This exhibition examines the work of Iraqi architect Rifat Chadirji through the collection of his original photographs and building documents held at the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut. With the work of his architectural office, Iraq Consult, and in his other professional and intellectual roles, Chadirji became a pivotal cultural figure in Baghdad during the period of its postwar modernization from the 1950s through the 1970s. As an architect, planning consultant, and Director of Buildings for various government agencies, Chadirji was central to the organization of Baghdad and to the consolidation of its postwar image. With nearly one hundred buildings Chadirji helped foster the emergence of the factories, colleges, monopoly headquarters, communication structures, and other new building types that appear in Baghdad following Iraq’s 1958 revolution.
Despite the long historical continuity evoked by his regionally inflected modernism, Chadirji was all too aware of the transformative effects of Iraq’s growing oil economy. His work as a photographer was informed by his exposure to Iraq’s political and cultural precariousness, while it foresaw greater disruption ahead. Over a span of more than twenty years, Chadirji recorded the street life, social practices, and spaces that he believed were threatened by the development driving Iraq’s postwar evolution. Over the same period, he meticulously photographed his own architectural work in an attempt to produce documents that could survive the damage, alteration, and potential destruction of his buildings.
The threat that lurks within the Chadirji archives reverberates with the current instability in Iraq and Syria and the continuing specter of building destruction and cultural violence. The texture of precarity within Chadirji’s photographs also underscores the institutional project of the Arab Image Foundation and its attempt to assemble, secure, and preserve the photographic history of the Arab World. In this sense, Chadirji’s photographs and building documents exhibit at least three identities: they are an informational system describing every building within his architectural oeuvre; they are a device to preserve the image of Iraq’s experience of modernization; and they are the charged signifiers of collateral damage and the historical and cultural vulnerability that marks the archives of the Arab Image Foundation.
The exhibition includes 60 photographic paste-ups documenting Chadirji’s own building projects, as well as hundreds of his photographs shot in the streets of Baghdad from the 1960s to the early 1980s. In the first floor galleries, Chadirji’s documents are surrounded by a folio of etchings that he produced in 1984. On the second floor, Chadirji’s photographs are accompanied by those of Iraqi photographer Latif Al Ani. A contemporary of Chadirji, Al Ani chronicled newly emerging urban conditions under the shifting political regimes of the 1950s to the 1970s.
Rifat Chadirji was born in Baghdad in 1926. His father was Kamil Chadirji, the former leader of the Iraq National Democratic party. Chadirji studied architecture in London at the Hammersmith School of Arts and Crafts and returned to Iraq in 1952 to found Iraq Consult. As his practice developed, he focused on an approach to design which combined western technical advances and local vernacular forms. This governed his work through the 1970s and became the basis of his writing as an architectural theorist.
Chadirji’s practice came to a halt in 1978 when he was jailed by Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr. Two years later, he was released by Saddam Hussein to plan modifications to Baghdad for the Conference of Nonaligned Countries. Chadirji fled Baghdad in 1983 for Harvard, where he remained for the 1980s, first as a Loeb Fellow and then as a visiting scholar. In 1986 he received the Agha Khan Chairman’s Award for lifetime achievement in architecture. Taha Street and Hammersmith, Chadirji’s first book, appeared in Arabic in 1985. Concepts and Influences: Towards A Regionalized International Architecture, 1952–1978, his first book in English, was printed in 1986. He has since published more than ten others. Recently, Chadirji has received renewed attention as an important architect whose buildings have suffered damage from the war in Iraq and as a voice of secular modernity during Iraq’s earlier period of growth. He now lives in London with his wife, Balkis Shararah.
The Arab Image Foundation is a nonprofit organization established in Beirut in 1997. Its mission is to collect, preserve, and study photographs from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Arab diaspora. The AIF’s expanding collection is generated through artist and scholar-led projects. The Foundation makes its collection accessible to the public through a wide spectrum of activities, including exhibitions, publications, videos, a website, and an online image database.
Every Building in Baghdad: The Rifat Chadirji Archives at the Arab Image Foundation originated at the Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and was curated by Mark Wasiuta, Adam Bandler, and Florencia Alvarez.
The Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery at GSAPP is a platform for original curatorial projects and for experiments with the distribution and organization of research material. Through its exhibitions the gallery exposes important and unexamined projects and archives from the postwar period.
Mark Wasiuta is Co-Director of the Critical, Curatorial and Conceptual Practices in Architecture Masters program (CCCP Arch) at GSAPP, Columbia University. Over the last decade as Director of Exhibitions at GSAPP, his research and archival exhibitions have focused on experimental practices of the postwar period. Forthcoming projects include the exhibition Detox USA at the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial and the publications Documentary Remains, Environmental Communications: Contact High, and Collecting Architecture Territories. He is partner in the design and research office the International House of Architecture.
Adam Bandler is the Assistant Director of Exhibitions and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at GSAPP, Columbia University. He is partner of Rivera & Bandler, a New York based design office, which recently completed design for Tony Oursler: Imponderable at the Museum of Modern Art and Tony Oursler: The Imponderable Archive at the CCS Bard Galleries. He has collaborated extensively with The International House of Architecture on such projects as Air Manifest: Los Angeles 1955, 1965 at Studio X Istanbul, House Arrest, and Instructions for the Reconstitution of Historical Smog.
Florencia Alvarez Pacheco is an architect and curator. Before receiving a master’s degree in CCCP Arch from Columbia University’s GSAPP and becoming Assistant Exhibitions Coordinator at the Arthur Ross Architectural Gallery, she taught at the University of Buenos Aires, School of Architecture, Design and Urbanism and co-founded UR architecture, an annual magazine of art, architecture, and urbanism. Her research focuses on the implications and challenges of diverse techno-pedagogical experiences from the postwar period such as Pidgeon Audio Visual, an archive of illustrated talks by architects and designers.
The Graham would like to thank Perrier for supporting our public programs.