29 June 2014


iraq parliment copy 2
From the office of Zahad Hadid and Assemblage, via the Architect's Newspaper

The politics expressed through The Crafted City are local in nature. That's where I focus my writing, and I believe that good local is a building block for good global. Yet a recent important architectural competition has jumped out for commentary. The government of Iraq has commissioned this one for its new parliament building in Baghdad. Along with the trials of everything swirling around that country, the Iraqi's are making a 'monumental' mistake in the selection of who will design this building.

A young London architecture firm, Assemblage, produced the winning scheme, a design that amassed 88 out of 100 points. Zaha Hadid, the third place finisher, received 76 points. Hadid's firm is the one currently in negotiations to design the building for the government. Hadid is Iraqi, via Great Britain.

The Architect's Newspaper:

Details are sparse during the period of Zaha Hadid replacing Assemblage. First, over the two year span, Assemblage was never officially notified that they had lost the bid. Although, in private they knew they were frozen out of conversation. Second, leading Iraqi architectural critic Ihsan Fethi said there has been a veil of secrecy as he has tried several times to see the plan for the parliamentary building. Finally, the Iraqi Council of Representatives never had a chance to choose the winner selected by the RIBA judges.

The Architect's Newspaper, and several other websites contain a few pictures of Assemblages' scheme, a design that is monumental, yet manages to tie-in and weave together the surrounding city fabric. One can see at a glance the opportunity for discovery, for procession, for a place for the democratic process to thrive. The more I find out about this proposal, the more I like and appreciate what it could symbolize for Iraq.

Then there is the Zaha Hadid scheme. At this writing, I can only find one image of it; a picture of a big blob of an 'icon', perched upon a ribboned base. I can't read a similar opportunity for symbolism and scale in this design- it seems fairly impenetrable. Its perimetric geometry has been taken down a boring road that veers oddly toward something that is grandiose yet dull at the same time- a lazy response from the Hadid office. Perhaps I'm missing something; after all, I've only seen one picture; I'm prepared to have it explained to me how this is
worthy of a great architect. Third place? Twelve points difference? From what I know, I'd have graded it far lower.

In the end, this project probably will never be built, it least in the form presented. At this writing, the country of Iraq faces a future of uncertainty. As the political dynamics change, old leaders will go, and new leaders will come in. The new leaders tend to want their own buildings. The current leadership has made a bad choice on a building design to represent their country; it more accurately reflects their own true character. They have selected an icon of a building, to be sure. Overbearing, remote, and exclusionary- something that stands aloof from the City and Country. A building for despots.

And ISIS had declared a "Islamic State'. I wonder what kind of building they would come up with?

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