Architectural History Research
Publications & Conferences
The Architecture of Tehran: a Window into Iranian Culture, History
The Genie in an Architect’s Lamp
The Wright idea for rebuilding Baghdad
Baghdad, Les Desseins de Frank Lloyd Wright
Bam Conference: Library of Congress & Catholic University
Tehran, Modern and Islamic
Cities remain the nodal point of artistic and intellectual creativity throughout the world and throughout time. Cities express the cultural variety, historical richness, aesthetic premises, and pragmatic solutions to daily needs of people throughout the world.
Selected writings reveal the city as the space of cultural encounters.
1950s Baghdad — Modern and International
Baghdad is an international capital of ever increasingimportance and influence and headquarters of the Council of the Baghdad Pact. It is Iraq’s shop window to the world, and many will judge the country by what they see in its capital, both of the layout of the town and its amenities, and of the way in which its inhabitants live, and the provision that is made for their welfare in the form of good housing and social facilities.
This 1956 observation by British architects and town planners Minoprio, Spencely, and P.W. Macfarlane was in harmony with the outlook Iraq’s Development Board brought to the capital city in the 1950s. While an ambitious program to rebuild Baghdad was not among its officially stated missions, the Development Board collectively and through its individual members introduced new ideas to reshape the city’s architecture.At the time the young Middle Eastern nation was captivated by progress and battling for the legitimacy of a “modern” identity and Baghdad was to become the symbol and showcase for progress and modernity. Starting in 1955, the Board quietly approached several world famous architects, inviting them to participate in selected building projects for the capital city. Based on original research started many years ago, this paper examines some of the underpinnings of that building strategy as it took shape amid the ideas and visions, players and politics of 1950s Iraq in what was to be a unique moment of East-West exchange.
 The reconstruction and modernization of Iraq during this period remains one of the most ambitious in the region at the time and is attracting scholarly attention in fields beyond political history. A MESA Conference panel sponsored by TAARII in November 2006, “Remembering 1950s Baghdad”, chaired by Magnus Bernhardsson and Mina Marefat, presented five papers addressing various aspects of Iraq’s cultural and political awakening during the 1950s.
 This paper is condensed from the first chapter text of an in-depth investigation of the 1957–58 Baghdad building projects. My research and forthcoming book on the work of Frank Lloyd Wright in Baghdad has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities; my present TAARII grant permits deeper investigation of the role of Iraqis in Baghdad development.
 I was able to trace the first letter sent by the Development Board to Le Corbusier in late June 1955. Correspondence between Ellen Jawdat and Walter Gropius indicates that he was also considered for commissions in Iraq as early as 1955.
 Unfortunately due to the lack of access and destruction of archival resources in Iraq, obtaining precise information from Iraqi sources has not been easy. Contemporary publications and newspapers have been important sources as have been personal interviews. I am grateful to Ellen and Nizar Jawdat, Rifat Chadirji, Mohammad Makiya and Fahim Qubain for allowing me to interview them and the generosity of their time. I also would like to thank Paul Arthur and Kamal Amin. I am still seeking eyewitnesses and participant observers who were involved in the extraordinary experiment that was Iraq’s Development Board and would be interested in additional contact information from readers of this paper.
The city of Tehran was the topic of an international conference held at the Library of Congress in May 2004.
Participants came from around the world, including Tehran itself, to discuss the past, present, and future of one of the world’s largest cities—population over 12 million. For more information see http://www.loc.gov/cities.
Two additional sessions related to the Tehran Conference were chaired by Mina Marefat of the Kluge Center as part of the fifth biennial meeting of the International Society of Iranian Studies (ISIS) at the Hyatt Regency Hotel
The devastating earthquake in Bam on December 26, 2003 resulted in the loss of thousands of lives and the destruction of much of the city including its ancient citadel, the world’s oldest extant adobe brick building complex. The Bam project is intended to do something substantial to address a historic loss and a major recurring dilemma in Iran—earthquakes. There are two components to our focus on Bam. The first is an educational exercise initiating a first time collaboration between the School of Architecture at Catholic University and the Library of Congress. The Bam Studio is a graduate workshop to explore innovative ideas taking into consideration the specific situation of the disaster and the tradition of Bam.
The second component is an international conference, entitled Bam: Past and Future which coincides with the conclusion of our academic program and that brings together an international panel of scholars, architects and experts to discuss the architectural heritage of Bam and address the problems and solutions for the future of this historic city.
- Walter Gropius: Bauhaus in Baghdad: Walter Gropius’ Master Project for Baghdad University
In the history of 20th century-architecture the stature of Walter Gropius looms large internationally. A seminal figure and a key player among the pioneers of modern architecture, he achieved the profession’s highest recognition, both in Europe and in America. Few can dispute his indelible impact on architectural education and practice. In Europe he changed design education with the introduction of the Bauhaus, and when he emigrated to America in 1937 to teach at Harvard he quietly transformed architectural education throughout the rest of the world and influenced generations of architects as both an educator and practitioner. Gropius’ biggest architectural commission – and in some ways his most influential project, however, was not in Europe and America; it was in the Middle East.
See Mina Marefat, “Bauhaus in Baghdad: Walter Gropius’ Master Project for Baghdad University,” Docomomo (Docomomo International, Issue 35, September 2006) pp.78–86
Walter Gropius (1883–1969) was born in Berlin and studied architecture in Munich, worked in Peter Behrens’ office in Berlin from 1908–1910 before opening his own office. His early work, including the Fagus Factory (begun in 1911 in Alfeld), was designed in collaboration with Adolf Meyer, with whom he worked until 1925. In 1925/26 he designed the new Bauhaus buildings in Dessau. When the Nazis took power, Gropius left Germany and spent the years between1934–37 in London sharing an office with Maxwell Frye. In 1938 he left England for Cambridge, Massachusetts, when he received an invitation from Harvard University to join the faculty of architecture and became the head of the architecture department in 1938. For a comprehensive biography see: Reginald R. Isaacs, Walter Gropius Der Mensch und sein Werk. Vol. 1 (Berlin: 1983) and Vol. 2 (Berlin: 1984), an abridged version in English by the same author, Gropius An illustrated Biography of the Creator of the Bauhaus (Little Brown and Company: Boston, Toronto, London, 1991).
- “Heidar Ghiai.” Encyclopaedia Iranica, ed. Ehsan Yarshater, Vol. X, Fac. 6. Columbia University, 2002.
- “André Godard.” Encyclopaedia Iranica, Columbia University, 2002.
- “Gabriel Guevrekian.” Encyclopaedia Iranica, Columbia University, 2002.
- “Mohsen Foroughi.” Encyclopaedia Iranica, Columbia University, 2002.
Washington: Paris of the Imagination- May 2005
Paris and Washington—their parallels are both real and imagined. In this perceptive talk, Mina Marefat, AIA, describes the links and the myths, from Pierre L’Enfant to Frederick Law Olmstead to the McMillan Plan from the Champs Elysées to the Mall.
Dr. Marefat, architectural historian, urban designer, and a registered architect, initiated and directs the Cities Project and was the Rockefeller Scholar at the Library of Congress; she teaches at Catholic and Johns Hopkins Universities.
Bam Studio 30 August- 30 December 2005
The first phase of the Bam Studio addressed research into the historical/cultural context, the architectural heritage of Iran and Bam as well as the seizmic issues and relief and recovery methodologies prevalent today.
The second phase was a short exercise (a charrette) to design a temporary shelter. On October 25th the students were reviewed with invited guest juror, earthquake specialist, Fred Krimgold.
Presentation of the final projects will take before a distinguished international jury on December 13th at Catholic University School of Architecture.
Tehran Conference 27-29 May 2004
We inaugurated our Islamic Cities Program May 2004 with a major conference on Tehran. The Tehran Conference was the first time that Iran’s capital and largest metropolis was the sole subject of an international gathering here in the United States. We invited participants from many parts of the world, including Iran, and the discussions from our conference reverberated in the press and as far as Iran itself.