Rifat Chadirji

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Rifat Chadirji
Rifaat-jaderji.jpg
Born (1926-12-06) December 6, 1926 (age 92)
NationalityIraqi
OccupationArchitect
AwardsAga Khan Award for Architecture
WebsiteRifat Chidirji

Rifat Chadirji (also known as Rifa'at Al Chaderchi Arabic: رفعت الجادرجي‎) was born on December 6, 1926 in Baghdad, is an Iraqi architect, photographer, author and activist. He is admired as the greatest modern architect of Iraq, and taught at the Baghdad School of Architecture for many years.

Life and career[edit]

Rifat Chadirji was born in Baghdad in 1926 into an influential family. [1] His father, Kamil Chadirji (1897-1968), played a central role in Iraq's political life as founder and president of the National Democratic Party.[2]

He trained as an architect. In 1952, after completing his graduate training, Rifat returned to Baghdad and began working on what he called his "architectural experiments." [3] Rifat Chadirji's architecture is inspired by the characteristics of regional Iraqi architecture, and the time-tested intelligence inherent in it, but at the same time, he wanted to reconcile tradition with contemporary social needs.[4] In an interview, Chadirji explains his philosophy:

"From the very outset of my practice, I thought it imperative that, sooner or later, Iraq create for itself an architecture regional in character yet simultaneously modern, part of the current international avant-garde style." [5]

In the context of architecture, Rifat called this approach, international regionalism.[6] Chadirji's approach was entirely consistent with the objectives of the Modern Baghdad Group, founded in 1951, of which he was an early member. This art group sought to combine ancient Iraqi heritage with modern art and architecture, in order to develop an Iraqi aesthetic, that was not only unique to Iraq, but also influence the development of a pan-Arab visual language.

His early works were firmly grounded in the discourse being conducted by members of the Baghdad Modern Art Group,[7] including sculptors Jawad Saleem and Mohammed Ghani Hikmat, and artist-intellectual, Shakir Hassan Al Said. His designs relied on abtracting the concepts and elements of traditional buildings, and reconstructing them in contemporary forms.[8] However, Chadirji's critics have pointed out that although Chadirji was sympathetic to the group's aims, he was essentially a modernist at heart.[9]

His early works were primarily reconstructions of old buildings. In 1959, he was commissioned to construct a major public monument, The Monument to the Unknown Soldier, which was later destroyed by Sadam Hussein's Ba'athist government, and replaced with a statue of Hussein himself. Chadirji's monument, centrally located in Baghdad's Ferdous Square, referenced Iraq's tradition, the monument evoked the parabolic arch from the Sassanid Palace, Ctesiphon. Described as a simple, symbolic, modernist structure, [10] sketches of the design concept found at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad, reveal the inspiration for the design which represents a mother bending over to pick up her martyred child.[11]

He would continue to use ancient Iraqi motifs in his building designs.[12] His works, such as the Hussain Jamil Residence (1953), Tobacco Warehouse (1965), the Rafiq Residence (1965) and the Central Post Office (1975), are informed by Iraqi practices of temperature control - natural ventilation, courtyards, screen walls and reflected light. He also employs the architectural language of arches and monolithic piers that remind visitors of ancient Iraqi architectural history. Although, his designs often used vernacular elements, he often abstracted them and incorporated them in new forms. At times, he relied on traditional exteriors, but designed European interiors.[13]

During the 1970s, aged 48 years, he was jailed for life, for refusing to work on a government-funded project during the Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr presidency.[14] However, after serving almost two years in the Abu Ghraib prison, he was released when Saddam Hussein assumed power and wanted Iraq’s best architect to oversee the preparations for an international conference to be held in Baghdad in 1983 and to assist with general plans to give Baghdad a face-lift.[15] He became Hussein's architectural consultant for Baghdad City Planning, for the period, 1982-1983. [16] While imprisoned, he wrote a book on architecture, Al Ukhaidir and the Crystal Palace, using materials that his wife had smuggled into Abu Ghraib.[17] The book has been described as a "seminal work" on the subject of Iraq's architecture.[18]

In the 1980s, he became Councillor to the Mayor, a role that found him overseeing all the reconstruction projects in Baghdad. [19] He left Iraq in 1983 in order to take up academic position at Harvard University. Some years later, on his return to Baghdad, he was saddened by the deterioration in the city. He and his wife decided to leave Iraq permanently and they settled in London, where he continues to live.[20]

Along with his father, Rifat photographically documented much of Baghdad and the larger region of Iraq and Syria. They feared the regional architecture and monuments would be lost to new development associated with the oil boom.[21] In 1995, he published a book of his father's precious photographs.[22] His father's position as a politician gave him access to many people and places that may have been difficult for other photographers.

