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The Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium for Arizona State University in Tempe was the last major nonresidential building that Frank Lloyd Wright began to design before his death in April 1959 (Fig. 1). The structure has an uncertain position in the historiography and criticism of Wright's architecture. First, there have been alternative accounts of how much Wright himself contributed to the ultimate design. Built from 1962 to 1964, the auditorium was developed after his death by his successor firm, Taliesin Associated Architects, led by William Wesley Peters (1912-1991) and John Rattenbury (b. 1928), who worked with consultants Vern O. Knudsen (1893-1974) for acoustics and George C. Izenour (b. 1912) for stage equipment. Second, the design that Wright made before his death was an adaptation of his unbuilt project of 1957-58 for an opera house in Baghdad, Iraq. The resemblance between the Baghdad and Tempe designs runs counter to Wright's repeated claim that his organic modern architecture was created for specific clients and sites. This ideal of individuality was to distinguish his work from what he saw as the generic solutions of much modernist architecture. Third, the form of the Gammage Auditorium, with its multiple circular geometries, its exterior colonnade, and the pedestrian ramps that connected to the surrounding parking, has been criticized as awkward and not worthy of inclusion in the Wrightian canon. Given these historical, theoretical, and aesthetic doubts about the building, it is not surprising that it remains little known and its relation to the Baghdad project not fully explored. (1)
This article offers a detailed account of the Gammage Auditorium's origins as a means of reevaluating the building in the history of Wright's work and its relation to his earlier project for Baghdad. Groundbreaking studies of Wright's designs for Baghdad have been published by Neil Levine (1996) and Mina Marefat (1999). That project's political context and architectural sources are here considered further as essential to an account of Gammage. Looked at together, the Baghdad and Gammage designs in turn clarify Wright's approach to modern public architecture in the postwar era. This was an issue that he had addressed earlier in his unbuilt design for the Arizona state capitol of February 1957, which is also considered here as a study in regional modernity. Since working as Louis Sullivan's younger colleague in the 1890s, Wright had been committed to the ideal of a modern American architecture in opposition to historic styles derived from Europe. From the early 1930s on, he had been an outspoken critic of European modernist architecture, or what became known in the United States as the International Style. Wright's critique of modernism operated on several levels. Rhetorically, he often proposed that modern architecture be regionally specific rather than globally uniform. Architecturally, he sought to realize this aim of regional character in his later public buildings in different parts of the United States and abroad. At the same time, his resistance to the modern movement focused on the glass box as its ubiquitous convention. In contrast, in his later public works Wright developed a wide range of forms for buildings serving different functions. From this perspective, the individual specificity of his architectural designs varied more with use than with place, even though Wright consistently presented a rhetoric of regionality.
In the Baghdad Opera House and Gammage Auditorium, Wright's regional ideal might have implied a greater difference between these buildings for Iraq and Arizona. Yet in adapting his Baghdad hall to Arizona State University, Wright demonstrated his belief that an architectural scheme could fit a client and site different from those for which it was first intended. The two buildings' formal similarities derive from their similar functions and desert landscapes. This process of revising a carefully developed design for a modern functional type was one that Wright repeated throughout his seventy-plus-year career, but in his lifelong oeuvre, Gammage Auditorium is among the closest approximations of an earlier unbuilt project in a built public structure. On one level, these large halls for music in the desert marked a culmination of Wright's fascination with the geometric forms of the circle and the arc. On another level, both his clients saw their auditoriums as the defining symbols of their institutional aims. The Iraqi government and the leadership of Arizona State University both sought to define their cultural identity in an era of postwar change. (2)
Wright and Ideas of Regional Modern Architecture
