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Saturday02 August 2014

Zaha Hadid topples winner to land Iraq parliament

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Architect came third in original competition

Zaha Hadid has won the scheme to design a new parliament complex in Iraq – despite coming third in the original RIBA-run international competition.

BD understands the deal was signed at the Iraqi embassy in London’s Queen’s Gate last month with Hadid herself attending the signing ceremony.

Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid signs the deal with Iraq’s UK ambassador Faik Nerweyi (top right) behind

But the deal has been shrouded in secrecy with leading Iraqi architectural critic Ihsan Fethi complaining that he has yet to see what Hadid’s design looks like.

“I personally tried in vain so many times to even have a quick look at the design with no success,” he said in an email sent by the Iraqi Architects Society. “Of course this is contrary to the principle of transparency and it is absolutely unacceptable for us Iraqi architects, or any Iraqi citizen to that matter, to be prevented from seeing what their Parliament would look like. We absolutely have no idea.”

The competition was originally won by a team led by 10-year-old London practice Assemblage which also included engineer Buro Happold and the Shard’s executive architect, Adamson.

Assemblage was given a score of 88% by the RIBA jury, while Zaha Hadid Architects lagged behind in third on 76%, with Capita Symonds second on 81%.

Assemblage director Peter Besley confirmed it had been paid its $250,000 first prize but added that discussions between it and the Iraqi authorities dried up soon after it was told it had won in August 2012.

Last year BD revealed that Zaha Hadid was still in talks with the project’s technical committee but a spokesman for the practice said these “have been initiated by and are in response to the committee’s technical queries”.

Assemblage: Iraq parliament

Assemblage’s winning design

Besley confirmed to BD that it had been told in private “months ago” that it had lost out on the scheme to Hadid and added: “We were completely frozen out. We have never been officially told we were not getting the commission. Like many things in Iraq, they start off on the right foot but don’t carry it with the transparency that’s required.”

The RIBA was brought in to make sure the competition was properly run and to avoid allegations of corruption. But under the rules, the client — the Iraqi Council of Representatives — does not have to pick any of the designs put forward.

The RIBA jury, which included ex-president Sunand Prasad and former architecture minister Alan Howarth, visited Baghdad in summer 2012 and last year Howarth admitted “there are rumours the Iraqis are taking their own decision”.

Another juror said Hadid’s design was “very convoluted” and added: “Alan Howarth was very clear the design needed to be all about how MPs meet their constituents and how people get together — but her scheme threw everyone apart.”

Iraq parliament Capita Symonds

Capita Symonds’ design for the parliament came second in the original competition

The project carries a $1 billion price tag and will be built on a 50ha site at the disused Al Muthana airport in Baghdad, which was due to be the location of a super-mosque planned by Saddam Hussein until he was toppled in 2003.

As well as the main buildings, the parliament site will also feature a host of others which will house government departments and administration.

ZHA was unavailable for comment.

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Readers' comments (21)

  • What a great message to be sending for a new parliament building: come third & you're still the winner. Just the ticket for Iraq at the moment, eh?

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  • Apposite timing, hot on the heels of yesterday's news that the RIBA is looking to clean up the competition game.

    No honour amongst thieves.

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  • Ha ha. This is SO not going to happen.

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  • What a surpise, the whole thing smells of corruption.

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  • Corruption. Come on people....in this part of the world this is how the world goes round!..Let us not be naive but, in any case, call upon Zaha Hadid to do the best thing and remove herself from this issue - whether she likes it or not ,she is being used aka how Daniel Liberskind was, and has been, manipulated in New York. Superstar architecture and its authors do have political application albeit not of their making perhaps and it is a question of whether the individuals recognise this subversion. BUT more importantly...have you guys at BD read the news in the past few days?....its getting quite hot out in Baghdad right now and frankly speaking, how this ( a new parliament building) is of relevance is amazing! Maybe I missed something...but its being reported on as if its "business as usual"!

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  • Let's see what the RIBA has to say about our taxes blowing up the previous administrations infrastructure and the morality of Hadid's secret design as replacement.

    If the RIBA can chastise Israeli architects designing on the West Bank, how much more so will this competition to be considered for moral legitimacy?

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  • Priorities are surely elsewhere at the moment

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  • nicholas, a fair comparison and a very reasonable question - the quagmire becomes ever more putrescent.

    However, I find it difficult to accept that DL and now ZH are innocent pawns, as someone2104 suggests, in a bigger political game. Both are consumate players in the every-country-needs-one field. Neither is naive and neither is driven by altruism. Information in the public domain indicates that the ZH scheme for the Iraqi Parliament is, functionally, the poorest of the three placed schemes, so architecture is the loser in this particular game.

    However, a new parliament is probably the least of the current Iraqi govt's worries right now...

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  • Seymour Alexander

    The current political three-way split of Iraq appears to provide a perfect answer to the problem. The Kurds, the Suunis and the Shiites each get a winning design. A win/win/win solution.

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  • I seem to remember Zaha coming first in an RIBA competition once, that subsequently went someone else's way. Anyone recall Cardiff Bay Opera House? I think the RIBA was pretty cross about Zaha's win being overturned. Is it similarly cross about this, I wonder?

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