In an interview with Ricardo Karam, he talked about his atheism, after studying philosophy with his wife, he saw that religions originated from magic. He also said that he respected all religions, and recommended after his death not to pray for him and burn his body.[23]

Work[edit]

Although he designed many residences, he is most noted for his public works, including both buildings and monuments. His Monument to the Unknown Soldier (1959), described as a simple, symbolic, modernist structure, was removed from al-Fardous Square to make way for a statue of Sadam Hussein in the early 1980s. The replacement statue was infamously toppled on 9 April, 2003 in full view of the world, as global media filmed and photographed the destruction. [24]

Site Location Country
Central Post Office (1975)[25] Baghdad Iraq
Hamood Villa (1972)[26] Baghdad Iraq
National Insurance Company[27] Mosul Iraq
Offices and Tobacco Warehouses (1965)[28] Baghdad Iraq
The Monument to the Unknown Soldier (erected 1959: replaced 1983)[29] Baghdad Iraq
Rafiq Residence (1965)[30] Baghdad Iraq

Associated publications[edit]

His publications are primarily in Arabic and include:

  • al-Ukhaidar and the Crystal Palace (1991)
  • A Dialogue on the Structure of Art and Architecture (1995).[31]
  • Regenerative approaches to mosque design-competition to State Mosque, Baghdad. In Mimar 1984,11 page 44-63 ISSN 0129-8372.
  • Concepts & Influences: Towards a Regionalized International Architecture, 1987.ISBN no. 0-7103-0180-4.
  • Internationalised Tradition in Architecture, 1988. ISBN no. 1-85035-146-5.[32]
Author Title Year
Chadirji, Rifat Introduction to Urban Design and Architecture in Lebanon 2004
Chadirji, Rifat Medina Interviews Architect 1999
Chadirji, Rifat The Photographs of Kamil Chadirji 1995
Khan, Hasan-Uddin Regional Modernism: Rifat Chadirji's Portfolio of Etchings 1984
Chadirji, Rifat Concepts and Influences:Towards a Regional International Architecture, 1952-1978 1986[33]

[27]

Awards[edit]

Legacy[edit]

