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Rifat Chadirji (1926)

As a westernised Iraqi from a wealthy intellectual family, Chadirji learned to appreciate art and culture from childhood (Serageldin, 1989). A multi-disciplinarian, Chadirji is not only a renowned architect, but also a photographer, teacher, author, theoretician, and critic. His father Kamil Chadirji was the founder and former leader of the Iraq National Democratic Party (Pieri, 2009). Chadirji was born in Iraq in 1926; he moved to London in 1946 to study architecture at the Hammersmith School of Arts and Crafts. In 1952, immediately after graduation, he returned to Iraq and began working as an architect. Between 1954 and 1963 he held various government positions, starting as the director of the Building Department of Waqaf (Kultermann, 1982), and finally becoming the director general of the Planning Department in the Ministry of Housing. He also established Iraq Consult IQC. This came to a halt in 1978 when Chadirji was sent to prison by President Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr for refusing to work on a government project (Pieri, 2009). Two years later he was released by Saddam Hussein, the new president of Iraq. He was then appointed counsellor to the Mayoralty of Baghdad, a position he held until 1982. In 1983, he fled to the United States and began working at Harvard University, where he began to establish himself on the international scene, both as an educator and an architect. Chadirji initially started as a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and then stayed at Harvard University until 1992.

He returned years later as a visiting scholar at the Graduate School of Education (Graham Foundation, 2018). Shortly after his arrival, in recognition of his efforts to preserve traditional architectural elements, he was appointed as a committee member for the AKAA (1983). He was also a visiting scholar at the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, Department of Architecture at MIT. Chadirji’s architectural prowess was quickly and suitably recognised: he was nominated honorary fellow of a number of renowned international institutions such as the Royal Institute of British Architects (1982) and the American Institute of Architects (1987).

Throughout his distinguished career, Chadirji achieved an impressive number of awards, for example the bronze medal in the Barcelona International Furniture Design (1964), the Sheikh Zayed Book Award (2008), and the Tamayouz Architectural Lifetime Achievement Award (2015), which is given annually to the pioneers of the Iraqi architecture (Smith, 2016). Later in November of the same year, he received an honorary PhD from Coventry University, the United Kingdom. Moreover, in 2017, the Rifat Chadirji Prize was created in his honour, as part of the Tamayouz Award for Excellence; this prize was dedicated to architects involved in the reconstruction of destroyed monuments and buildings in Iraq. Most outstandingly, in 1986, Chadirji received the Chairman’s Award from the AKAA in recognition of his lifelong commitment to developing an innovative architectural style that merges key modern architectural principles of the 20th century with those established in earlier centuries as part of a unique and vibrantly rich Islamic cultural and architectural heritage.

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