399 Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians    72, no. 3 (September 2013), 399–405. ISSN 0037-9808, electronic ISSN 2150-5926. © 2013 by the Society of Architectural Historians. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article con- tent through the University of California Press’s Rights and Permissions website, DOI: 10.1525/jsah.2013.72.3.399. Exhibitions City of Mirages:Baghdad, 1952–1982 Collegi d’Arquitectes de Catalunya, Barcelona 10 July–13 September 2008 Casa Árabe, Madrid 9 October–9 November 2008 Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Murcia, Murcia 26 November–12 February 2009 American Institute of Architects, New YorkCenter for Architecture 22 February–5 May 2012 Boston Society of Architects, BostonBSA Space 2 October 2012–10 January 2013 Riwaq Biennale, RamallahHarb House 4 November–15 November 2012  After being inaugurated in Spain in 2008, the exhibition City of Mirages: Baghdad, 1952–1982 , encompassing realized and unre-alized architectural and urban schemes pro-duced for that city by foreign architects,   took its turn in the United States and Palestine in 2012–13 with installations in New York, Boston, and Ramallah. Much of the cast, with fourteen projects among them, form a parade of the modern and postmodern canon: Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, José Luis Sert, Alvar and Aino Aalto, Gio Ponti,  Alison and Peter Smithson, Constantinos Doxiadis, Ricardo Bofill, and Willem Mari-nus Dudok. Four of the exhibition’s proj-ects were realized in full or in part. The exhibition’s title, City of Mirages  , is not the facile orientalizing heading it may at first appear. It comes rather from a poem by Iraqi Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, whose style is credited with reifying free verse and mythology in Arabic-language poetry at midcentury. Sayyab’s poetry provides a useful interlocution to an underdeveloped understanding of later orientalism, the rich  yet unfulfilled possibility of the exhibition.  The curatorial goal made evident in both the exhibition’s design and text, rather than explicitly deconstructing this interpretive possibility from poetry in architectural terms, is a plainer unveiling of largely unfa-miliar, fascinating projects. The unrealized synergy of this collection of projects has much to do with both its time (late capital-ism) and place (the decolonizing and post-colonial domain, a milieu Sayyab’s poetry actively engages). After dabbling with Marxism, Sayyab embraced a tempered form of the capitalist nationalism that characterized much of Iraq after it overthrew the Hashemite crown and became a republic in 1958. The mythol-ogy to which he was attracted was not the stuff of heroic national srcin myths, as it  was elsewhere in the Middle East and the postcolonial world, but rather a simultane-ously introspective and expository tool for laying bare certain latent emotional and existential currents he claimed were com-mon to Mesopotamia, Arabs, and, on occa-sion, Islam. Far from self-orientalizing, Sayyab’s poetic synthesis was one of a generative reconciliation informed by  Western literary devices—a synthesis that  was primarily political in nature and an attempt to create an arc from Ur to modern Iraq through affinity and not a determinis-tic chronology. In Sayyab’s formulation, affinity in the creative process is antidotal to determinism and in turn evades the bellicose power dynamics of imperial and colonial-era orientalist discourse.Historians of the mid- to late twentieth century remain concentrated on the “inev-itable” supranarratives of globalization and regionalism and have largely neglected to recognize the architecture of the period’s existential transformation of holdover ori-entalist postures into something less instru-mental and more culturally dynamic. The proposition that mythic form and tradition could play a synthetic and modernizing as opposed to a stultifying role in the bilateral mix of an international society comprising nation-states goes unexplored in the often rote analysis of the architecture in the exhibition. Conceived and organized by Pedro  Azara, a professor at the College of Archi-tecture of Catalonia, the exhibition pres-ents a variegated, visually appealing, and  well-selected array of reproduced drawings alongside sensuous if somewhat conven-tional architectural models Azara commis-sioned, designed, and constructed with students. The project’s realization is dou-bly impressive in light of the fact that some of the projects and their models and drawings had been destroyed or otherwise rendered unreachable because of the Iraq  War. The considerable and lamentable des-truction of architecture in Baghdad from the latter half of the twentieth century lies in sharp contrast, however, to the energetic and optimistic construction ambitions This content downloaded from on Mon, 27 Jan 2014 06:02:44 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  400 JSAH / 72:3, SEPTEMBER 2013 personified by an intrepid cast of govern-ment officials who span the transition from monarchy to republic. The exhibition does a fine job of identifying and explaining these shifts and its agents. Nizar Jawdat, a protégé of Walter Gropius from his time at Harvard and son of Prime Minister Ali Jawdat, and his wife, Ellen Jawdat, are perhaps the most important. Capitalizing on earlier and smaller design efforts set in motion by King Faisal II and Rifat Chadirji, the Jawdats steered a public works initiative known as the Bagh-dad Development Board into an ambitious and international arena. The Jawdats and their cohort envisioned a new Baghdad punctuated by seven discrete architectural symbols: justice, ordainment, ministerial authority, knowledge, music, the arts, hous-ing, and meditation and sport. A sports complex by Le Corbusier and Georges-Marc Présenté, which Saddam Hussein later renamed in honor of himself, makes clear the important interrelation-ship of the architect and the political agent in the high-profile architectural projects of the city. The complex was srcinally commissioned by King Faisal II and the  Jawdats in 1956 for the prospective 1960 Summer Olympics. While Le Corbusier’s level of involvement in the project is ambigu-ous, the project was definitely executed to a large extent by Présenté, a French archi-tect living in Iraq. After Le Corbusier’s death in 1965 the project switched hands to the Portuguese architect F. K. D. Amarai,  who ultimately executed the design, mak-ing considerable modifications in the pro-cess. The splendid scheme consists of two discrete spaces characteristically con-structed in béton brut  . The main sports complex is a bulky, hovering volume bedecked by a curved metal canopy and Figure 1 Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown, detail view of arches and