£620 Million Iraqi Parliament Will Rise Over Saddam's Half-Built Mosque

By Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan on at

The Architect's Journal reports that Zaha Hadid will be the architect of Iraq's future parliament building, confirming rumours that have swirled for months. The supremely expensive building is the London-based architect's third planned project in the country where she was born.

Hadid, you might remember, came in third in a 2012 design competition for the project—so how did she end up clinching a commission that she wasn't actually chosen for? That's not entirely clear—but it turns out that the competition's rules included a loophole that would allow the client to choose whichever design they wanted, regardless of the official results. "We are disappointed, but have moved on to other things," the architects of the winning proposal told Architect's Journal. In an op-ed published today, The Independent describes the choice as "an architectural puzzle."

While the design details aren't all out in the open yet, we do know a few things about the project—including the fact that the massive west Baghdad site of the future parliament is a storied one. 31 years ago, it was host to an international design competition launched by Saddam Hussein to build a state mosque, which would have become the largest in the world. But, by the time war began in 2003, the only sign of progress on the 56,000 square metres site were dozens of huge columns, with rebar sprouting from them like grass over 45 metres tall.

$1 Billion Iraqi Parliament Will Rise Over Saddam's Half-Built Mosque

Photo: Council of Representatives via Al Akhbar.

The so-called "super mosque" had become a symbol of Hussein's diminishing power—an unfinished behemoth that the country couldn't afford and that construction crews couldn't finish. "Part of the idea is apparently to show that despite the embargo introduced in 1990, Iraq can still carry out great projects," explained a 1995 Independent article entitled Starving Iraq plans biggest mosque.

It's hard not to see the similarities between the design competitions of yesteryear and today—at least in terms of scale and cost. That £620 million price tag on Hadid's design, after all, represents .5 per cent of Iraq's 2012 GDP. [The Architect's Journal]