Renowned Maltese architect and writer Richard England pays tribute to Rifat Chadirji.
I first came across Rifat Chadirji in the mid-1960s when my works and his were featured in TheArchitectural Review. At the time, we were considered renegade practitioners counteracting the then-rampant Modernist Movement and International Style. Ours was a peripheral counter effort to create an architecture modern yet regional, of its time, but rooted to the memory and tradition of its location. Viewing Rifat’s architecture, I was immediately struck by his novel approach in reinterpreting the traditional typologies of his native Iraq into a valid contemporary language. I realised that this was an architectural language of excellence.
Little did I know that later our lives would intertwine, and I would be privileged to work under his guidance and share a close and valued friendship. Soon after our initial meetings, I became aware that Rifat was more than just a brilliant architect. Gifted with a unique cognizant mind, he was one of those rare persons one is privileged to meet and who lights up one’s whole existence. After each meeting with him, I emerged intellectually enriched. For me, as for many others (as testified by the contributors to this tribute), he was not only a much-respected friend, but also a formidable and inspirational mentor. Few nourished my life as he did.
I remain particularly grateful that in the early 1980s, after his appointment as Councillor to the Mayorality of Baghdad, he invited me to be part of the group of international architects* he chose to oversee the reconstruction programme of the city. Among my fondest memories are the evenings spent in the palm-tree-arcaded garden of Rifat’s house, immaculately hosted by his wife Balkis, and in the company of many of the invited architects. All stood in awe of Rifat, not only as a genial architect, but also as an intellectual virtuoso, philosopher and the profoundest of thinkers.
Alas, these experiences were short-lived, as funds allocated for the building programme rapidly diminished as they were transferred to the financing of Iraq’s warmongering with Iran; the result being that post 1984, many of the projects commissioned by Rifat remained either incomplete or destined solely for drawing board imagery.
After Rifat left Iraq and settled in London, we continued to meet and dialogue, and our friendship deepened. Encounters with an individual of such savant qualities and intellectual prowess, overlaid with an innate refined charm, enrich and fructify one’s life. I consider myself fortunate to have shared time with him, and to have been able to count him as an esteemed professional colleague and friend. The paeans documented in this tribute parallel my respect and admiration.
*Architects commissioned by Rifat Chadirji to work on the development of Baghdad: The Architects Collaborative Venturi + Scott Brown Arthur Erickson Ricardo Bofil Richard England Sheppard Robson Arup Associates Carlfried Mutschler Fumihiko Maki John Warren Ali Mousawi Arc Design Consultants M + R International OTH Skaarop + Jesperson JCP Inc. Test