Wright designed for Arizona and Baghdad in the context of a broad debate in the later 1950s on an appropriate modern architecture for recently independent countries in the developing world, itself one phase of a longer ongoing discussion of regional character in modern architecture from the 1930s. Although the rise of critical regionalism and postcolonial theory in architectural culture did not begin until the early 1980s, this recent body of theory provides a helpful frame of reference for a retrospective understanding of the earlier postwar debates. Since the 1980s, as William Curtis and Alan Colquhoun have written, in regionalist theory, an authentic modern architecture in different parts of the world must be firmly based on specific local practices rooted in climate, geography, materials, and cultural traditions. In their view, architects who either do not carefully consider these factors or who apply superficial stylistic motifs in order to recall a region's earlier architecture are not producing culturally valuable new work. Colquhoun especially stresses that regionalist theory tends to assume that there is an essential type of architecture appropriate to a place and its lifestyle, and architecture that fulfills this ideal is an object of desire. Such an architecture is the representation or mental image of a region's characteristics, which may or may not correspond to that region's earlier histories or may selectively identify with certain aspects of the region's natural or human past. The choice of which attributes of a region to identify with is an ideologically motivated one for clients and architects. In premodern times, a region's architecture is often assumed to have had an unself-conscious, or what Wright would term an organic, relation to material and social conditions. Yet modern architects often do not so much express the essence of regions as they use local architectural or natural features as motifs in a compositional process in order to produce original, unique, and contextually relevant work--an artistic process that is culturally most self-conscious. It is such a process that Wright was engaged in for Baghdad, and even earlier for Arizona. (3)
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In the 1950s, Wright's work and thought were part of a discussion of regionalism in the United States that focused on the role of Western architects designing major public buildings for non-Western capitals. Two building types at the center of the period's debates were hotels and embassies. As Annabel Wharton has shown, in hotel building, the patronage of the Hilton Hotels International Corporation encouraged replication of a recognizably consistent architecture that would certify to an audience of business travelers Hilton's standards of service based on American models, regardless of a hotel's locale. This aim encouraged variations on the International Style in Hiltons of the 1950s, one of which was commissioned for Baghdad in 1956. While designers endowed these buildings with ornamental motifs that alluded to their locale's architectural past, the political subtext of this postwar architecture could be read as the assertion of American capital's international presence in the context of the Cold War. (4) As Jane Loeffler has pointed out, a different debate surrounded the architecture of American embassies in this period. These structures were to convey the stature and modernity of the United States to the host country while acknowledging that country's cultural identity as a context for diplomacy. Like the Hilton hotels, the embassies ran the risk of superficiality in their stylistic references to local traditions, whose building methods were often unlike those of modern structures. Yet among these postwar monuments abroad, Wright reportedly gave high praise to Edward Durell Stone's United States Embassy in New Delhi of 1954-59. (5)
Wright had stressed the regional identity of his own work since his development of the Prairie House around 1900, and he had first articulated his position on regional character in international architecture in the 1920s when designing the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Commissioned in 1913 by the Japanese government for Western guests to the capital, the Imperial Hotel was intended by Wright to be true to both traditional Japanese sensibilities and the building's modern functions and construction. He wrote of this project, "I could not build a Japanese building, nor did I want to do so--nor was it necessary or desirable. But I could build a building addressed to the Japanese people as an epic of their race and inspire them to efforts of their own." (6) For Wright, the question of a culturally specific identity in modern architecture also applied to the United States. In 1923 he noted that "our own architectural situation is not so different from Japan's as we like to think it is. We are under the same necessity to develop an indigenous architecture. The Japanese once had such an architecture and now must create it again for a changed life condition." (7)
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From the 1930s Wright developed this theme mainly in opposition to the prevalent International Style. Through the post-World War II era to his death, he maintained that regionally specific determinants were
still valuable points of departure for an authentic modern architecture. For the last thirty years of Wright's life, central Arizona, with its arid climate, was the place where he most consistently tested this ideal within the United States, although his work in California and Florida had also reflected this aim. As he said in 1950: "The only way to avoid the unconfined spread of modernized mannerisms is to make people aware of the potentialities of their own regions and to dissuade them of the illusion that good American architecture is necessarily All-American." (8) In this sense, Wright's regionalist ideal shaped his approach to postcolonial Iraq and to postwar Arizona, both as places that had yet to find their cultural voice in modern architecture.
Wright and a Modern Public Architecture for Arizona
While Wright's life and work in Arizona went back to 1927, and he and the Taliesin Fellowship had wintered in Taliesin West since 1937, he had not designed realized public buildings for his adopted state. This situation changed in 1957, in the early phase of metropolitan Phoenix's postwar development. Named in 1869 by an English pioneer for the mythical bird of antiquity, Phoenix and nearby Tempe (named by the same man, for the ancient Grecian valley) had grown as a center for manufacturing since World War II. In January 1957, the Associated State Capitol Architects, a group of four Arizona architectural firms earlier hired by a state commission, presented a proposal for a new Arizona state capitol building in Phoenix. The original building, designed in 1898 by Texas-based architect J. Reily Gordon and dedicated in 1901, was set in a ten-acre park that the English landscape gardener George Hough Smith designed as an oasis, with a large variety of plants and trees imported from abroad. After World War I, wings were added to the central domed building (Fig. 2). The new capitol proposed in 1957 would have replaced this structure on a site nearby with a central twenty-story office tower for gubernatorial and executive offices flanked by two domes on low separate wings for the Senate (left) and House of Representatives (right) (Fig. 3). The Senate almost unanimously approved this design, but the legislature adjourned in March with the proposal still in a House committee. The design echoed modernist postwar, glass-faced Manhattan skyscrapers, especially the United Nations Headquarters, New York, of 1947-50 by Harrison and Abramowitz, the form and symbolism of which Wright had severely criticized. (9)
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In early February 1957 Lloyd Clark of the Phoenix Gazette mailed a note to Wright, enclosing a published sketch of the design that the legislature then was considering and asking for his comments. Wright replied, "Why comment? The thing is its own comment on Arizona." (10) On February 6, Clark visited Wright at Taliesin West to ask him what he might propose for an Arizona capitol, and in reply Wright made initial pencil sketches for a great spreading shelter that might resemble a dome. He told Clark, "A capitol in the sun country should not resemble anything in New York." (11) Wright rapidly created an alternative design for a new state capitol, which he announced in plans and renderings dated February 17, 1957, with an accompanying text. Wright proposed that his building, which he called Oasis, occupy a site in the desert hills of scenic Papago Park, known for its native red rocks. Largely outside the city limits of Phoenix, this 1,176-acre state park had been an Indian town site, homestead, and national monument. At that time, the park was being considered for recreational development that Wright believed would complement his project. This historic landscape conveyed those regional associations that were the keynote of Wright's plan, which "reflects the characteristic spaciousness and charm of the desert and mountain setting he envisions in Papago Park." Like Taliesin West, he said of his capitol design, "There is no more poetic or delightful creation than an oasis in the desert, its fountains and greenery contrasting with the sand and rocks around it." (12)
Wright's plan in outline recalled the ancient Indian symbol of the Thunderbird (Figs. 4, 5). The governor's office sat at its head, on an axis with the Supreme Court; offices for legislators occupied the outstretched wings; and symmetrical chambers for the House and Senate, with their public ceremonial spaces, took up the body and pointed tail. The central area between the chambers, which Wright called Arizona Hall, was to have space for mural paintings and sculpture typifying the state's history and galleries for the display of past and contemporary arts. The rooms nearby for the governor, court, and legislature were distinct hexagonal enclosures, all to be set beneath a 400-foot-wide canopy of copper-clad concrete beams framing glass in a hexagonal pattern. The canopy would rest on a peripheral "arcade" whose columns would be of onyx, a material that, like copper, Wright noted as being native to Arizona. The canopy was intended to break the sun, permitting exotic plantings below, and thereby recalling Hough's oasis setting for the existing capitol. A tall central cupola, on one side of which rose a spirelike tower for television and radio broadcasting, crowned the canopy. In short, the most important architectural forms in both plan and exterior were less abstract than figurative, in the sense of both recalling natural forms and metaphorically signifying regional identity. In his public presentation of his plans, Wright described the crenellated canopy as
a great tree, filtering sunlight over subordinate but beautiful buildings and gardens standing together beneath the canopy in harmonious relation to this hexagonal domed shelter and to each other. All stand beneath and together in green gardens, fountains playing, pools reflecting. Great vistas of beauty are everywhere: useful function perfected no less--but more so when thus sheltered and standing high and wide in Arizona landscape out in the Valley of the Sun.... A new freedom--this--that would stand in modern times for Arizona as the Alhambra once stood in Spain before our continent was discovered. (13)
The state capitol project inspired Wright to articulate his views about an appropriate public architecture for Arizona. The same ideas underlay his subsequent design for the Gammage Auditorium. Wright declared to his fellow citizens:
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The cramped urban accommodations of the Nineteenth Century as now seen in the officially approved capitol for Arizona should not be allowed to date the State. The design for the proposed capitol is completely dated in this middle of the Twentieth Century. Arizona, the youngest of the United States, is also youngest in geological time. Therefore outlines are sharpest and colorful; contours most picturesque. Her terrain is unique in the world: destined, in spite of obtuse insistence upon industry and agriculture, to become the playground of these United States of America.... I present a true Twentieth Century economical building of a character suited to grace Arizona Landscape as seen, for instance, in unique Papago Park--a park near enough to an urban center to be convenient but yet be unspoiled by mediocrity--its appropriate use thus heightening its beauty. The park and the capitol together as here presented make a harmonious circumstance of which future Arizona will have good reason to be proud.
