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Chadirji’s oeuvre

Rifat Chadirji, in his decades-long architectural career, designed many different building types, with works ranging in scale from single-family houses to large public buildings. The development and progression of his ideas and beliefs can be traced throughout his architectural portfolio. Like many other young architects, he was initially influenced by European designs to which he added a few supplementary traditional elements. As he matured as an architect, his designs also matured, becoming more indicative of his strong views of preserving cultural heritage. Although Chadirji was described as a modernist at heart (Al-Khalil, 1991), his style considerably changed once he became exposed to his country’s traditional architectural forms. For example, during his time with the Department of Awqaf (or charitable affairs), he specialised in the restoration of old mosques. Such opportunities enabled him to better appreciate the architectural heritage of his homeland. By the end of his career, his own signature style had evolved into a visually impressive harmonious synthesis of form, a congenial combination of tradition and modernism. This blending of old and new was first expressed in 1972 in the Hamood Villa in Baghdad (Figure 2.5). This house is one of his most famous residential projects and represents a clear sense of Iraqi identity (Kultermann, 1982). Even almost fifty years on, the villa is a delightful rendering of traditional arches and brickwork in a very contemporary and timeless style.

Adopting a contemporary approach, Chadirji revived the motif of the traditional Mesopotamian reed house (mudhif). These were built on floating artificial reed islands constructed for millennia by the Marsh Arabs in the Euphrates delta of southern Iraq. Many of these tall elegant reed structures are no more, destroyed by Saddam Hussein’s armies and drainage schemes in the 1990s (Thompson, 2003). One of the most representative designs for Chadirji’s vision was his own house located in Waziriyya District in Baghdad (Figures 2.6). He revitalised traditional architectural elements by incorporating multiple exterior transitional spaces such as courtyards, porches, and patios; the inside was skilfully connected to the outside through large windows framed by mashrabiyas. The house was built on a small site that had once housed stables, the small size of the lot resulted in a very contemporary open-space plan without hallways. The main shared areas - living

S Hamood Villa, Baghdad, Iraq, by Rifat Chadirji

Figure 2.S Hamood Villa, Baghdad, Iraq, by Rifat Chadirji

Source: Kamil and Rifat Chadirji Photographic Archive, courtesy of Aga Khan Documentation Center, MIT Libraries (AKDC@MIT)

Rifat Chadirji Residence, Baghdad, Iraq, by Rifat Chadirji

Figure 2.6 Rifat Chadirji Residence, Baghdad, Iraq, by Rifat Chadirji

Source: Kamil and Rifat Chadirji Photographic Archive, courtesy of Aga Khan Documentation Center, MIT Libraries (AKDC@MIT) room, kitchen, and bathroom - are located in the long central axis of the T-shaped dwelling; this is artfully surrounded by a semi-covered outdoor space. The two wings contain the private rooms - an office and a bedroom - both of which have large windows that open onto landscaped patios.

Chadirji’s designs include residential, industrial, and landscape projects and urban and regional studies in addition to furniture design and interior decorations (Chadirji, 2016). Despite this plethora of design creativity, Chadirji is mostly appreciated for his public projects. One of his first significant public structures was the iconic Monument to the Unknown Soldier (1959). Inspired by Iraq’s traditional parabolic arch from the Sassanid Palace at Ctesiphon, he created a simple, symbolic, modernist yet visually imposing disc-shaped structure (King and Levin, 2010). The Central Post Office in Baghdad, Iraq, 1975 (Figure 2.7) is another of Chadirji’s most recognised public buildings. The main communication facilities complex

Main Facade of the Central Post Office, Baghdad, Iraq, by Rifat Chadirji

Figure 2.7 Main Facade of the Central Post Office, Baghdad, Iraq, by Rifat Chadirji

Source: Rifat Chadirji Archive, courtesy of Aga Khan Documentation Center, MIT Libraries (AKDC@MIT)

46 The enduring values of architecture

in Baghdad, it comprises a four-storey public post office and a ten-storey equipment tower set back from the street; these are linked by a central service tower. The post office block contains public services at the ground and mezzanine levels and private offices on the second and third floors.

