Le Corbusier in Baghdad
An architectural historian at Georgetown University, Dr Mina Marefat explores the history of Le Corbusier’s Gymnasium
Baghdad in 1957 was the scene of a unique confluence. Looking to represent the new nation of Iraq as a sophisticated, modernising member of the world community, the Iraqi Development Board invited five of the world’s most famous architects to design and build signature projects in the capital city. The United States’ Frank Lloyd Wright and giants of International Style, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius of Bauhaus fame, as well as Italy’s Giò Ponti and Finland’s Alvar Aalto were all invited to Baghdad.
Lasting a mere 18 months, before a coup d’etat and political upheaval changed the trajectories of power in Iraq, this moment was one of converging historical currents. First, it remains as an early testament to the internationalisation of modern architecture when major pioneers of architectural modernism conveyed their vision and established their practices worldwide. Second, and intimately connected with the first, Baghdad served as a stage where the tensions between architectural universalism and particularism after World War II were enacted. Third, Baghdad is one of many cities where, from the 1930s to the 1960s, state-sponsored building redefined urban significations and symbolism.An architectural historian at Georgetown University, Dr Mina Marefat explores the history of Le Corbusier’s Gymnasium