He concluded, "To build an already dated New York monstrosity to stand up to present Arizona to posterity seems to me a crime." (14)
Wright led a vigorous campaign to gain public support for his project through June 1957, and the spirited debate that ensued gained statewide and national attention. His five-month-long effort continued past his ninetieth birthday in June, after his journey to Iraq in May. Clark, who had published several articles about Wright's plans in February and March, arranged a press conference on April 5. In Clark's press release, Wright was quoted as saying that "the state and its people are entitled to a capitol building consistent with the terrain and climate and nature of the Southwest--not a building that can be found in any duplicated skyscraper style of a hundred cities." (15) Through the spring, Wright mounted a campaign to gain the signatures of twenty-five thousand voters, required by state law to have the issue decided by popular vote. (16) By June, however, his plan was rejected by legislators who claimed it was "too ornate and would be too expensive." (17) The proposal was also legally questionable, because Arizona's constitution required that the state capitol be located in the city of Phoenix. Nonetheless, in his state capitol design, Wright presented a vision of modern civic monumentality in the desert that was structurally innovative and regionally expressive. The affinity between the proposed capitol and its landscape was consistent with his own architecture nearby at Taliesin West and his earlier unbuilt project for a resort hotel near Phoenix, San Marcos-in-the-Desert of 1928-29. (18) At the same time, the state capitol as Wright envisioned it included explicit symbolic references to Native American and also to later Arizona history. In short, his regional ideal for a modern public architecture included elements of both nature and culture. Wright would soon explore similar themes for a new public architecture in Baghdad, with its very different history and politics.
Wright's Opera House for Hashimite Baghdad
Wright's project for the Arizona State Capitol coincided with his appointment as architect of the Baghdad Opera House. In a letter of January 24, 1957, he accepted the commission from Dr. Dhia Jafar, Iraq's minister of development and head of the Iraqi Development Board. On February 26, the board approved the appointment of Wright "as consultant on designs and specifications for the Baghdad Opera House," which was initially to be centrally located. (19) When Wright arrived in the Iraqi capital on May 19, he entered a city that was then at the center of debate about Iraqi attitudes toward the modern world and the area's multiple pasts. (20)
Under the Hashimite kings, in power first with British support from 1921, Iraq's government had pursued a dual ideological course through the post-World War II era. Iraq presented itself as a center of Arab independence, first from the Ottoman Turks, who had ruled the region until World War I, and then from the British, who granted Iraq full sovereignty in 1932. As a constitutional monarchy, the Iraqi crown championed a national identity as a modern ideal to override ethnic rivalries within the new state's borders. Yet historically, Iraq identified its golden age as the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258 CE), when the country was the domain of the caliph, or the head of Islam succeeding the Prophet Muhammad (570-632). Descendants of the Prophet's uncle Abbas brought the caliphate to Iraq, and the second Abbasid caliph, al-Mansur, moved the capital to Baghdad, which he began to build in 762. Under his son, Harun al-Rashid (786-809), Baghdad flourished as a commercial and intellectual center, whose best-known literature was The Thousand and One Nights, dating partly from the ninth century, many of its stories set at Harun al-Rashid's court. Hashimite kings sought to equal this period's greatness. As the head of the newly forming Baghdad University said, "It will return the golden era of Baghdad during the Abbasid reign." (21)
After World War II, Iraq's oil production gave the country large financial resources in proportion to its population of about 6.5 million in 1957. In that year its capital city of Baghdad had over one million people, an increase of 90 percent over 1947. (22) Western powers saw Iraq as the key Arab bastion against the Soviet Union. The United States came to support the Baghdad Pact of 1955, a cooperative treaty between Iraq, Turkey, and (later) Iran, Pakistan, and Great Britain, but excluding Egypt, then Iraq's main competitor for regional leadership. (23) Under the Iraqi Development Board, created in 1950, 70 percent of the annual oil revenues of well over $200 million went toward a program of building dams, irrigation systems, power stations, roads, railroads, airfields, schools, hospitals, housing, factories, and other facilities to enable the country's rapid modernization. Through the 1950s, British and American aid and expertise played central roles in this process, which was supported by the Eisenhower administration. Wright's visit to Baghdad coincided with other American journeys aimed at strengthening ties to Iraq. As one American observer wrote of Iraq's efforts in 1957, "No similarly complete program for an underdeveloped country is underway anywhere else in the world." (24)
As a constitutional monarchy with a parliament, the Hashimite government claimed to be democratic. Iraq's head delegate to the Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference in London in September 1957 asserted that "Arabs practiced a democratic way of life in antiquity and that they later established the principles of Government by the people according to the teachings of Islam," as in Iraq's medieval golden age under Harun al-Rashid. Iraq's modern leaders believed that "the world conflict between democracy and Communism is more focussed in the Middle East now than ever before." "[C]onvinced that the age of imperialism is vanishing," they did not, however, "want to see Communism replace it in the Middle East." (25) Although he sought to control political parties and the press, Prime Minister Nuri al-Said, who had created and chaired the Development Board, similarly spoke of Iraq's development in democratic terms, telling his people in a nationwide broadcast of March 1957, "The gold which is being produced from under the earth is your property. It is from the people to the people." (26) If Hashimite Iraq saw Communism as a nondemocratic colonialism, the counter-weight it proposed was modernization that incorporated elements of Arab cultural traditions. This was the ideal of Iraq's prince regent, Amir Abdul Ilah, who had ruled from 1939 to 1953 during the minority of his nephew King Faisal II, who ruled until deposed in July 1958. On a visit to Washington in February 1957, asked to comment on Iraqi gains, the prince lauded the considerable progress achieved thus far, but he added, "I don't mean that we should copy everything because it is modern. We prefer to have those things that suit us." This prince regent, along with his royal nephew, would be a key supporter of Wright's project. (27)
As capital of a resurgent yet retrospective Iraq, Hashimite Baghdad was the focus of much thought about its urban planning, housing, and public buildings. A master plan was crafted by the London firm of Minoprio and Spencely and P. W. Macfarlane in March 1956 (Fig. 6). After flood-control measures along the Tigris, the most important changes during the mid-1950s were the series of new wide streets that were cut through the premodern urban core to link the city's districts on either side of the river with new bridges. In March 1957 King Faisal II ceremonially opened several boulevards and bridges for motor traffic, whose regulation was itself a new municipal challenge. On the east bank, near where the radial streets converged, the master plan called for a civic center to house the main government buildings. It was there, in one of the capital's most highly populated districts, where costs of expropriating land and buildings were high, that a new opera house was first envisioned (Fig. 6: a). The building was to occupy an open site of 10,000 square meters, or about two acres, where the British Trade Fair had taken place in 1954. By the summer of 1957, however, shortfalls in Iraqi oil exports had depleted revenues to the point that the expropriation costs for the civic center proved prohibitively high, and many of its component buildings, including the opera house, were relocated in subsequent plans. (28)
One Iraqi architect noted that the chief supporter of the Opera House project was Dr. Mohammed Fadhel Jamali (1902-1997), who served as foreign minister seven times from 1946, as prime minister twice, and as president of the Chamber of Deputies twice. Jamali was a central figure within the country's Shi'ite leadership circle, often consulted by Prince Regent Abdul Ilah, whom Wright identified as his chief supporter with the king. Having studied at Columbia University, New York, and the University of Chicago, and married to an American from a prominent Minneapolis family, Jamali also reportedly owned one of Baghdad's largest collections of European classical music. (29) Jamali was pro-Western and anti-Communist, at the same time that he was devoted to Arab unity and Islamic religious culture, ideally under Iraqi leadership. As he said in 1956, "This is a primary objective, to create a modern federation combining the political, military, and economic resources of the ancient 'fertile crescent' area." Regarding Iraq's ties with the United States, Jamali believed that American aid had been too concentrated on economic assistance. He said to an American colleague in 1956:
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I think you should pay far more attention to the ideological and cultural side of things. This is an equally important, an even more important, avenue to understanding and friendship. I understand that American athletic, musical, and other cultural groups have visited other Arab countries with considerable success. There has been very little of that sort of thing here. There ought to be more of it. (30)
By 1957 this situation had changed, in part due to the recent influx of Europeans who were arriving to take a hand in the reconstruction and development of the country as advisers, consultants, traders, and technicians. As part of the era's Cold War cultural exchanges, the State Department invited the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra to tour the Middle East. On September 17, a Baghdad audience of two thousand gathered at the riverside Amanah Hall Gardens, near the city's North Gate, to hear this orchestra's sole local concert of classical and modern Western composers. One critic wrote:
The gardens provided a perfect setting for the concert, with its carpet of lawn and flower hedges, the natural stage curtained with a backdrop of evergreens, the whole theatre open to a starlit sky. Acoustically, a shell behind the orchestra would have improved the carrying of sound to the entire audience and produced a resonance that was lacking, at least in the front part of the garden.
Many of the guests arrived late,
occasioned doubtless by the inadequate parking facilities for such a crowd, and the narrow entrance to the improvised theatre.... The size of the audience and its enthusiasm are proof that Baghdad needs and wants such cultural opportunities, and the community anticipates the time when perfect facilities are available for such occasions. (31)
This situation presumably provided support for the government to create a permanent opera house, perhaps also in a garden setting.
Wright was among the first of a series of Western architects hired by the Development Board to visit the capital. As Levine and Marefat have described, the Iraqi government, which had formerly hired British firms, now commissioned major projects from renowned modernists, including Le Corbusier (a stadium and sports complex), Alvar Aalto (National Art Gallery), Walter Gropius (Baghdad University), Gio Ponti (an office building for the Ministry of Development and the Development Board), William Dunkel of Zurich (a central bank), and Constantine Doxiadis, who designed extensive housing in Baghdad preceding Wright's visit. Gropius had been considered for the university since 1954, yet he and his firm, TAC (The Architects Collaborative), were only officially hired by the Development Board with the support of Ali Jawdat, who succeeded Nuri al-Said as prime minister in mid-June 1957. Gropius began to design the university after he visited Baghdad and surveyed the site in November 1957. Hired in September, Le Corbusier visited Baghdad when Gropius did, delivering a lecture to the Society of Iraqi Engineers on modern architecture. Wright's lecture to this audience on May 22 was "to give Iraqi engineers and architects guidance on designing buildings in Baghdad, whether for private or Governmental use." (32) He recalled that "when I got there I found they knew all about my work.... I talked to them in a very unrestrained fashion, feeling free being way off there in Baghdad." (33) Wright urged his listeners to reject Western commercialism and materialism and praised older Islamic domed mosque architecture. He told them,
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Of course art, architecture, and religion, are yet the soul of any true civilization. They are the elements which will determine how long a civilization is going to live.... I think that if you are to succeed in developing here a life of your own it would be from the interior inspiration of your own great spirit in antiquity.
It is still your period, I mean it is your inheritance. Each great civilization has contributed something of its own to the life of the world. Now in the push of modernism, modernization, that ancient strength should not be weakened and lost and that back-ground of your own culture should now be developed so genuinely, so broadly and so individually that it still has so many phases of beauty that no architect should come here and put a cliche to work. (34)
Wright had expressed the same position when working in Japan from 1913 to 1923, advocating that modern architects working there acknowledge and adapt that country's premodern cultural traditions. In accepting the Baghdad commission, he wrote to Dr. Jafar, "I cannot tell you how pleased I am to serve my feeling for the Orient again--as once before for Japan in the building of the earthquake-proof Imperial Hotel in Tokio." (35) On arriving in Baghdad, Wright made it known that he was "not limiting himself to the design of an opera house only but a sort of cultural centre suited to Baghdad's historical and cultural background as well as its character." He visited "different parts of the city, the museum [of Iraqi antiquities], the Abbasid Palace, the site where Baghdad University will be built and other places to see which site is most suitable for the project." He "has had several talks on the project with the executive members of the Development Board, top-ranking engineers and others," including the board's head, Dr. Jafar. (36) In Arizona Wright had argued that landscape should provide the keynote for new public architecture. In Iraq, as for Japan, he proposed an architecture that was technically and functionally modern but that was not alien to place, understood as both natural and human history. Hence, his tour of the city would logically have focused on a suitable site for his work.