Other important public buildings in Chadirji’s architectural repertoire are the Tobacco Monopoly Building in Baghdad (1966) and the 1969 National Insurance Company in Mosul. The Tobacco Offices (Figure 2.8) represent one of the most famous designs of Chadirji’s firm. Constructed in a contemporary Arab style, the interplay and combination of international avant-garde concepts and traditional abstracted architectural forms are easily recognisable (El-Shorbagy, 2011). The forms and technologies used in the building incorporated both subtle and not so subtle hints of traditional features; for example, the corners of the faqades had cylindrical forms, both inspired by old Iraqi fortresses and a tribute to the American Louis Kahn’s monolithic architectural expressions. The Tobacco building took both the Palace of Ukhaidir and the Great Mosque of Samarra as the main inspirational references. The design consists of a complex of seven buildings that are used for various purposes. The main office building is three-storey linear structure with reinforced concrete floor slabs with offices on both sides of each corridor (Kultermann, 1982).

Facade Studies, Tobacco Offices, Baghdad, Iraq, by Rifat Chadirji

Figure 2.8 Facade Studies, Tobacco Offices, Baghdad, Iraq, by Rifat Chadirji

Source: Rifat Chadirji Archive, courtesy of Aga Khan Documentation Center, MIT Libraries (AKDC@MIT)

Chadirji’s influence

On the local level, Chadirji not only was a major influence on generations of young Iraqi architects, but he was also a committed educator and university lecturer who, through his public lectures and classes, made others aware of the value of retaining aspects of authentic regional and vernacular architecture. For many years, Chadirji taught at one of the most influential schools in the Arab world, the Baghdad School of Architecture, and later at Harvard Graduate School of Design as a Loeb fellow. Chadirji’s astute design analyses, beliefs, and concepts resulted in an architectural paradigm shift that is still universally applicable to building design both in developing Arab countries and in the Western world. Through his writings, Chadirji disseminated his ideas and design principles on international regionalism inspired by his decades-long search for an appropriate and valid contemporary urban architectural expression for his home country (Smith, 2016).

In 2015, in recognition of long service to architecture and design, Chadirji was awarded an honorary PhD from Coventry University. Considered the father of a regional modern architectural style in his homeland, he is also one of the most important architects of the Arab world. While working in the service of the Iraq government, as an advisor to the municipality of Baghdad during massive urban redevelopment and renewal projects, his innovative architectural approach was far more enduring and influential than that of his more conventional peers.

In addition to his architectural projects and fearing a negative impact on design from the ‘oil boom effect,’ Rifat Chadirji was also committed to documenting and writing about architectural heritage. He wrote several books, the first of which, Taha Street and Hammersmith, was published in Arabic in 1985. It is an autobiographical account that examines the influence of his early life on Taha Street, where he lived as a child until he left for his studies at the Hammersmith School of Arts and Crafts London, from which he graduated in 1952 (Graham Foundation, 2018). Concepts and Influences: Towards a Regionalized International Architecture 1952-1978 was his first book published in English, in 1986. Additionally, he has written more than ten other books.

In 2016, he donated his extensive photography archive from the 1920s to the 1970s to the Aga Khan Documentation Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The collection contained more than 100,000 negatives and images of the life, social conditions, architectural evolution, and cultural engagement in the Middle East; many of the pictures were taken by Rifat Chadirji himself or his father, Kamil Chadirji. His extraordinary collection of photographs has been exhibited in different parts of the world. The Tamayouz Rifat Chadirji Prize created in his honour recognises his work as an innovative and influential modern architect; it will be an appropriate vehicle to showcase his characteristic symbiosis of authentic regional designs with the principles of modernism. Chadirji’s commitment to a template for a fusion of building design which pays homage to the past and embraces the innovations of modernism brought him nationwide acclaim. Even so, despite the awards and accolades, it appears that Chadirji has not been fully recognised at an international level for his extraordinary contributions to modern vernacular architecture, artistic endeavours, and photographic documentation in addition to his personal and intellectual integrity and his ceaseless willingness to teach and educate others. His visionary approach to urbanism has left an indelible imprint on the city of Baghdad and on the principles of innovation in architecture.

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