The Baghdad neighbourhood of Abu Nuwas has weathered Iraq’s changing fortunes, its history embracing genteel days as a riverfront idyll for the wealthy, a 70s heyday as hotspot for fun, food and illicit pleasures, and post-invasion demise. For one shining moment in the early 80s, it was the site of a remarkable project conceived by Canadian architect Arthur Erickson and inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright drawings from the 50s. The Abu Nuwas Conservation and Development project was commissioned when Iraq was flush with oil money under the newly empowered Saddam Hussein, who set out to “rebuild Baghdad” for a 1983 conference of non-aligned countries. In the end, the conference never happened, due to the war with neighbouring “non-aligned” nation Iran, which set Iraq on course for three decades of disaster. And so Erickson’s designs for Abu Nuwas – museum, library, performing arts complex, gardens – were never realized. Join Hadani Ditmars – architecture critic and author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone
and the upcoming Between Two Rivers
– to hear about a new initiative to revive the project as a way to reintegrate Baghdad’s sectarianized neighbourhoods. Erickson’s longtime associate Alan Bell, the original project architect, will attend.
is the author of Dancing in the No-Fly Zone: a Woman's Journey Through Iraq
, cited by literary critic Boyd Tonkin as a book that “touches places in the nation’s soul that horror headlines never reach.” She is a past editor at New Internationalist
and current contributor to The Middle East Institute
and has been reporting from the MENA for more than two decades. She also writes about architecture for Architectural Review
, and is a past mentor at UBC's SALA. Her next book, Between Two Rivers
, is a travelogue of ancient sites in Iraq that employs architectural heritage as a narrative device to tell the story of Iraq today.