Meeting up with the region’s renowned architects put a spotlight on the past

In early October, I was invited to Coventry and London to meet with architects, academics and theorists to discuss housing reconstruction in Mosul, Iraq. Among those in attendance were Palestinian architect Rasem Badran, Dewan CEO Mohamed Al-Assam, Philip Michael Wolfson, Caecilia Pieri, who has written about Iraqi architecture countless times, and many others. Part of the trip, too, was visiting Rifat Chadirji in the privacy of his home.

Throughout the course of the trip, anecdotes of escaping long-gone dictators, working in the 1980s and meeting modernist legends like Le Corbusier swirled – it felt as though I had been let into a small, ephemeral world that needed to be filmed. I’ve written about much of my experience in this issue, and I will continue to do so over the course of the year.

I had been invited by Tamayouz Excellence Award, an initiative that aims to support architecture across Iraq through its numerous awards. So, not only did I meet the various jury panels filled with the aforementioned architects and academics, but I also witnessed history in the making – particularly if the Mosul housing project can be realised.

I also noticed that within this fleeting world that was floating between Coventry and London, the intellectual elite that represent architecture from the Middle East are mostly from the same generation – their careers overlap and their commitment to the same social responsibility unites them.

While having lunch in London, Badran himself noted that the Arab architects of the late 20th century were brought together through an unspoken moral responsibility to not only contribute to the growing landscape of the Middle East, but to oversee it. They were consultants to their governments, they advised what should (and shouldn’t) be done, and they remained loyal to their design philosophy and vision. Are there architects today in the region doing the same? Or, rather, are most architects building in isolation from each other?

In an earlier issue, I wrote of the rise of a new generation of intellectual architects in the Middle East, from Palestine to Morocco, who seem to be reviving the glory of the past without imitating it. Architects like AAU Anastas and Driss Kettani look to vernacular architecture without directly copying superficial elements of it. They understand how to create and build within the context of the land they’re working on without over-relying on worn out elements, like mashrabiya patterns and artificial shading, but such examples are few and far apart.

This issue remembers the past, to a degree, and honours those whose work may be weathered and unpolished, but beautifully aged and story-driven nonetheless.

It should perhaps also be noted that I am optimistic for the time we live in now. I see the young architects who are truly trying to make a difference, and I hope that in some way, Middle East Architect can be a platform that supports them, too.

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