After the Iraqi Delegation returned from the Pan Arab Conference in 1964, Iraq was preparing to house the next Pan Arab Conference. In order to be prepared to host the next conference, set to be held in Baghdad, the construction of a suitable facility demanded an urgent start. We learned that the Ministry of Works & Housing was unable to comply with the timeline required, and the Ministry asked the Iraqi Offices to meet that challenge. When they called our office and explained the time limitations, we accepted the challenge.
The Ministry asked us to be present at the constructions site already, previously selected by a committee whom we were to meet. The site was Qasser Al Zohor, which was where the kings were living. The committee had already cleared the palace site. That was most saddening and an unwise action. That palace should have been preserved as a historical landmark of the period, and could have been integrated in the design of The Guest House and its landscape.
When we began our design work, we faced major challenges; the timeline, the lack of project references, and designing for the user. First, the timeline placed significant limitations on the the time allotted for reaching a design concept, translating the design into detailed plans for construction, and completing the construction. Second, the absence of project references for a building of this nature in the field meant there were limited examples of designs designed to meet the demand of the head of states and their staff whom were to be housed within the building. Third, the nature of the building posed a challenge to create an atmosphere that could meet the high level and hierarchical status of the occupants while producing a welcoming atmosphere.
Local Iraqi historical and cultural features were selected to be integrated into the design as a reminder of the hosting country and to further enrich the total design concept. The design also emphasized the use of up-to-date technology, achieved through the use of local materials, integrated in innovative ways. Producing a design which could combine all these elements, while reflecting the high caliber status for the guests-kings, heads and leaders of countries-demanded a grandiose scale of design and an innovative architectural language.
The purpose of the guest house was to provide a gathering space for the heads and leaders of Arab countries to discus and promote present and future actions to realize the aims of Pan Arabism. Accordingly, the guest house's form would have to carry and embody the message unity, balanced decision-making and dignity. To do this, symmetry was an essential and accentuated element of the building's form. We adopted and embodied Grand Scale in all element of the form to express a monumentality harmonious with the status of the future occupants. All these elements were achieved through the use up-to-date technology coupled with local materials, in order to form a synthesis which could be considered both an innovative and cultural landmark of its time.
After a ceremonial reception at the airport, government guests would be arriving with their staff of advisors, ministers, and counselors to our Guest House. The first aim of the design concept was to create a visual impact to greet approaching guests by emphasizing the monumentality of the buildings form and an architectural language expressing the hierarchy of the guests through sculptural forms. Monumentality was emphasized first by setting the structure on a raised platform, adding to its formality, and by the addition of monumental, elegant and free-standing columns on the platform. These columns supported a huge structural umbrella, with a daring cantilever, further contributing to the emphasis of monumentality and unifying the sculptural formation of all units. Again, our approach used up-to-date technology of the period in the structural system; namely pan concrete. The large umbrella was finished with precast units in special patterns, as were the columns. All were made of local materials, but created using new technology.
The new architectural language of The Guest House was conceived a courtyard plan, which was vernacular in style, but open on one end, giving guests a continuity of vision. The idea was that the immediate landscape would extend into the surroundings, allowing its water channels, and green and paved areas to extended into the surrounding environment. These elements, and the the umbrella and its sculptural form, enhanced the level of formality. The latter was further enriched by the shades and shadows created by the sun's movement over the course of the day, allowing the changing of time to highlight the building's the sculptural form.
The design's integrated elements of monumental scale reflects the status of the occupant. The total form represents unprecedented innovation in the architectural scene, affirming the notion that architecture is a product of the cultural landscape it is developed in. Another unique element of the guest house, was the integration of Iraqi artists' work into all aspects of design. All rooms and spaces were decorated with paintings, sculptures, and ceramic wall ornamentation created by Iraqi artists. Ten large murals reflecting a chronological history of the area were incorporated. We created and employed decorative patterns on all floors of the building.
When the project was completed, the inauguration of the guest house was attended by President Jacques Chirac. The firm was also allowed to attend, but photographs were not permitted. Unfortunately, the building has since been completely demolished. I have no idea why, but usually political changes are behind such actions. The only thing I hope is that they saved the work of all the Iraqi artists.