Rasem Badran catches up with Rifat Chadirji

During a visit to Rifat Chadirji’s London home with award-winning Palestinian architect Rasem Badran, whose career was triggered by Chadirji’s invitation to participate in the Baghdad State Mosque competition of 1982, the old peers caught up and spoke, of course, of the good times, Arab society and the vast comfort of writing. designMENA has published the conversation here.

Rasem Badran: We’re living in a period where money is the overwhelming, dominating factor, which doesn’t give any value to the people. We should remind the public and keep trying to contribute something, not just to the Middle East, but globally. In your opinion, can you give value to people? As in, through your writing or practice, is it something you’re aiming for?
Rifat Chadirji: We are living in a time where society doesn’t have a unique identity, but one that relies on others when it comes to the Middle East. As for Iraq, I don’t think that, even in 50 or 100 years, it will progress because those who give themselves the right to think can’t withstand the pressure. I remember once in a meeting with the ministry, we were talking about [former president of Iraq] Abdul Salam Arif, and I quickly responded, but I was told that I’m not allowed to intervene in internal affairs, even though the conversation was about architecture.

RB: They don’t understand.
RC: Let ministers deal with their own ministries and refrain from speaking on things that are out of their scope. When I was in Iraq, I didn’t let men of power intervene in my affairs at all. Now, architects, no matter how smart they are, have their work is meddled with. Ignorance is on the rise to a degree that makes authorities believe they understand enough to be able to intervene in an architect’s business, or a doctor’s, or a scientist’s. The Iraq we see today needs at least another 50 years of fixing – I wonder, how can Iraq go back to the way it was in the 1920s, 30s or 40s?

RB: All Arabic societies suffer from this problem, not just Iraq. The financial product in architecture has lost all meaning. These cities have little income, and meanwhile, there’s little trust given to the people to love their city or interact with it. There is little relationship established between people and place, which prompts crime, poverty and ill-mannered society.
RC: I remember in the 1930s and 40s, the Iraqi ministers were polite and knowledgeable. They knew what they were doing.

RB: There’s one question I wanted to ask you – it’s about prison. The way I see it, how I live in any city, I feel as though I don’t exist. When you left all these things – the politics, worsening societies and so on – and when you entered prison, did you look within yourself, as in did the self return in isolation? Does this happen or am I wrong?
RC: Did I feel the freedom to think? I even isolated myself from the prison environment. I focused on reading and writing.

RB: Did this open doors or virtual spaces for you that you hadn’t seen in your practical life? Did you move to a different level of thinking?
RC: Outside prison, I was reading, but inside prison it became a whole new thing for me, as well as writing.

RB: And in writing, you created a new world. Through writing, we access a place that our current reality doesn’t give us in terms of feelings or belonging. Writing allows you this stage of ascension.
RC: It gives you the truth of existence.

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