Wright recounted his discovery of that site in a talk he gave to his apprentices, the Taliesin Fellows, on his return:
Flying over [Baghdad] I saw an island, unoccupied, practically in the heart of the city [Fig. 6: c]. And it was about two miles long and about a mile wide, maybe not so wide, three-quarters of a mile. And I wondered, well, when I came down and looked at the map there was that island with nothing on it whatever. And in figuring out where to build an opera house and develop the cultural center. I saw they had allocated the university on the ground opposite the island. And the island was a cleavage right between the city and the university. So I went after that island.
Told that the island was imperial property, Wright recalled that when he visited the young King Faisal II, he "explained to him what I wanted to do with the island. He listened very intelligently, and appreciatively too.... Well, he put his hand on this island place on the map and looked at me with an ingratiating smile and he said, 'Mr. Wright, it is yours,' Now that converted me to monarchy right then." (37) Wright had obtained from the Hashimite king both the commission and the alternative site he desired for his major public building, whereas in Arizona his supporters had not convinced the legislature to approve his proposed capitol building for its comparably naturalistic site in Papago Park.
Wright developed what he called his Plan for Greater Baghdad in drawings mostly dated June 20, 1957 (Figs. 7, 8). Iraq was the site of ancient Sumeria, one of the earliest-known civilizations, whose antiquities in Baghdad's 1920s museum Wright admired. According to one etymology, the name Iraq comes from an Arabic word for origin, in the sense of "root" or "lineage," implying civilization's beginnings there. On the drawings he noted that the plan was "Dedicated to Sumeria, Isin, Larsa and Babylon," the latter three being successor kingdoms in the southern region of the Sumerian Empire from about 2000 to 1800 BCE. The Sumerian word for plain has been identified as a source of the name Eden. The Bible describes the Tigris and Euphrates as two of the four rivers that led from the garden. Narratives of Baghdad stress its centrality in the Islamic world, sometimes culminating in comparisons of the city to Paradise, a term that the Abbasid caliphs occasionally applied to their palaces. Wright told the Taliesin Fellows, "The Garden of Eden was located at an old city named Edena, which was on the great canal taken from the Tigris and Euphrates. And that's about 120 miles, I guess, south of Baghdad. So we are calling this little island the king put his hand on and gave me specifically, the Isle of Edena." (38) He proposed to cut back substantially the area of the island (whose existing area appears in the dotted outline in Fig. 8) and use the earth to raise its ground level above floods. From this island Wright planned a bridge to the right or west bank of the Tigris, connecting to an esplanade (to be named for King Faisal II) running northeast to the public buildings near Baghdad's then main railroad station and airport. Running to the southwest on the island leading to the Opera House, this boulevard was oriented toward Mecca. Another new bridge from the island to the southeast would link to the new university campus, for which Wright also made a design before Gropius's visit to Baghdad to study the site, on the left or east bank at the bend of the river in the park south of the Karradah district. (39)
A bird's-eye view shows that on the island's north end nearest the city, and facing the Royal Palace's compound (not shown) on the opposite west bank of the river (Fig. 7), Wright proposed a statue of Harun al-Rashid to rise atop a spiral base modeled on the minaret of the ninth-century Great Mosque at Samarra, the town north of Baghdad that had served briefly as the capital of the caliphate. The Hashimite dynasty included this mosque and its minaret among the key monuments in its postwar published account of earlier Iraqi history. In April 1956, King Faisal II opened a major flood-control dam across the Tigris at Samarra, as a celebrated realization of the Hashimite ideal of creating "a modern Mesopotamia." (40) Recovery of ancient cultural traditions in new architecture for Baghdad was one way in which the Iraqi capital could avoid the situation of Gamal Abdel Nasser's Cairo, which Wright saw on his trips to and from Iraq. After returning, he wrote that his general design for Baghdad
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