Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Baghdad-What Could've Been

In the fall of 1995 my husband and I visited Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water. It was magnificent. I have never forgotten the unique beauty of that house and the setting that Wright preserved and respected with his design. So imagine my surprise when I ran across this article today (Hat tip: Opinion Journal). It tells the story of how Wright went to Baghdad in 1958 to build a new opera house. Well this guy must have been something else, because he also took it upon himself to design Iraq a university and others.... As we all know by now there was a coup in 1959 and Wright's plans were never to be Iraq that is. His plans did get built. In Arizona! Go and read the entire article for a wonderfully enlightening view of Frank Lloyd Wright. Here's a little to get you going:
The Baghdad commission likely increased Wright's concern about the spread of the International Style. The Iraqi government had invited Wright as one of a "panel of architects of world fame" to modernize Baghdad. Wright called the other architects, including Le Corbusier, Gio Ponti and Walter Gropius, "those glass box boys."

Where the International Style sought to master the environment, thrusting stark, high-tech structures into the landscape, Wright's style was intended to pay homage to pre-existing forms. Le Corbusier and the others planned to use concrete and glass to display the accomplishments of Western technology. Wright's design employed modern materials to show something of Iraq's ancient history. In Wright's plan, the spiral parking garage for the opera house was labeled a "ziggurat," a reference to the area's ancient coiled temples.

Confident that his style was superior, Wright, though not invited to do so, expanded his commission. In addition to the opera house, he designed an art gallery, botanical gardens, a "grand bazaar," and a university campus for the island. He deliberately ignored the fact that Gropius had been asked to design Baghdad University. Wright also sketched plans for a separate commission, a post office and telegraph exchange intended for central Baghdad.

In July 1958, Wright's plans fell victim to history. Faisal was assassinated in a military coup. All building projects came to a halt.

Following more than a year of turmoil, during which time Wright died, the new government re-examined earlier building projects. Wright's plans were deemed "rather grandiose" by the revolutionary government and were not built. The simpler and cheaper university plan conceived by Gropius was built, as was Gio Ponti's design for a Ministry of Development building. In 1981, a portion of Le Corbusier's design for a sports complex was completed. The building was dedicated as Saddam Hussein Gymnasium.