I recently read an article about Saddam Hussein’s palaces and how they are being used today. Remember the “Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes” exhibit last fall at the Heinz Architectural Center? The photographs in the Hussein article remind me a lot of that exhibit in that these palaces are being recycled and  reused just like the vacant big box stores in the exhibit.

American dormitories in the Birthday Palace

American dormitories in the Birthday Palace

It’s also interesting to see how these palaces have been molded to fit the needs of the American soldiers. If you can think back to the time when these palaces were functional for political purposes, I would bet that the people never dreamed that American soldiers would ever be living in the royal palaces, working out in the courtyards, or playing basketball on their front steps. I would imagine that it would be offensive even to think such things. And now here the Americans are, using the palaces for their disposal.

Al-Faw Palace

Al-Faw Palace

A game at Birthday Palace

A game at Birthday Palace

Relating to Danny’s comment about preservation, can you imagine how magnificent these palaces once were, and how demolished, trashed, and neglected they will continue to become as they serve as living  quarters for the Americans? It is disappointing to see these palaces being used for such purposes when they could instead be preserved as architectural monuments. I think this could also raise the question of  how architecture is embraced depending on not only a given culture but also in situations like this one when different cultures intersect.


4 Responses to “Recycling”

  1. 2009/06/02 at 4:00 pm

    I thought one of the most interesting sections of the interview was the one that dealt with how the soldiers experience differed on location at the palaces:

    “I got the feeling that soldiers who occupied one of Saddam’s palaces were pretty interested in its original function. They seemed a lot more together, and happier with their job, compared with the troops I met on the massive, sprawling, purpose-built military bases in the Iraqi desert. Constant reminders of hierarchy and protocol were everywhere on the bigger bases—but on the more cramped and less comfortable palace bases, soldiers of different ranks seemed much closer and more capable of shooting the shit with each other, to borrow an American turn of phrase.

    Though a far tougher environment, there seemed to be real job satisfaction—a sense that they were taking part in a piece of history. ”

    So, despite the fact that the building is crumbling and considerations about who it once belonged to aside, the fact that there’s a sort of historic importance about architecture gives the soldiers a greater sense of humanity than if they were on a base in the middle of nowhere. I wonder what De Botton would have to say about that.

  2. 2 dj2d
    2009/06/02 at 5:58 pm

    Talia brings up an interesting point. Back when I was working on a master plan for a local community college, the design team came across some similar observations. The campus contained a mix of old, yet well detailed and interesting turn of the century buildings of varying use that had been haphazardly converted into academic buildings, plus newer modern facilities that were purpose built, and generally better suited for their programmatic functions. After many hours of interviewing faculty, staff, and students about how they felt about the buildings on campus, a common thread emerged.

    The campus community used words like collegiate, respectful, warm, welcoming, prestigious, quirky, and pleasant when describing the older buildings. They used words like cold, utilitarian, unfriendly, industrial, cheap, and dirty for the newer buildings. Now, I don’t think it was so much a verdict against modern architecture (at least one of those new buildings was of a trad origin, though awfully executed) as much as a verdict against totally uninspiring generic design, a lack of materiality that relates to the human senses, and a (wait for it) complete lack of interesting space(s).

    What really struck me, however, were the conversations we had about vandalism, destruction of property and theft of furniture on campus. Statistically, the new buildings were defaced much more regularly than the old ones. A tough no-nonsense staff member summed it up by saying that the students respected the older buildings on campus much more than the new buildings. As justification she added that… “if you design a building to look like a prison, then people are going to treat it like one.”

    “Happy” Buildings = Happy People?

    “Unhappy” Buildings = Not-So-Happy People?

  3. 3 VaRedLeg82
    2009/09/11 at 4:36 am

    I’ve been a resident of the above-pictured “birthday palace” on occasion, so I am one of the American Soldiers cited in the following: “how demolished, trashed, and neglected they will continue to become as they serve as living quarters for the Americans?” It’s suggested that Saddam and his cronies would be offended at the current use of this palace.

    Frankly, I’m appalled by these comments. This building is better cared for now than when they were lived in by Saddam. We clean and maintain it better, have re-wired and, yes, purpose-built the interior to suit our needs. Why should one be so “offended” that we not use this place to (although this will likely be scoffed at, remember I am the one here and this author was not) base operations geared at rebuilding Iraq and promoting the peace we have won.

    This palace was once used as a place of self-indulgence, where Saddam glorified himself in massive parades and celebrations. Everywhere are reminders of his oppresive regime, covered over and inked out by the very Iraqis he reigned over.

  4. 4 cmuarch2013student
    2009/09/17 at 9:42 pm


    I apologize for offending you in the above post. What I wrote was not intended to be taken personally or to imply that you weren’t doing a great job. Rather, I was talking from an architectural standpoint, specifically about the context of the buildings which is something I am trained as a student of architecture to consider when analyzing a structure. I was posing the question of what happens to a building when it switches between hands, in this case culturally? Think about it this way: these buildings were built with a specific purpose in mind that does not correlate with the purpose they are currently serving. Though it often happens throughout history, it is ironic that these buildings are under the control of a different peoples than they were intended. With each new “reign”, those in control adjust the space to fit their own needs, just as you have changed the interior of the palace into living-quarters. Just this week in my architectural history class I learned that under the rule of Charles V the Great Mosque of Cordoba received a cathedral addition smack dab in the middle of it. As you can see, I was analyzing these buildings and their uses with a neutral mindset; I did not mean any harm.

    My colleagues and I would really appreciate hearing about your observations and experiences at this base, since you are the one experiencing it first-hand. We really want to receive information from people not only in your specific situation but also others so that we can gain a better understanding of how space affects the people in it and how people affect the space they are in. While your comment was very clear, reading about your personal experiences there would definitely help me understand and give me a better starting point on my future analyses.


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