Prolific Iraqi architect Rifat Chadirji dies at 93

One of Iraq’s greatest architects and thinkers, Dr Rifat Chadirji, passed away on 10 April, 2020 in London.

Iraqi architect, author and theoretician, Rifat Chadirji, whose buildings defined the skyline of Baghdad and writings reshaped modernism in Iraq and the Middle East, died in London on 10 April, 2020 at the age of 94.  Chadirji, the Baghdad-born architect and the co-founder of the award-winning architectural and engineering practice Iraq Consult, has left an incredible impact on the built environment of Iraq. His influence and importance, which extends beyond built projects, remains greatly felt today.

Chadirji was not just renowned for his work in the Middle East and the Arab world: in 1982 and 1987, he was elected an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the American Institute of Architecture respectively; in 1986, he was awarded the Chairman Award of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture; and in 2015, he received an Honorary Doctorate from Coventry University and was the recipient of Tamayouz’s Lifetime Achievement Award

After leaving Iraq in the 1980s and moving to Boston, he taught philosophy at the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University for seven years. In his publications, written in Arabic and English, Chadirji continuously challenged the classical and current concepts of the relationship between content and form and called for reassessment of some aspects of existing theories in art and architecture. 

Chadirji’s works are international in their concept and technology, but regional in their character. He saw the best architecture as an interaction between social needs and social technology, which was the subject of his best-selling book “Concepts and Influences: Towards a Regionalized International Architecture”. 

Chadirji was most proud of his photographic archive of 80,000 photographs documenting social life in Iraq from the late 1950s through the early 80s. His anthropological approach to photography makes his collection one of the most unique documentations of traditional Iraqi neighbourhoods, crafts and religious ceremonies and rites. The physical archive is now at the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT while the digital archive is with Tamayouz Excellence Award. 

Rifat Chadirji’s Work

The Unknown Soldier Monument (1959), the platform of the “Freedom Monument” (1959) in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, The Central Post Offices (1970), The Federation of Industries, The Ministers’ Cabinet (1975), the National Insurance Company in Mosul and the Rafidain Bank (1969), the Veterinary Hospital (1964), the Academy of Science in Baghdad (1965), the School for Veterinary Medicine in Baghdad (1965-1967), and the Tobacco Monopoly Company building in Baghdad (1966), orphanages in Duhok and Arbil (1969) and the Institute for the Deaf, Mute, and Mentally Challenged (1970).

​Since 1967, Chadirji’s work expanded to other Arab states. They include housing complexes in Kuwait (1967-1968), a cinema and office building in Bahrain (1968), the Dharan Medical Centre and Dental Clinic (1977), and the National Theatre in Abu Dhabi (1977).

Rifat Chadirji’s Legacy

During the celebration of the architects’ 90th birthday, Tamayouz Excellence Award launched the Rifat Chadirji Prize for Architecture, a thematic and international competition focusing on design proposals responding to local challenges and opportunities. The primary objective is to establish an accessible source of ideas that respond to social challenges through design.

Through the Rifat Chadirji Prize, official website and digital archive, Tamayouz Excellence Award will continue to celebrate the legacy of Rifat Chadirji.