mihrab, Project for the Competition of the National Mosque, Baghdad, 1982 This content downloaded from on Mon, 27 Jan 2014 06:02:44 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  EXHIBITIONS  401 interpenetrated and stitched together by ramps. The exhibition copy makes oblique references to possible contextual cues Le Corbusier may have considered, including the excavation on the site of a Babylonian tablet from the seventeenth century BC inscribed with the Pythagorean theorem (ostensibly testifying to his appreciation for human proportions), his famed “jour-ney to the East” (ostensibly testifying to his sensitivity to Muslim and “Eastern” cultural traditions), and the possibility that the spi-raling ramps acknowledged the spiraling minaret of Samarra (ostensibly testifying to formal considerations). The project’s most direct link to precedent is actually to Le Corbusier’s own—namely, the indoor-outdoor play of circulation and the articu-lation of the  promenade architecturale , which emerged from his earlier work in the 1920s. Constantinos Doxiadis’s Sector 10 of the Partial Plan for Western Baghdad, con-structed between 1957 and 1958, constitutes a more recognizably syncretic architectural treatise, one indebted to the architect’s evolving philosophy of ekistics as made evident by the conjugation of massive pre-fabricated concrete lattices with an array of indigenous building materials. That the rather oppressive master plan required the demolition and displacement of a number of small communities is depicted as a fact that is subordinate to the appealing flexi-bility of the new housing types created. Each variant asserts a primacy on the inner patio and generally low-slung architecture, common elements in the architecture of the Middle East. The patios, many of them rotated from the interior to the periphery of the house, maintain privacy through screens or walls but also negate the cooling effect the central patio held for the house.  And while certainly appealing in composi-tion, the house variants demonstrate the limitations of the architect’s treatment of the house as a symbolic form that is pri-marily cultural as opposed to environmental.Breaking the tether to Baghdad, the exhibition momentarily moves to London to visit Peter and Alison Smithson’s Headquarters and Ticketing Office for Iraqi Airways (alternately known as Iraqi House), completed in 1961. The project is situated within a renovated Edwardian storefront. Here the Smithsons dabble in an uncharacteristic form of brand consult-ing, noting that the airline found its status alongside other “exotic” airlines and could excel in the mass market only by embracing a “boutique” identity. The storefront win-dow’s orientalist tableau, consisting of a mannequin of an Iraqi falconer standing barefoot in sand, conceals an interior that is subtler in its cultural references. Des-cribed by the Smithsons as a sand-colored tunnel, “clean as the desert,” the narrow  width of the shop is broken up by undulat-ing, tiled counters, indigenous fabrics, and inset plaster casts of antique Assyrian reliefs from the British Museum that, on the one hand, reference Britain’s own imperialist history in the region and, on the other, lamentably conflate the disparate ancient cultures of Assyria with those closer to Baghdad. Among a series of later projects, a more expressive mode takes hold, best exempli-fied by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Project for the Competition of the National Mosque of Baghdad, designed in 1982 (Figure 1). Venturi and Scott Brown responded to the program, a massive Friday  Mosque for 40,000 congregants, by design-ing a relatively diminutive and antihierar-chical structure whose key architectural statements are a massive hypostyle prayer hall and a dome covering a central exter-nal courtyard. The façade is adorned in “ eclectic” ornament rendered in vivid and colorful pastel drawings that would have been better presented as srcinals. The architects’ project description makes little polemical claim to interpretive license beyond the desire to use Islamic ornament as a self-promulgating constructive scheme.  This design colors the typical transmuta-tion of postmodern principles with reli-gion and culture by rejecting the linear relationship of a solitary sign to a symbol and by rendering cultural cues such as Islamic geometric ornament as an entity that is textural as opposed to visual, infi-nite as opposed to closed, and extrinsic as opposed to s emiotically sealed.  A large didactic model of Baghdad makes the deeply complex patchwork fab-ric of the city’s pre-Islamic, Abbasid, Ilkha-nid, Ottoman, Hashemite, and republican eras explicit. The last sixty-five or so years, some of the city’s most traumatic, are also by far its period of greatest growth. And  while so little of this expansion is conven-tionally recognized as high architecture and even less of it is the product of inter-national practices, the exhibition’s affirma-tion of a broad range of creativity and experimentation in and for the city is  worthy of the deeper insight it offers. None-theless, the promise of the exhibition’s rich critical core—the breakdown of a facile East-West dyad and the potential to reor-ganize the utility of mythic form and tradition in transcultural professional practice—is not sufficiently fleshed out. The sense of distance from the meat of the real topic of the exhibition is compounded by the fact that neither the reproduced drawings nor the newly commissioned models bring the viewer closer to the architectural core of these lustrous, if enigmatic, works. peter christensen Harvard University  Open City: London, 1500–1700 Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C. 5 June–30 September 2012  The main theme of Open City: London, 1500–1700  was the growth, or opening, of London geographically, commercially, and socially in the sixteenth and seven-teenth centuries. This period was chosen as one of unusually dramatic urban change,  which curators Kathleen Lynch and Betsy  Walsh attributed to political change, reli-gious upheaval, and rising consumer con-sumption. Their approach was to make their case by demonstrating transitions in three public arenas: religious practice, theater, and the market. Between 1500 and 1700 London’s pop-ulation grew tenfold, according to the intro-ductory wall label. Accommodating the new population required expansion. Help came from the turn away from the Roman Catholic Church to the Church of England.  This resulted in the dissolution of the mon-asteries, which led in turn to the develop-ment of new residential neighborhoods through the reuse of land and of some build-ings. The exhibition’s starting point is the This content downloaded from on Mon, 27 Jan 2014 06:02:44 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions