All images courtesy of Sahar M. Kharrufa

Iraqi architect races to document Mosul’s standing doorways and arches

Sahar M. Kharrufa has surveyed Mosul’s historical structures to record their architectural expressions. Here, she shares some of her illustrations with Round City.

“The threat to it now is huge,” said Sahar M. Kharrufa, a consultant architect from Mosul about the city’s architectural heritage. “From the robberies to the uncontrolled reconstructions, what’s left of these historical sites is being jeopardised and demolished.”

Kharrufa, who was a member of the academic staff at Mosul University’s architecture department from 1998 to 2019, has recently taken it upon herself to conduct a study of the city’s doors, elevations, columns, arches and more, hoping to record Mosul’s vulnerable urban identity. Combining information she gathers from images taken by devoted and cooperative photographers, as well as her personal surveys, Kharrufa, an artist who specialises in graphic paintings, has produced a number of illustrations that depict her findings, making the information readily available to the public.

Door samples by Kharrufa

Although she studied Islamic, Arab and Iraqi architecture, she admits to having had little knowledge about Mosul’s built environment. However, since the city’s official liberation from Isis in 2017, the city has continued to face a diverse range of threats, from political and economic instability to violence, sparking her urgent endeavour to learn and record as much as possible about its urban fabric. According to Kharrufa, “suddenly, all boundaries vanished.”

“My knowledge of the architecture of Mosul’s old city came from what my father would mention during his late-night stories, which gave me a glimpse of the vanishing memories of my elders,” she said. “I would enrich this knowledge by visiting the old city to document some of the old houses there, but that knowledge was just the tip of the iceberg.

“That’s why our knowledge of our local architecture is constrained to arches, courts and narrow alleys,” she added. “We [were never told about] the deep meaning and needs that drove and produced such architecture. [Across Mosul], there was a poor copying process that many architects did and are still doing now.”

According to Kharrufa, Mosul’s old city is an enclosed community and it’s uncommon to see a visitor with a camera, pen and paper – unless, of course, you’re connected to a government organisation. Luckily, Kharrufa was able to obtain permission to perform her research.

House elevation drawn from a photo taken by Abdul Salam Abu Ahmed

Described as a “gem in a Matryoshka doll” by Kharrufa, Mosul’s old city is a portal of sorts for the architect, allowing her to explore craftsmanship, ideology, and the varying personalities of the city’s eras. Throughout her research process, she’s come across a number of findings, including the differences between doors based on their dominant features (she’s made several divisions that doors can be categorised into), as well as how some proudly mark their historical or religious associations. So far, she has published 115 doors in her book Mosul Doors, Anatomical Study of the Formal Characteristics of Doors in Mosul Old City and continues to make information accessible via social media.

And while she feels a strong sense of urgency to capture as much as possible about the city’s architectural history, she also hopes that fellow architects will join her in her efforts to document the city’s disappearing buildings and structures, as well as apply these designs in their new projects.

“I haven’t reached my goal yet,” she said. “Architectural documentation, for me, is a continuous process that started with doors and won’t stop until it covers all aspects of Mosul’s architecture… It is the identity of Mosul that I’m looking forward to keeping, and representing again and again.”

Below, a slideshow of Kharrufa’s illustrations depict Mosul’s architectural expressions in great detail.