Rifat Chadirji is an architect who has imbued his work with a deep understanding of the roots of authentic regional expression, as well as a true appreciation of modernism and its principles. Chadirji has shown a unique capacity for the synthesis of form and function that translates traditional architectural idioms into contemporary expressions.
Chadirji's contributions transcend a mere body of work, important as that may be, for he also is a major figure in one of the most important and influential architectural schools in the Arab world. The Baghdad School of Architecture, where Chadirji taught for many years, has keenly felt Chadirji's influence. Rejecting the use of the forms of the past, Chadirji devised a synthesis of form that could translate into a new and contemporary urban aesthetic -- one that would guide the articulations of a genuinely modern Iraqi town-scape in the latter part of the 20th century.
"I set out to learn from traditional architecture and to achieve a synthesis between traditional forms and inevitable advent of modern technology. My aim was to create an architecture which at once acknowledges the place in which it is built, yet which sacrifices nothing to modern technical capability. At the same time I was concerned to understand analytically the reasoning behind traditional devices of environmental control such as courtyards, screen walls, natural ventilation, and reflected light."1
In 1986 Rifat Chadirji received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA) Chairman's Prize, recognizing the lifetime achievements of distinguished architects and academics. He was the third of only four recipients of the prize since the first AKAA cycle, 1978-1980.
In 2015, Chadirji was awarded the Tamayouz Architectural Lifetime Achievement Award, an award that celebrates the pioneers of Iraqi architecture and is "presented annually to an individual who has had a significant contribution towards the advancement of architecture in Iraq." In November of the same year (2015), Rifat Chadirji was presented with an honorary doctorate from Coventry University inn the UK.
The Rifat Chadirji Prize, "a thematic open international prize focuses on proposing designs responding to local challenges in Iraq" was established by Tamayouz in 2017 in honor of "the great Iraqi Architect whose influence and importance is far beyond built work."2 That same year, Rifat Chadirji donated his architectural3 and photographic archives, as well as the photographs of his father, Kamil Chadirji,4 to the Aga Khan Documentation Center, MIT Libraries so that they would be accessible to all interested researchers.
Chadirji passed away in London on April 10, 2010, during the COVID-19 pandemic. In an email announcing his death, Nasser Rabbat, Aga Khan Professor for Islamic Architecture at MIT, described Chadirji as “one of the most influential shapers of modern Baghdad and an original theorist of architecture with a broad historical and cultural breadth,” and “a thinker, author, critic, and rationalist architect with a refined aesthetic sensitivity, (who) devised a particular approach to architecture that he called international regionalism."3
1. Bazarov, Konstantin. "Rifat Chadirji." Contemporary Architects, 163. Chicago: St. James Press, 1987.
2. “The Rifat Chadriji Prize For Architecture.” Tamayouz Excellence Award. Accessed April 12, 2020. http://www.rifatchadirji.com/the-rifat-chadirji-prize.html. Archived at https://perma.cc/UT8N-S8E4.
3. Smith, Sharon C. 2017. “Pioneering Iraqi Architect Rifat Chadirji Donates Archive to AKDC.” Aga Khan Documentation Center, MIT Libraries. July 1, 2017. https://libraries.mit.edu/akdc/2017/01/07/pioneering-iraqi-architect-rifat-chadirji-donates-archive-to-akdc/. Archived at https://perma.cc/M7DG-W9RQ.
4. ———. 2017b. “The Kamil and Rifat Chadirji Photographic Archive Comes to AKDC@MITT Libraries.” Aga Khan Documentation Center, MIT Libraries . September 12, 2017. https://libraries.mit.edu/akdc/2017/12/09/the-kamil-and-rifat-chadirji-photographic-archive-comes-to-akdcmit/. Archived at https://perma.cc/X3YA-JSD8.
5. Nasser Rabbat in an message to the AKPIA email list, April 10, 2020.
Rifat Chadirji constructed the Hamad Residence in Kuwait in 1967.
The home takes the form of a square block rising two stories. A notable feature in the house's plan is the concept of an enclosure wall, a traditional architectural form that provides privacy and blocks noise as well as direct sunlight. Chadirji incorporated this idea into a number of buildings constructed during the same period.1 In the Hamad Residence, the enclosure wall takes the form of a wall surrounding the perimeter of the house, placed several feet away from the house's sides. The space in between is covered by an extension of the roof, and arch-shaped perforations in the exterior enclosure wall aligned with windows and doorways allow light to pass through the intermittent space into the house. On both the ground and upper floors, several balconies project across the open space between house and exterior wall, allowing for direct access to the exterior. Adding to the visual interest of the facade is an elaborate cornice surmounting the exterior wall. The cornice is divided into three registers by scalloped moldings. These moldings resemble the tops of blind arches and are reminiscent of the facade of Iwan Kisra at Ctesiphon.
The interior of the house is designed to separate private and public spaces. The ground floor contains the home's reception areas. At its center is an enclosed, interior garden, and the reception rooms are arranged around this space. The main entrance leads onto a foyer giving access to the reception room and sitting room, along the front of the home, and a large dining room along the side. The back of the house on the ground floor contains dining and sitting rooms for the family, as well as a bedroom and kitchen. A separate entrance on the back of the house gives access to these spaces from the back gardens. The upper floor, accessible via two stairwells toward the back of the house, contains a number of bedrooms and sitting areas.
Chadirji, Al-Ukhayḍir, 275-288.
Chadirji, Rifat. Al-Ukhayḍir w’al-Qaṣr al-Billawrī: nushū‘ al-naẓariyya al-jadaliyya fī al-‘imāra. London and Cyprus: Riad El-Rayyes, 1991.