In 2017, the Rifat Chadirji Prize was created to recognise local architects who are involved in rebuilding parts of Iraq that had been destroyed. The prize is awarded under the umbrella of the Tamayouz Award for Excellence. [38]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Alsammarae, R., "MEA sits down with Rifat Chadirji, the father of Iraqi architecture," Design Mena, [Midddle Eastern Architectural Website], 14 November, 2017, Online:
  2. ^ "The Kamil and Rifat Chadirji Photographic Archive comes to the Aga Khan Documentation Center," MIT Library, Online:
  3. ^ Pieri, C., " Modernity and its Posts in constructing an Arab capital: Baghdad’s Urban Space and Architecture, Context and Questions," Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, The Middle East Studies Association, 2009, Vol. 42, No. 1-2, pp 32-39
  4. ^ Sennott, R.S. (ed), Encyclopedia of 20th-Century Architecture, Taylor & Francis, 2004, p. 435
  5. ^ Cited in Pieri, C., " Modernity and its Posts in constructing an Arab capital.: Baghdad’s urban space and architecture, context and questions," Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, The Middle East Studies Association of North, 2009, Vol. 42, No. 1-2, pp.32-39, <halshs-00941172>
  6. ^ Pieri, C., "Baghdad 1921-1958. Reflections on History as a ”strategy of vigilance”," Mona Deeb, World Congress for Middle-Eastern Studies, Jun 2005, Amman, Jordan, Al-Nashra, vol. 8, no 1-2, pp.69-93, 2006; Al-Khalil, S. and Makiya, K., The Monument: Art, Vulgarity, and Responsibility in Iraq, University of California Press, 1991, p. 80; Al-Khalil, S. and Makiya, K., The Monument: Art, Vulgarity, and Responsibility in Iraq, University of California Press, 1991, pp 80-81
  7. ^ Bernhardsson, M.T., "Visions of the Past: Modernizing the Past in 1950s Baghdad," in Sandy Isenstadt and Kishwar Rizvi, Modernism and the Middle East: Architecture and Politics in the Twentieth Century," University of Washington Press, 2008, pp 91-92
  8. ^ Elsheshtawy, T., Planning Middle Eastern Cities: An Urban Kaleidoscope,Routledge, 2004, p. 72
  9. ^ Al-Khalil, S. and Makiya, K., The Monument: Art, Vulgarity, and Responsibility in Iraq, University of California Press, 1991, p. 95; It may be worth noting that one of the authors of this work, K. Makiya was the son of prominent Iraqi architect, Mohammed Makiya, of whom Chadirji had been highly critical.
  10. ^ King, E.A. and Levin, G., Ethics and the Visual Arts, Skyhorse Publishing, 2010, p. 105
  11. ^ Younis, A., "Monuments (by) Architects (for) Governments," Di'van, December, 2016, pp 78-87; "Before Monument to the Unknown Soldier (1980-) there was the Unknown Soldier Monument (1961-1982)," Isqeena Magazine, 25 August, 2013, Online:
  12. ^ Bernhardsson, M.T., "Visions of the Past: Modernizing the Past in 1950s Baghdad," in Sandy Isenstadt and Kishwar Rizvi, Modernism and the Middle East: Architecture and Politics in the Twentieth Century," University of Washington Press, 2008, p.92
  13. ^ Elsheshtawy, Y., Planning Middle Eastern Cities: An Urban Kaleidoscope, Routledge, 2004, pp 72-74
  14. ^ Younis, A., "Monuments (by) Architects (for) Governments," Di'van, December, 2016, p. 83
  15. ^ Alsammarae, R., "MEA sits down with Rifat Chadirji, the father of Iraqi architecture," Design Mena, [Midddle Eastern Architectural Website], 14 November, 2017, Online:
  16. ^ Elsheshtawy, T., Planning Middle Eastern Cities: An Urban Kaleidoscope,Routledge, 2004, p. 72; Davis, E., Memories of State: Politics, History, and Collective Identity in Modern Iraq, p. 305
  17. ^ Younis, A., "Monuments (by) Architects (for) Governments," Di'van, December, 2016, p. 86
  18. ^ Younis, A., "Unravelling Baghdad: Ala Younis’ new installation Plan (fem.) for a Greater Baghdad at the Delfina Foundation," Ruya Foundation, March, 2018 Online:; Younis, A., "Monuments (by) Architects (for) Governments," Di'van, December, 2016, p. 86; "The Arab Center for Architecture (ACA): Interview with George Arbid," Middle East Digest, 29 September, 2015 Online:
  19. ^ Al-Khalil, S. and Makiya, K., The Monument: Art, Vulgarity, and Responsibility in Iraq, University of California Press, 1991, p. 95
  20. ^ Alsammarae, R., "MEA sits down with Rifat Chadirji, the father of Iraqi architecture," Design Mena, [Midddle Eastern Architectural Website], 14 November, 2017, Online:
  21. ^ Al-Khalil, S. and Makiya, K., The Monument: Art, Vulgarity, and Responsibility in Iraq, University of California Press, 1991, p. 95
  22. ^ Chadirji, R., The Photographs of Kamil Chadirji: Social Life in the Middle East, 1920-1940, London, I.B. Tauris, 1995
  23. ^ Iraqioon - Rifat Chadirgi | عراقيون - رفعت الجادرجي
  24. ^ King, E.A. and Levin, G., Ethics and the Visual Arts, Skyhorse Publishing, 2010, p. 105
  25. ^ Elsheshtawy, Y. (ed.), Planning Middle Eastern Cities: An Urban Kaleidoscope, Routledge, 2004, p. 72
  26. ^ Frampton, K. and Khan, H-U. (eds), World Architecture 1900-2000: The Middle East, Vol. 5, Armenian Research Center, 2000, [World Architecture Series], p. xxx
  27. ^ a b http://www.archnet.org/library/parties/one-party.jsp?party_id=13
  28. ^ Elsheshtawy, Y. (ed.), Planning Middle Eastern Cities: An Urban Kaleidoscope, Routledge, 2004, p. 72
  29. ^ Bernhardsson, M.T., "Visions of the Past: Modernizing the Past in 1950s Baghdad," in Sandy Isenstadt and Kishwar Rizvi, Modernism and the Middle East: Architecture and Politics in the Twentieth Century," University of Washington Press, 2008, p.92
  30. ^ Hagan, S., Taking Shape: A New Contract Between Architecture and Nature, Routledge, 2007, p. 124
  31. ^ http://www.csbe.org/avisors2.htm, The Center for the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE)
  32. ^ a b Rifat Chadirji at the archINFORM database
  33. ^ "Rifat Chadirji Architect, Iraq". architectural-world. May 2005. Retrieved March 3, 2011.
  34. ^ Sennott, R.S., Encyclopedia of 20th-Century Architecture, Taylor & Francis, 2004, p. 438
  35. ^ Sennott, R.S., Encyclopedia of 20th-Century Architecture, Taylor & Francis, 2004, p. 46
  36. ^ Zayed Award, List of Recipients Online:
  37. ^ Coventry University, List of Honorary Graduates, Online:
  38. ^ Business Council of Iraq, "The Rifat Chadirji Prize, 2017: Rebuilding Iraq's Liberated Areas, Iraqi Business Council, 2017 Online: