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Staging Baghdad as a Problem of Development

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This article examines a cinematic artefact from 1957 titled The Housing Program of Iraq, which contains rare footage of sarifa (reed and mud) settlements inhabited by rural migrants in mid-century Baghdad. The film, which was never finished, was produced as a collaboration between the Greek architect Constantinos A. Doxiadis and the director Demetrios Gaziades, who shot and edited the footage between Baghdad and Athens. Through this film Doxiadis intended to complement the Doxiadis Associates’ (DA) entry for the Iraq National Housing Exhibition and also to promote the modern housing projects designed by DA. In this period, various statist actors used the representational medium of documentary film in an attempt to redefine the boundaries of Iraqi citizenship. This film, thus, offered a cinematic portal into an other Baghdad, which was staged as the problem of development. Subsequent scenes narrated the solution to these neighbourhoods and positioned a family in a modern low-income house to animate the film’s developmental fantasy. The film projected universal Iraqi home ownership as a form of citizenship where the house was an instrument to facilitate financial, legal, and social agreements between rural migrants and the Iraqi state. By interrogating the methodological question of how to assemble an archive of ephemeral and subaltern places, this essay suggests expanding our notion of historiographic evidence to understand the intertwined relationships between the politics of development and architecture, and their representation in media.
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Keywords: Constantinos A. Doxiadis; Iraq; cinema; development; housing; migration

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Publication date: July 1, 2019

More about this publication?
  • The International Journal of Islamic Architecture (IJIA) is intended for those interested in urban design and planning, architecture, and landscape design in the historic Islamic world, encompassing the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, but also the more recent geographies of Islam in its global dimensions. The main emphasis is on detailed analysis of the practical, historical and theoretical aspects of architecture, with a focus on both design and its reception. The journal is also specifically interested in contemporary architecture and urban design in relation to social and cultural history, geography, politics, aesthetics, technology, and conservation. Spanning across cultures and disciplines, IJIA seeks to analyze and explain issues related to the built environment throughout the regions covered. The cross-cultural and interdisciplinary nature of this journal will significantly contribute to the knowledge in this field.

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