Under a plan developed from 1954 to 1958 by Minoprio & Spencely and P.W. MacFarlane, the city [of Baghdad] snagged the world’s top architects to draft major buildings.
In 1957, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, Willem Dudok, Gio Ponti, and Walter Gropius signed on. Oscar Neimeyer declined, as he refused to work for an anticommunist government. The buildings the city assigned to the architects included a stadium, a modern art museum, Baghdad University’s campus, a national library, and an opera house. The opera house went to Wright.
Out of the foreign “starchitects,” Wright was the first to visit Baghdad, doing so from May 20-25, 1957. He was also the first to turn in his proposal, in June and July of that year.
“The project that Wright developed out of his original commission for the Baghdad Opera House was entirely different from anything the other five ‘star architects’ proposed,” writes Neil Levine, the Harvard University Professor of History of Art and Architecture and author of The Urbanism of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Whereas the others included largely superficial references to the culture in which they were building, he argues, Wright fully engaged with the history and culture he was about to fundamentally change, and “embraced” full “historical references and allusions…as he had never before.”
Wright once commented that he thought his plan would never be built. He had once said that Iraq’s monarchy “has proved worthy” and dedicated his project to the king.
Unfortunately for his project, the 1958 revolution tossed that royal family from its perch. The fantastical drawings of his vision remained just that—a fantasy. It would find new life in diminished form as Gammage Memorial Auditorium at Arizona State University.