World Architecture Day 2014
 
 
 
 
Rebuilding Baghdad
Dr Hisham Ashkouri

Dr. Ashkouri is an accomplished independent architect and urban designer with particular interest in developing city-scale reconstruction and infrastructure plans for war-torn countries. He graduated with honors in 1970 with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Baghdad and continued with his Masters of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania under Louis I. Kahn in 1973. He further completed his studies at Harvard University and M.I.T. with a Masters in Urban Design and at Tufts University with a Doctoral Degree in the field of Ergonomics. Dr. Ashkouri established ARCADD, Inc. in 1986 and has since completed over 750 design projects ranging from $220,000 to $165,000,000 for the U.S. Federal Government, State of Massachusetts, local cities and towns and international clients. As reports of refugees returning to Iraq express a dire need for housing and work, Dr Ashkouri tells WAN of his plan of action...

Armed with over 8 years of planning experience in designing the Master Plan Expansion of the University of Baghdad at Al-Jadriyah Campus, and with the promise of a new beginning for Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussain’s regime in 2003, I made a personal commitment after visiting my home and family in Baghdad, to develop Downtown Baghdad.

The work required focusing on the desperately needed Tigris River waterfront, the planning of a complete new system of infrastructure and the refurbishment of the existing city surrounding historic neighborhoods. The Work was called the Baghdad Renaissance Plan. It was a $13 billion private/public development to act as the catalyst in spurring new architecture around the center of Baghdad and in reviving the Old Baghdad from Tahrir Square in the south to Al-Muadham Gate in the north of the existing Central Business District.

Baghdad, since its establishment in the 8th Century AD, took a center stage in the golden age of the Abbasid Empire. The Abbasid Empire was known for inventing the clock, the fountain pen, and the modern electric battery. Baghdad was known for its knowledge in math, physics, chemistry, medicine, literature,

 

astronomy, travel, trade and many more areas of development. Baghdad was the cultural center of the world during that period.

There are signs of hope including elections, but it is still subdivided by 16 and 12 foot concrete barriers similar to those that were installed in Berlin

It was invaded three times (1) in history, none of which was merciful on its residents, its environment or its educated elite. In 2003 Baghdad lost valuable artifacts going back 5 millennia in cultural heritage and history that has shaped our modern laws (2) and commerce today.

Baghdad and Iraq have managed to survive and flourish over the years with growth in income, education, and finance. Today Baghdad has experienced a setback of over 6 years. There are signs of hope including elections, but it is still subdivided by 16 and 12 foot concrete barriers similar to those that were installed in Berlin, Germany before the 1980’s (3). Baghdad is truly in the dark ages today due to sectarian violence between various factions. The decimation of some of its minorities and the isolation of the various classes and backgrounds of society have left this City thirsty for peace.

One element that will bring Baghdad and Iraq together, is the 5,000 years of spirit that has united the Iraqi’s in all times. Baghdad, despite its setback today celebrates new weddings, new births and new accomplishment of dreams it has. A child who was playing in one of the neighborhoods in Baghdad recently was asked what his dream was. He replied that he would like to become a doctor. This dream reflects the expectation of children and families in Iraq and in Baghdad.

It is with this spirit, I believe, that the Baghdad Renaissance Plan can be accomplished. Yes there is the need for a conducive environment for development, proper funding, and willingness on the part of the local and international inventors to join forces and do the work. Yes there is the need for security. Architects and Designers, like myself, are willing to do this design work and commence true efforts to reconstruct the country. In other words, though Baghdad was decimated several times, it managed to come back. The Renaissance Plan we drew for Baghdad can be implemented. It is one of the ways for Iraq, the City of Baghdad and the people of Iraq to come back.

One element that will bring Baghdad and Iraq together, is the 5,000 years of spirit that has united the Iraqi’s in all times

It will take time. The country needs housing, retail, commercial space and hospitality complexes. The country is wealthy and has one of the richest agricultural and oil sectors in the Middle East, if not the world. Baghdad would require years to mend its partitioning and will come across its divides with a new hope for renewal characterized by its typical come back. As a matter

 

of fact in the early 1950’s Baghdad experienced one of the most powerful rebounds when it established its city planning team and invited the three most famous architects: Frank Lloyd Wright to design its resort complex in Khenazir Island in the Tigris; Walter Gropius to design Baghdad University at Al-Jadriyah; and LeCorbusier to design a sports complex. Baghdad historic homes and buildings are truly representative of what we all are striving for today in our efforts to design “Green Buildings”. To this day Old Baghdad in its rich architecture and narrow alleyways reflect the beauty of its local art and design. It is a source for new learning in architecture and a new inspiration in its rebuilding effort.

The Central Government of Iraq has to open the doors completely to its populations including all minorities. The roll of the private sector in restoring the city and the country would be invaluable. It is hard for a Middle Eastern society such as Iraq to let go of its prejudices, discrimination against minorities and women when all they have seen for years was dictatorships and rule by force. This opening to new ideas will encourage investors and local participants from all levels of society to put their personal commitment, finance and physical efforts forward.

Baghdad and Iraq need serious thinking on the part of the international community headed by the USA and the European Union to undertake a sincere effort to build its society through careful planning, respect of its culture and focus on its human needs and its underlying need for security. Force alone cannot produce needed development.

View the Baghdad Renaissance Plan

1- Hulegu of the Mongols invaded Baghdad February 10, 1258 and Timur known through the West as Tamerlane also invaded Baghdad in June 1401. The last was by the USA in March 2003.

2- The Code of Hammurabi enacted in 1760 B.C. by the 6th Babylonian King Hammurabi.

3- Baghdad has experienced a comeback in art where local artists have used the newly erected 16 foot concrete barriers between sectarian neighborhoods as canvas for new paintings springing up throughout the City with full color and new expressions of Baghdad’s spirit.

Editorial


 
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