An Ode to Rifat Chadirji

The year 2020 brought with it, a lot of misery. The pandemic continues to rage, stealing loved ones from so many. But perhaps it is Baghdad who has lost her most precious to the virus: Riffat Chadirji.

Rifat Chadirji

Chadirji was titled as one of the “most influential shapers of modern Baghdad” by the Agha Khan Foundation. He died at 93, leaving behind a legacy that shall live forever.

The Iraqi thinker, author, critic, & rationalist architect with refined aesthetic sensitivity devised a particular approach to architecture that he called “international regionalism”. His work spanned over a broad cultural and historical breadth.

“I set out to learn from traditional architecture and to achieve a synthesis between traditional forms and inevitable advent of modern technology. My aim was to create an architecture which at once acknowledges the place in which it is built, yet which sacrifices nothing to modern technical capability.”

Following modernist principles, the authentic regional expression in his work can be witnessed in over one hundred projects which are credited to his name. Moreover, his contributions to architecture in the Middle East transcend tangible construction. He taught at the Baghdad School of Architecture for many years, and immaculately photographically documented regional architecture in Iraq and Syria.

Some of his most notable works are included in this story.

National Insurance Company, Mosul

National Insurance Company, Mosul

This building was constructed in 1960 to house National Insurance Company after the Building Department of Waqaf was abolished in 1957. The modernist influences here are ripe — from the bare, geometric forms to the undecorated facades.

The department used to be responsible to maintain mosques, and historical architecture countrywide.

Hamood Villa, Baghdad

Central Post Office, Baghdad

Adjoined to a 10-storey equipment tower, the building for the public post office was completed in 1976.

Tobacco Monopoly Headquarters, Baghdad

The Tobacco Monopoly Headquarters, constructed in 1974, is one of Chadirji’s most recognised works. The vertical and cylindrical language of the exterior walls alludes to old Iraqi forms, which can also be seen in its use of arched openings. The warehouse is largely considered the launch of the architect’s expressionist phase.

In 1986, he received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture Chairman’s Award. To date, he is one of the four people who have been honoured with this prestigious prize.

In 2015, he was honoured with the Tamayouz Architectural Lifetime Achievement Award to celebrate him as a pioneer of Iraqi architecture.

The Rifat Chadirji Prize, “a thematic open international prize focuses on proposing designs responding to local challenges in Iraq” was established by Tamayouz in 2017 in honour of “the great Iraqi Architect whose influence and importance is far beyond built work.”

A few months later, Chadirji donated his architectural and photographic archives, as well as the photographs of his father, Kamil Chadirji, to the Aga Khan Documentation Center, MIT Libraries so that they would be accessible to all interested researchers.

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