Frank Lloyd Wright grew up fascinated with The Arabian Nights, like many children of the era in which he grew up. He even named one of the chapters of his Autobiography "Aladdin". In 1957 he was called to Baghdad to design an opera house. After returning, he designed the opera house, and several other buildings for the "Isle of Edena" and downtown Baghdad. The Baghdad designs Wright produced in that year do not look out of place in a Middle-Eastern setting, with the curves, domes, spires, and use of the ancient ziggurat idea as a parking solution. The illustrations on either side depict Wright's Harun al Rashid Monument (left), contrasted with the 2,500 year old tower ruin at Samarra in Iraq (right).
In a talk given at the San Rafael High School during July, 1957 (when he
was working on the Marin County Civic
Wright said of Iraq and his project there:
"Now, at present, I happen to be doing a cultural center for the place where civilization was invented-that is Iraq. Before Iraq was destroyed it was a beautiful circular city built by Harun al Rashid but the Mongols came from the north and practically destroyed it. Now what is left of the city has struck oil and they have immense sums of money. They can bring back the city of Harun al Rashid today. They are not likely to do it because a lot of western architects are in there already building skyscrapers all over the place and they are going to meet the destruction that is barging in on all big western cities. So it seems to me vital over there to try and make them see how foolish it is to join that western procession."
Young King Faisal II of Iraq was murdered along with his family in a military revolution led by Brig. Abdul Karim Kassem in 1958, which put an end to this project. None of the buildings were ever constructed, although echoes of the project's curvilinear designs showed up in such later buildings as the Gammage Auditorium.. Designed two years before the architect's death, these drawings are perhaps second only in scope to "Broadacre City" among his designs.
Several of the buildings of the Baghdad project are listed below, with illustrations. You can click on the smaller "thumbnail" illustrations to see much larger, detailed versions:
These domes of reinforced concrete were designed for the grand bazaar (marketplace) The image displayed to the right is a small part of a much larger image: click on it to see the complete, much larger Wright sketch. (images © 1998 the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ. Sketch originally rendered as pencil and colored pencil on tracing paper. FLLW Fdn # 5720.003)
Baghdad University, Baghdad, Iraq, 1957
This complex used the ziggurat as the generic form for parking cars. Please click on the thumbnail image to the right to see this large, detailed color image. The image is over 140k in size, which means it might take some time to load on slower systems. This sketch shows an aerial view of the area of Baghdad around Edena Island. Several of the buildings can be seen in this view. Mecca is indicated at the top of the sketch where maps usually indicate North. (images © 1998 the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ)
Crescent Opera Civic Auditorium
At the center of this complex can be found the inspiration for the Grady Gammage Auditorium. Each of the three images above is a detail from a much larger sketch. Click on the images to see the larger sketches (which may take some time to load). The design features arches outside, inside, and through the building, and there were sculptures of Arabian Nights characters planned to go into some of the arches. The building is surrounded by a parking ziggurat, which is bordered by a park containing fountain-statues of Adam and Eve (best visible in the first image). (images © 1998 the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ)
Monument to Haroun-al-Rashid. This tower is shown at the upper left corner of this page. Click here to see the detailed image of the sketch by Frank Lloyd Wright. The image to the right is a detail from the Baghdad University drawing (described and shown earlier in the page) that shows the tower on the tip of Edena Island. (images © 1998 the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ)
The two images above are compressed details from much larger sketch images of the Postal-Telegraph building of the Baghdad project. Click on the images to see the larger sketches (which may take some time to load) (images © 1998 the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ)
The image to the right is a detail from Wright's sketch of the art gallery he designed for this project. It shows the main lobby entrance. Click on the image to see the sketch of the entire building.
Click here to see a sketch of this museum plan (floor plan and front elevation). As with many of the sketches for this project, this is part of a Plan for Greater Baghdad, dedicated to the architect to Sumeria, Isin, Larsa, and Babylon.
I would like to thank Margo Stipe of the FLLW Foundation for her assistance with permissions.
© Copyright 1998 Chris Miller
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