21 Sept 2010

Doubts about Zaha Hadid's return to Baghdad

Following my post yesterday about Zaha Hadid being commissioned to design the new building for the Central Bank of Iraq, a friend drew my attention to articles in the Iraqi press discussing the subject. It seems that another firm has been working on the design of the new CBI headquarters and is more than half way through the process. So far there has been no clarification from the CBI itself about this apparent conflict, but there's been a fair bit of speculation.

One possibility that's being discussed is that the other firm is designing a master plan for the area while Zaha will design the building itself. If that's the case, I suspect that a decision has been taken to relocate the Central Bank from central Baghdad into an area that can be secured more easily. This is the same reasoning that made the US relocate its embassy in London to a more peripheral location. Security considerations were the main one priority in that case, and they will definitely be so with the CBI.

Relocating the CBI from Al Rasheed street, a main Baghdad thoroughfare, would be regrettable. This means that the future of Baghdad is being shaped in response to the critical security situation today. Over the past few years, Baghdad streets have been harshly transformed with the concrete barriers that block all frontages. They however are still temporary measures, once the logic of security and the overcautious American attitude to protecting public buildings is accepted it will deal a harsh blow to the fabric of the city.

Rifaat Chaderchi's Telecoms Centre vandalised with concrete barriers

Baghdad should be planned with a more optimistic view to the future and an attempt at restoring civic pride. The place of important public buildings should remain central and not succumb to the logic of short-term security considerations. Baghdad always had thriving public spaces and busy streets, it would be regrettable for this to be lost by withdrawing public institutions from the centre. No amount of good design can disguise the defensive nature of buildings designed primarily in response to security.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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