Rifat Chadirji

Architect, Iraq
The driving force behind Rifat Chadirji’s work has been his attempt to reconcile
contemporary social needs with new technology. His search for a regional modernism
found expression in cement-concrete buildings and in his plans for Baghdad.
In the Iraq of the 1950s, a flowering of the arts included intensive discussions among
architects, artists, writers, and intellectuals about the need for appropriate artistic
expressions, influenced by both European ideas and local traditions. The architects
Wilson and Mason, who practiced in Iraq in the 1940s and whose buildings interpreted
local architecture employing indigenous master masons, also shaped Chadirji’s ideas
about regionalism. This approach stagnated somewhat after World War II, when new
technologies that bypassed the contribution of the indigenous building industry were
introduced. Architects such as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Frank Lloyd Wright
visited Iraq in the 1960s, encouraging the local Iraqi architects to find their own
expression of modern architecture. As a consequence, Chadirji sought to achieve a
synthesis between traditional forms and materials and modern technology and building
types. He studied local environmental features such as courtyards, screen walls, and
natural ventilation. However, until the late 1960s his buildings were clearly functionalist
and were determined by structural considerations and modern materials, as evidenced in
his Monument to the Unknown Soldier (1959) and in his Tobacco Monopoly Offices and
Warehouse (1969), both in Baghdad.
Chadirji articulated his ideas concerning a modernism informed by tradition in his
written works, theories that can be seen in his villa for H.H.Hamood (1972), designed as
a dramatic series of parallel vaults. As Chadirji noted, it was not until the early 1970s that
he reached the view that the connection between form and structure was not inevitable.
This realization led the architect to increased freedom of construction and the plastic
possibilities of building form.
This sense of plasticity and a graphic approach to buildings characterize the facades of
his buildings, as demonstrated in his published portfolio of etchings and drawings for the
Federation of Industries and for the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs. His
buildings are characterized in plan by parallel walls and in elevation by facades of solid
planes with indented openings, often with protruding tall, thin, arched windows and
curving corners. The concrete buildings were usually designed to be faced in brick or, in
other countries of the Middle East, in stone. Together with Mohamed Makiya, Chadirji’s
buildings influenced much of the architecture in the Arab Middle East in the 1970s and
early 1980s.
In his analysis of built form, Chadirji led the way in the Middle East to
reevaluate architecture’s role in culture and politics. The effects of his
contributions have been long lasting and include his vision of rapidly
changing architectural forms as mediators between social needs and
prevailing technology. The failure to come to terms with this, he
postulated, partly explained the collapse of architecture seen in Iraq after
Entries A–F 435
1945. Second, Chadirji saw the relationship between local traditional
building and international modernism as one in which an “authentic
regionalism” based on an abstraction of tradition and modernity could
emerge. Third, in the 1960s, Chadirji was early to recognize the potential
importance of the computer to design and urban planning such that
computer technologies would enable the inhabitants of buildings and
neighborhoods to participate in the design process.

Black-and-white drawing, elevation
study for Tobacco Monopoly Offices
and Warehouse Complex (1969
Chadirji’s contribution to the urban built form of Baghdad has been remarkable, despite a
turbulent political relationship with the authorities. In the late 1970s he was forced to
abandon his practice when the Iraqi government imprisoned him. Surprisingly, in 1980
that same government appointed him counsellor to the mayor of Baghdad, with
responsibility for an ambitious scheme for urban rehabilitation and development. This
project was completed in 1983 for the international meeting of Non-Aligned Nations; it
included a master plan, a citywide landscaping scheme, infrastructure development,
urban conservation and urban design projects, housing, and commercial works. Proposals
for building codes, conservation law, and economic development projects were all in his
domain, and for two years he was one of the most powerful bureaucrats in the country.
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 436
Chadirji left Baghdad for the United States in late 1982 and subsequently completed
his most significant book, Concepts and In fluences (1986), and continued his research in the interrelationships
among architectural theory and phenomena in physics and biology. The Chadirji
Research Center in the United Kingdom is a major source of information about Iraq and
includes an extensive archive of photographs from his father and his own detailed survey
of Arab peoples and their physical world.

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