« | Home | »

At the Center for Architecture

Tags: |

Frank Lloyd Wright, Plan for a Greater Baghdad, 1957-59

The former Saddam Hussein Gymnasium stands on the east side of the Tigris in Baghdad, next to Iraq’s national football stadium. It was built between 1973 and 1980 to designs made by Le Corbusier in the late 1950s. He also planned a giant stadium and other facilities in advance of a mooted Olympic bid, but only the gym was built. His designs for the Olympic project were on show at the V&A a few years ago, but City of Mirages: Baghdad 1952-82, at the Center for Architecture in New York until 5 May, puts the work in a larger context.

Most of the 15 architects in the show were commissioned by the Iraqi Development Board, established in 1950 under King Faisal II after a renegotiated oil deal brought in massive new revenues. Frank Lloyd Wright’s unrealised plan for a Greater Baghdad included an opera house, museums, a university, shopping malls, and a 300-foot statue of the caliph Harun al-Rashid. The opera house was never built, but Baghdad University eventually underwent a total renovation at the hands of Walter Gropius in the late 1950s.

Walter Gropius, TAC (The Architects’ Collaborative) and Hisham A. Munir, design for mosque on the University of Baghdad campus, 1957

In 1954, the American state department began inviting modernist architects to design new embassies and missions: Eero Saarinen for London, Marcel Breuer for The Hague, Edward Durrell Stone for New Delhi. The architects were required to work in ‘an architectural form representative of the United States’ but also to show ‘neighbourly sympathy’ (Saarinen’s concrete building in Grosvenor Square was clad in Portland stone). For Baghdad they hired Josep Lluís Sert, the dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. His embassy, on the west bank of the Tigris, was made up of a chancery, an ambassador’s residence and a series of gardens, parts of which were open to the public.

Josep Lluís Sert, design for screened windows for US Embassy, Baghdad, 1955-59

It wasn’t used for long: the United States abandoned the embassy in the early 1970s. And they didn’t return for it in 2003; diplomats took up instead in the Republican Palace, and now work and live in a giant, nearly windowless bunker that cost more than a billion dollars to build. Sert’s embassy, though inside the Green Zone, is a bombed-out shell. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs uses its courtyard as a parking lot.

Comments are closed.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • Timothy Rogers on Fifa v. the FBI: What stake the US has in the ongoing tragicomedy of the FiFa World-Cup selection process is unclear. There is still no mass market for the sport in t...
    • Timothy Rogers on One Cubit the More: Yes, the talk (or essay) was a deliberative, thoughtful one. The cubit is used as a quantitative measure to indicate the amount of scientific knowled...
    • AndrewL on One Cubit the More: Thank you for the link, Timothy. I must admit, I had naively assumed it would be a "shoulders of giants" talk too, but it is so much better than that...
    • Timothy Rogers on One Cubit the More: Here is the link to the talk, which was published in the August 1963 issue of Encounter. It is really about intellectual modesty and clarity about ou...
    • AndrewL on One Cubit the More: In case anyone else is looking for the original Bible verse, as I was, I think it is Matthew 6:27: "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit t...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

Advertisement
Advertisement