An Internationalised Tradition In Architecture
Rifat Chadirji


Rifat Chadirji, 1987

©Monica Pidgeon

Even when I was a student in architecture in London, the concept as taught in the school did worry me quite a lot. Basically what I discovered was that we look at architecture as a given form, a theory which came to us from Greek philosophy and later on developed into far more sophisticated features in Hegel's and other philosophies, that I did not accept. To me, architecture is a process where one concept of form is created during that very process. It took such a long time for these concepts to develop as we know them. They actually started during the urbanisation of society way back in the third millennium BC in Mesopotamia and in Egypt. Urban society was established from agricultural society and it was there and then that monumental architecture, administrative organisations, a concept of Cosmos and many other social concepts were created and organised. The attitude towards reality, the attitude was qualitative and remained so until the advent of the Renaissance. One discipline followed the other. In physics, mathematics, biology, sociology, anthropology, language and so on, these disciplines gradually, in the 18th and 19th centuries and the beginning of this century, one could say, in each one of these disciplines they had a breakthrough, a change from qualitative to quantitative attitude towards reality. It is, through this attitude that generalised concepts could be converted into numbers, computed and taught precisely and efficiently. But we have had no such breakthrough in architecture. Architecture was not subjected to analysis and to analysis with a scientific attitude. Maybe during the next two or three decades we will have such a breakthrough, and we should. What is hoped will be discovered, is not a formula by means of which we can do architecture, but rather the inner structure, or to put it in other words, what the determining forces are that will interact, which consequently change matter in such a manner which will be suitable for us to use as a building. And that structure is not yet discovered. When I began to look at these matters way back in 1950 and since then, I began to conceptualise the structure of architecture and I put the following formula for myself: that architecture is the end result of a dialectical interaction between two determinants, and that is social need and social technology; and by social need I mean how we conceive of architecture, what we need of architecture, the utilitarian aspect, the symbolic aspect and aesthetic all combined together, makes our concept of our need from architecture. In its totality there's a social need. On the other side we have social technology, our knowledge, the physical properties of matter, how we interact with this matter, whether its bricks or concrete, and what are the economic and social possibilities for this interaction. These two determinants interact, and consequently matter is changed for our benefit and the end result is architecture as we see it. It was with such a concept of architecture that I began not only to ask questions but try to answer these questions for my own benefit as a practising architect. For instance: * Who determines an architectural style - the individual or the community - and what is the work relationship between them? * Why do we have a specific style, or why, at a particular point in history, we have such a social development that creates such a style? * Or why are some of the styles of excellence and other styles are not so commended? There are many other equally pressing questions which confront not only the practising architect but the general public, the recipient, the people who use architecture. For instance: * What is the relationship between traditionalism and modernism - are they contradictory or compatible - and how should we conduct our dealings with them? Should we ignore our tradition or how we use our tradition, particularly when it's the case that some methods in production are no more valid? It was with such theories that I commenced my work in 1952 in Iraq. For instance, my attitude was to combine traditional features with Modern concepts of architecture. It was not an attitude to select features and assimilate them in the sense of putting them as part of my Modern architecture but, rather, looking at tradition as no more valid, as an entity; and abstract these features. And by abstracting I mean isolating the feature from its original determinants, whether they are symbolic or utilitarian, and then combine these features in my architecture.


Offices For Ministry Of Municipal & Rural Affairs, Baghdad, 1965. Competition Design

©R. Chadiriji. The Photos Only Exist In Black And White.

For instance, in my work for the competition of the Ministry Municipality in Baghdad, I had abstracted some features from old Baghdadi houses...

Thanks for previewing this talk

If you would like to view the whole talk please follow one of the following links


Or if you already have an account: