a travelling exhibition along with a publication, the study puts forward different points of view on a model of urban renewal entrusted to big architectural firms, and on the relation of East and West, modernity and its idioms.
In the 1950s, while Europe was still recovering from the massive destruction it had inflicted upon itself and Spain had sunk into poverty (physical and moral), Iraq, having recently gained its independence, and with the huge profits from oil, was embarking upon an ambitious modernization project. It was guided by Iraqi architects the young king Faisal II, with the consent of the Western powers, fearful that the country, poor and unstable, might be sucked into the orbit of the Soviet Union. This cultural modernization was not only restricted to architecture and planning but it also extended to the plastic arts and, especially, poetry.
The recently created Development Board did not merely devote itself to large infrastructures; it also commissioned sporting, cultural and civic facilities to renowned Western architects with the aim to turning Baghdad into a great capital city, the capital of the Near East. By chance, Wright, Le Corbusier, Gropius, Aalto, Sert, Ponti, Dudok and Doxiadis, among others, carried out their last projects in the Iraqi capital. The king’s assassination in 1958 and two decades of coups d’ état, up to Saddam Hussein’s rise to power, stopped some of the projects being carried out. Nevertheless, despite the instability of the 1960s, Sert built the American embassy (now bombed and abandoned); Gropius, the largest university campus in the Middle East; Ponti a large ministerial building (also bombed); Doxiadis, an extensive residential quarter (now tragically known as Sadr City, into which two million inhabitants are crammed), and Le Corbusier, his last, posthumous, work: sports facilities (built at the end of the 1970s).
In the early eighties, Saddam Hussein, wishing to turn Baghdad into the capital of the non-aligned countries, resumed Faisal II’s urban planning policy: Bofill and Venturi, among others, planned residential, commercial and financial districts that were never built, and entered the international competition for the great national mosque. The war between Iraq and Iran, the Gulf Wars and the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime put an end to this new dream (or was it a mad delusion of grandeur?).
After almost thirty years of war, twenty of embargo and two invasions, what remains of these ambitious urban policies, when Baghdad competed with Paris and London?
(excerpt from the presentation of the exhibition)
Curator / Pedro Azara
Organization / Área de Actividades Culturales de la Demarcación de Barcelona del COAC
Production / Demarcación de Barcelona del COAC