Monday, April 16, 2007

Frank Loyd Wright designs for Baghdad

Phronesisaical blog turned me on to this fascinating story at KuiperCliff on Frank Loyd Wright.
American architect Frank Lloyd Wright had been involved in plans to modernise the Iraqi capital Baghdad, located on the plain between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. He visited the city in May 1957, as an old man nearing his 90th birthday, and, inspired both by Arab and Persian art and architecture, began to draft a series of blueprints for a new city.

King Faisal II invited several prominent architects to contribute ideas to establish Baghdad as a modern world city. This included Le Corbusier, Gio Ponti and Walter Gropius. Faisal was assassinated in 1958, after which a military junta seized power, setting the scene for the modern history of Iraq with which we are depressingly familiar. None of Wright’s buildings were ever constructed, the revolutionary government deeming them “too grandiose”, although some of the other plans were later implemented: Gropius’ Baghdad University (1960), Ponti’s Ministry of Planning building (1958), and a Le Corbusier sports hall (the Saddam Hussein Gymnasium, erected in 1981).

So Wright was enthralled with the mythology of 8th century Baghdad under caliph Harun al-Rashid, a memory still central to Pan-Arab utopianism and I'll assume the identity of the general culture at large. That's an interesting contrast to his peers who rejected out right any romanticism. I think it's a safe bet to say that these grandiose plans will not be revisited if Baghdad can ever be resurrected from its current chaos and dysfunction. I would like to think though that if this disaster ever comes to a close that prominent architects may converge in a spirit of reconciliation to take on the reclamation of a once historic and influential city. So for now we will have to endure the bad decision to fragment Baghdad into security sectors.

No comments: