Ala Younis, Plan for Greater Baghdad (2015)
Two- and three-dimensional prints, drawings, archival and found materials, and model
Master Plan for the City of Baghdad, by London’s Minoprio & Spencely & P.W. MacFarlane, flagged with the locations of projects commissioned to international architects. Chart of Gauge Readings for Tigris River overlaid with Sun Records for Baghdad. Collection Fondation Le Corbusier [FLC 29554, 33847, 33846]
In his first visit to Baghdad, Le Corbusier asks Iraq’s Director of Physical Education: “A swimming pool with waves?” Enthusiasm over a pool with artificial waves was stoked by their mutual interest in aqua sports. Le Corbusier’s raised arm gestures a backstroke. Artist Jawad Salim welcomes Frank Lloyd Wright to an exhibition organized by the Artists Association. Architect Rifat Chadirji is on the far right.
A confident Le Corbusier is pleased but not surprised to receive a telegram informing him that his design had been approved. On 14 July 1958, a military coup overthrows Iraq’s monarchy, and announces the formation of the Republic. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation writes to the Portuguese Ambassador in England asking him to propose a Portuguese Stadium project to the Iraqi Minister of Development: “There is no doubt that Le Corbusier is an exceptional architect, but his services will certainly be expensive. There is no certainty that he is an expert in the building of stadia. We might be able to arrange a meeting to exchange views … we would then be able to supplant Mr. Le Corbusier and make progress in gaining acceptance for our bid.”
Le Corbusier arrives in Baghdad with 120 new execution plans. To exit Iraq, he needs a permit from the Military Governor. [FLC P4.5.21]The new Prime Minister, Brigadier Abdel Karim Kassem, commissions Chadirji to design 3 monuments. Chadirji takes the Baghdad Master Plan to Kassem, who has been hospitalized, to convince him to not change the Stadium’s location. Kassem has just survived a failed assassination attempt, and will soon after greet the crowds and announce a “future water canal that will link the Tigris to the Euphrates.” Image from Constantinos and Emma Doxiadis Foundation collection.
The location of the Stadium marked on the Baghdad Town-controlled mosaic constructed from air photographs taken in January 1951 by Hunting Aerosurveys Ltd, London. A small drawing shows the shift in the Stadium’s location between the English town planner’s orientation and that of Constantinos Doxiadis’s. Excerpts from answers given by Le Corbusier to questions on the Stadium project. [FLC 02602A, 00345, P4.5.54, P4.5.55]
Of the three monuments commissioned to Chadirji only two were built: the Monument to the Unknown Soldier (1959) and the base of the July Revolution / Liberty Monument, for which Jawad Salim realized bronze sculptures to illustrate the pre- and post-revolution eras. A Philips lighting expert advised to illuminate the latter with yellow light to give it an Assyrian look, while the former is illuminated with blue light to give it a contemporary look.
Amendments to the Sport Center plans continue [FLC 29569, 29575]. The Ministry of Planning takes over the work of the Development Board, and its building, designed by Gio Ponti and located across the new bridge traversing the Tigris, is almost finished. A stamp celebrating the passage of 1200 years since the founding of Baghdad. The city was designed as a kilometre-long circle, with rings of functional structures situated along the inside of its walls. It was not built until two astrologers advised on the most auspicious date and time for its construction; 30 July 762 at 1:57 pm.
A letter from Ph. Roulier and G. M. Présenté to the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, Baghdad, dated 2 April 1963. [FLC P4.7] Magazines report on people claiming to have seen Kassem’s face on moon, and some on an egg, after he is killed in a military coup led by a coalition of Ba'athists, army units, and pan-Arab groups. Kassem had issued Public Law 80, which seized ownership of 99.5% of the Anglo-American-owned Iraqi Petroleum Company and established an Iraqi national oil company to oversee the export of Iraqi oil.
President Abdel Salam Aref is a popular and ever-smiling man who is said to have been against executing Kassem and airing scenes from his execution on national TV. He is keen on initiating and completing established development and construction projects himself. The year is marked by the nationalization of all banks and over thirty major businesses. To regain investors’ confidence, the government pushes well-known individuals to acquire stakes in the market.
Le Corbusier drowns while swimming at Cap-Martin.
Welcoming words and speeches. Journalists and tribesmen escort Aref to his Soviet-made helicopter. Soon, his flight becomes unstable. Hovering over palm groves on the edge of Tigris, Aref rushes to beat the crash and jumps out of the helicopter but falls just at the dirt edge of the river and meets his death. Iraq Consult’s civil engineer Ihsan Sherzad oversees the construction work on Gulbenkian’s winning stadium design, “Malaab Al Shaab” [The People’s Stadium]. The stadium is built on the same land parcel that will host the Gymnasium building a decade later. In the inaugural football match, the Iraqi national team scores the first goal, yet loses 1-2 to Benfica, the Portuguese team.
The new master plan for Baghdad by the Polish Miasprojekt, is chosen, following a public tender, for its non-aligned, non-colonial tendency. Le Corbusier’s archives contain a correspondence between him and a Yugoslavian architect who he was interviewing for the supervision of the Baghdad Sport Center work. The architect sends a letter in English, confirming that his English language lessons have improved his readiness to work in Baghdad.
A photo shows Walter Gropius standing in front of the University Tower, the only piece other than the Monument to the Open Mind that had been completed by this year from his designs for Baghdad University. Gropius had been asked to amend his low-rise design to include a tower that was to reflect Baghdad’s new modern face; the tower’s constitution from concrete was essential. Such was the case as well for the many housing projects that came up around the city. A bloodless military coup led by Aref’s ex-Deputy and the Baath Party overthrows Aref’s successor, who happened to be his younger brother.
Iraq Consult is about to celebrate 20 years of providing consulting services in the construction sector. It is the beginning of the decade-long heyday of Chadirji’s architectural achievement, which includes the Central Post, Telegraph, and Telephone Offices.
Correspondence, facilitated by Iraq Consult, suggests Iraq might be the sole heir to Le Corbusier’s unpaid fees, as Fondation Le Corbusier cannot be recognized as an inheriting body by Iraqi law. Other correspondence indicates the government’s decision to move forward with the construction of the Gymnasium. [FLC P4.9.13] Polish Miasprojekt presents a new Master Plan for Baghdad, which, in the glow of the 1973 oil revenues, exudes happiness like never before. Polservice’s Director says: ‘The masterplan of Baghdad was for us the first big consulting commission, which we won in an international tender in spite of strong competition.” [‘Bagdad i codziennosc, Rynki zagraniczne, 56 (1974), p8]
The outstanding architecture of the Tobacco Monopoly, Offices and Stores, designed by Chadirji / Iraq Consult in 1966, is almost completely covered with trees. IAA7233 © AKAA/Rifat Chadirji (photographer)
Construction begins on the Gymnasium only. Architectural drawing is co-produced by Iraq Consult. [FLC 32930] Chadirji is arrested and sentenced to life in prison for insufficiently collaborating with a potential British franchise in Iraq. Saddam Hussein is the strongest ever as Deputy to President Ahmad Hassan Al-Bakr. His surprise visits among people and facilities in town are aired on national TV; he answers to the people’s requests on a dedicated direct landline in his office, including requests from the families of imprisoned architects and engineers.
An image of the Gymnasium’s construction phases. [FLC L3.15.38, L3.15.39] Saddam apprehends power from Ahmad Hassan Al-Bakr. The imprisoned Chadirji authors three books on his architectural practice, on theory, and on modern projects in Iraq. On visits, his wife smuggles photocopies of books and magazines to him hidden in homemade meals. Chadirji spends his time reading, writing, and jogging with other prisoners in the hallways of Abu Ghraib Prison.
Construction of the Gymnasium is completed, and the building is named after the new president. Posted online is a photo of a blackened out cover of the “Saddam Hussein Gymnasium” pamphlet published by the Iraqi Tourism Board in the 1980s. The spaces left between the words suggest that someone used a felt tip pen to cover up Saddam’s name. This happened similarly with a Wikipedia page originally created in 2008, when, in 2014, a user succeeded in renaming the page on the project as “Baghdad Gymnasium”. The government spends more than $7 billion to give Baghdad a facelift, and adorns it with historical and modern monuments, as well as depictions of the President.
“Of the things we must take into consideration at this time is the importance of the Youth and of supporting them and the activities they take part in, and their economic, social, and political effects on the State’s policy. Here is why such a gymnasium is an essential need for our youth: this gymnasium is one of the most essential outcomes of the Revolution, for Iraq’s young people and for supporting and developing its sportsmanship. Of the most special characteristics of this gymnasium is its novelty in Iraq. Together with the Al-Shaab Stadium and the Olympic Pool, which will be built next to the Gymnasium, the complex will mark the beginning of a Sport Center. The State Commission for Buildings is proud to present this Gymnasium to our sportsmen. Finished in record time, the Gymnasium’s utmost architectural distinction is considered a great example of the contemporary architectural arts in Iraq. We wish for our sportsmen’s efforts to succeed, and here is an initiative that furthers our support and giving.” – State Commission for Buildings, 14/1/1980. First: General Information 1- Location: The Gymnasium is located in Baghdad’s Rasafa (east of the Tigris), near Al-Shaab International Stadium. 2- Total cost: 6.5 million Dinars 3- Built area: 8980 meters squared 4- Commissioner: Ministry of Housing and Constructions – State Commission for Buildings 5- Architect: Le Corbusier 6- Construction: 22 months 7- Construction start date: 15/3/1978 8- Date of completion: 14/1/1980 [FLC P4.10.233-030]
Chadirji leaves Baghdad for good. He lands at Harvard University in the United States.
Answering to Saddam’s inquiries about who Babylon’s historical sites had belonged to, archaeologists showed him the King’s stamp on the bricks. He orders the phrase ‘To King Nebuchadnezzar in the reign of Saddam Hussein’ to be inscribed on bricks inserted into the walls of the ancient city of Babylon during a reconstruction project. A mural depicts Saddam Hussein, in military garb, humbly receiving a palm tree from the mighty Nebuchadnezzar. Blue skies lay behind them, and below are scenes of desert battles from different epochs.
A stamp celebrating the gymnasium, issued as part of the 1981 series dedicated to architectural monuments in Baghdad such as the University’s Open Mind Arch and the Palace of Conferences, on a postcard sent to Yugoslavia. A translation of the message is unavailable. Iraq’s general orientation for commissions and contracts is towards socialist countries and has led to the recruitment of thousands of expats. There are more than 12,000 Poles working in Iraq by 1986. [Stanek, L. (2012) ‘Miastoprojekt Goes Abroad’] “Baghdad Plans, and the Old Rivers of Iraq,” one of several books in the series “Studies of Baghdad’s History and Plans,” published by the Iraqi Academy of Sciences.
Adel Ogla’s concert celebrating the new year at the Gymnasium. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait ignites the Gulf War.
The numbers on the map indicate targets in Baghdad struck by coalition aircraft in the first twenty-four hours of the war. Chadirji buildings are bombed the same year he publishes his extensive monograph “Al Ukhaider & Crystal Palace” on the link between modern architectural projects in Iraq by him and others and the traditional arts and crafts of Iraqi artists and architects.
Saddam swims across the Tigris three times to counter US media claims of his sickness. He speaks to the media and his entourage about training his double to swim across the river, and how his double could only do it once.
Following the Fall of Baghdad, aka the ‘end’ of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the US army stations part of it troops in the Gymnasium and the Al-Shaab Stadium. A former sportsman pledges to the media to help relocate the troops from the soccer field. Other architectural monuments are attacked or destroyed including the Cabinet of Ministers, designed by Chadirji. A more than 40-year old statue of Kassem, cut into two parts, is found in the backyard of the National Museum in Baghdad. 2006. The US army leaves the Gymnasium site. Chadirji is invited to reconstruct the Unknown Solider monument in the same square as the old one.
Searching for the Gymnasium on Google maps, the site materializes as a collection of photographs posted by individuals in an effort to render this and other sites identifiable following 2003.
A map of every car bomb explosion in Baghdad since 2003. A political movement organizes a crowd meeting at the Gymnasium as part of its campaign for parliamentary elections.
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