Almedina Youth House Competition: Learn more about the daily life of Sadr City

With Tamayouz’s Dewan Award for Architecture 2020 focusing on designing a youth house complex in Sadr City, an anonymous resident from the area provides insight into the daily life there.

The Dewan Award for Architecture, established in 2018 as part of Tamayouz Excellence Award’s programme of championing and celebrating the best of architecture, is an international award that focuses on proposing designs that respond to local challenges in Iraq. Named after and funded by Dewan Architects + Engineers, one of the leading architecture firms in the world, the award announces an annual theme for each cycle, and calls on participants to submit architectural ideas that respond to the theme.

For 2020, the theme of the Dewan Award for Architecture is ‘Almedina Youth House Complex’, a district of Baghdad, also known as Sadr City. The competition asks participants to design a multi-activity youth complex and public plaza, creating a youthful cultural strip and a public platform that can host various cultural and social events.

Here, we speak with a local resident from Sadr City, who offers a glimpse into the daily life of the Baghdad district. To read the full brief for the Dewan Award, visit Tamayouz’s website here.

All images are of Sadr City

Can you give us a brief history of Sadr City?
Whoever looks at the Iraq today will notice the deep influence of a particular region in the shaping of its reality. Sadr City lacks the historical depth that competes with Baghdad, Samarra or other well-known Iraqi cities; however, over time it developed its own identity, particularly because the city and its people were separated from other parts of Baghdad and Iraq in general.

Before the 1950s, Sadr’s City had no mention. It was only a place for some Iraqi immigrants from the south of the country who aspired for more opportunities in the country’s capital. At that time, it was called Saraif, and the residents did not have suitable housing, so they used wood, metal and cloth panels to shape roofs over their heads.

All this changed in 1958, after the military coup that turned Iraq into a republic. The new ruler, Abd Al Kareem Qasim, ordered the construction of a new city to accommodate these immigrants in Baghdad. The city would be an incubator of supporters of his rule (a rule that did not last long). He called it Al-Thawra city (the Revolution City).

After the overthrow of Qasim in 1963, the Baath Party transferred power from one president to another until Saddam Hussein took over in 1979. Saddam Hussein changed the name of the city to Saddam’s City – another name that also didn’t last.

Image of the cleric Muhammad Sadiq Al-Sadr

In 2003, during the occupation of Baghdad, the city’s name changed again to Al-Sadr City, after a Shia figure, the cleric Muhammad Sadiq Al-Sadr. He is considered one of the important Shia clerics that confronted Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, and was murdered in 1999 by that regime. Through the clerics and religious schools which were calling for him and his support, he maintained a great influence within Sadr City in particular.

What is daily life like in Sadr City?
Sadr City is like any communal area. Its daily life doesn’t seem obvious – random events and activities prevail most days – but there is one common element, which is the clamor in everything. The sun rises with the clamor of the workers, who are heading in and out of the city to their businesses and who make up a large proportion of the city’s population. There is also a hustle and bustle of government employees, whose cars crowd the city’s exits as they head to their departments. This has led to the forming of a special identity for the city, which is not common with any other area of Baghdad, and the inhabitants of Sadr City miss it as soon as they leave.

What is the built environment of Sadr City like? How does it compare to the rest of Baghdad?
It is overcrowded. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the city, with its relatively small buildings in comparison to the rest of Baghdad, is a densely populated place. Compared to other districts in Baghdad, it’s enough to say that Sadr City was planned with 144 meters per house, while other places of Baghdad, such as Yarmouk, were planned with 800 meters per house.

The most prominent thing people would notice is the gridiron planning of the city used by Greek planner Constantinos Doxiadis to create separate, similar sectors. This is something that we do not see much of in the rest of Baghdad.

Are there places for the youth to gather in Sadr City, or nearby areas?
One of the most important planning problems in the city is that it did not take into account population increase in its basic design, and now the density is five times the original capacity of the city. This necessarily affects the affordability of the health and sports facilities within the city. No ideal urban space can accommodate such an increase in population, let alone in a plan based on solving the housing problem rather than creating an ideal life for the individual.

It can be said that the problem of the lack of urban spaces suitable for residents has an explanation rooted in planning, which grew much larger due to population increase in our time.

What do you think a youth house in Sadr City should consider?
I can’t think of a particular activity because of the great need in the city for all the activities that come to mind, but the most important thing that should be available is a sense of familiarity. The youth house should not be a spacecraft that has nothing to do with the city’s context, history and experience. With that said, it could also be a swimming pool.

What does Sadr City lack that a youth house could help address?
The existence of an all-encompassing space – that’s the most important thing I can think of. There have always been small different spaces for people to have their activities but the city never had a major urban space that the people of the city can go to for their various activities.