Iraq's King Faisal II launched plans to modernize Baghdad in 1950 by commissioning a dream team of American and European architects — Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Cambridge's Walter Gropius, Harvard's José Luis Sert, Gio Ponti, Constantinos Doxiadis, Willem Marinus Dudok — to design a university, a sports complex, government offices, and whole neighborhoods.
"City of Mirages: Baghdad, 1952-1982," organized by Barcelona's Collegi d'Arquitectes de Catalunya, uses wall text, illustrations, and models created for the exhibit (no primary sources) to tell the fascinating and melancholy story of dashed Iraqi aspirations and Western Modernist utopian dreams left incomplete, damaged, or unbuilt.
The Western architects rhymed Modernism's clean, minimalist geometry with traditional Arab lattices, geometric decoration, and the warrens of neighborhoods and markets. At times, the Modernists seem to slip into an awkward Orientalist accent — like when Wright took inspiration from minarets and One Thousand and One Nights.
This sort of whimsy ultimately buckled under the intense pressure on Iraq's faults — squeezed by heavily armed world powers, by international addiction to oil, by bloodthirsty, power-mad local strongmen. In 1958, Faisal was executed in a military coup d'état. In 1968, Saddam Hussein became vice president. He rose to president in '79. The following year, Iraq was at war with Iran.
"CITY OF MIRAGES" BSA Space :: 290 Congress St, Boston :: Through January 10