Conference, “Identity, Sovereignty, and Global Politics in the Building of Baghdad: From Revolution through the Gulf War and Beyond”

Using the history of urban development in Baghdad as a reference point, this conference examines the extent to which interventions intended to modernize and integrate different populations in the city were part of a larger process of negotiating competing visions of political economy, sovereignty, and identity in post-WWII Iraq. By gathering political scientists, architectural and urban historians, and scholars of Iraq and the larger Arab world, the conference engages theoretical and empirical questions about the ruptures and continuities of Baghdad’s urban and political history, using the built environment of the city as a canvas for understanding struggles over Iraq’s position in a global context shaped by ongoing war tensions (from the Cold War to the Gulf War and beyond) to more recent Middle East conflicts. The full day event (September 19) will be preceded by a Keynote Panel held the prior evening, focused on the relationship between war and urbanism, a theme that will re-emerge comparatively and historically in subsequent day’s panels which focus on a range of theoretical, historical, and practical dilemmas facing Baghdad and other cities in the region. The conference ends with a half-day discussion of the urban planning, design, and governance challenges facing the city now and in the near future.


A full program is available here for viewing or download in pdf format.

Thursday, September 18 | Piper Auditorium, Gund Hall, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA

6:30pm – 8:00pm

Keynote Panel Discussion. War and Urbanism

Presentations by:

Stuart Elden, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick: Crises of Territorial Integrity: Iraq and Nigeria

Todd Reisz, Yale School of Architecture: “Destroyers & Builders” 

Commentaries by: Diane Davis and Pierre Belanger, Harvard Graduate School of Design

Moderated by: Neil Brenner, Harvard Graduate School of Design


Friday, September 19 | Piper Auditorium, Gund Hall, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA

8:30am – 9:00am
Doors Open

9:00am – 9:15am
Welcome: Diane Davis, Professor of Urbanism and Development, Harvard Graduate School of Design, and Weatherhead Center Associate;

and ukasz Stanek, Manchester Architecture Research Center

9:15am  9:45am

Morning Plenary: Nationalism, Arabism, and Now What?

Nasser Rabbat, Aga Khan Professor, Department of Architecture, MIT

Sponsored by: the Aga Khan Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design

9:45am – 11:00am

Panel 1.  Baghdad in Regional, National, and Global Context

Chair: Roger Owen, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University 


M. Christine Boyer, Princeton University School of Architecture: Adventures in Baghdad — Constantinos A. Doxiadis, the Science of Ekistics and Cold War Politics

Huma Gupta, MIT School of Architecture and Planning: Beyond the Dam: The Emergence of the “Serifa-Dweller” in 1950s Baghdad

Kanan Makiya, Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, Brandeis University: Planning and Politics in Ba’thi Iraq

Alaa Al-Tamimi, former Mayor of Baghdad (2004-2005), President at Urban Reform Center Inc., Toronto: The Influence of Politics on Urban Development: The Past, Present, and Future of Baghdad


11:00am – 12:45pm

Panel 2. Modernism in Baghdad: Applied, Adapted, Abandoned 

Chair: Todd Reisz, Yale School of Architecture 


Neil Levine, Department of the History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University: A Belated Garden City in the Desert: Baghdad’s Master Plan of the 1950s

ukasz Stanek, Manchester Architecture Research Center: Architects, Planners and Construction Companies from Socialist Countries in Iraq, 1958-1991: Modernism and the Labor of Adaptation

Caecilia Pieri, Urban Observatory, Institute for the Near East (Beirut): Early 50s Baghdad: contextualizing some architectural ruptures and gestures.

Maha Malaika, Architecture and Spatial Planning Department, Duhok University (Northern Iraq): Urban Redevelopment Policies as a planning solution for Urban Deterioration-Baghdad


1:30pm – 3:15pm

Panel 3. Sovereignty and the Urban Built Environment: Comparative Reflections

Chair: ukasz Stanek, Manchester Architecture Research Center


Timothy Hyde, MIT School of Architecture and Planning: Constitutional Modernism: The Idea of the City in Pre-Revolutionary Cuba

Mona Fawaz, Radcliffe Institute and American University of Beirut: Urbanization after the War: Beirut’s Dahiyah as Case Study

Sibel Bozdogan, Harvard Graduate School of Design: Modernism, Urban Planning and Nation-State Formation: The View from Turkey

Mona Damluji, Art and Art History, Wheaton College: The Spatialization of Sectarian Politics in Baghdad, 2006-2007


3:15pm – 3:45pm

Afternoon Plenary: Reflections on Urban Counterinsurgency

David Kilcullen, Caerus Associates, Washington D.C.

4:00pm – 6:15pm

Panel 4. War and Urbanism Roundtable: Baghdad and Beyond

Chair: John Tirman, MIT Center for International Studies

Speakers: Dina Khoury, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University: Spaces of Security and Spatial Strategies of the Ba’th During Wartime 

Roger Petersen, Department of Political Science, MIT: Communal Separation in Baghdad: A Comparative Analysis

Amin Alsadan, Harvard Graduate School of Design: Divided Baghdad: Planning Beyond War

Harith Al-Qarawee, Radcliffe Institute: The Capital and the Symbol: Baghdad and the Sectarian Narratives

Said Alsaady, Director General of Planning at Mayoralty of Baghdad: Post War Urban Recovery: Planning for the Future of Baghdad

6:30pm – 7:30pm

Cocktail Reception (for invited guests), CGIS South Concourse, 1730 Cambridge St, Cambridge MA

Saturday, September 20 | Stubbins, Room 112, Gund Hall, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA

Half-day Workshop. Baghdad: Where to Now? Planning the Next Steps
9:00am – 10:30am

Roundtable 1. Governance Challenges
10:30am – 12:00pm

Roundtable 2. Urban Planning and Design Challenges
12:00pm – 1:00pm

Closing remarks


Free and open to the public. Students and scholars as well as practitioners and decision-makers from a range of interdependent disciplines are welcome to attend. 

Organized by

Diane Davis, Professor of Urban Planning and Development, Harvard Graduate School of Design and Weatherhead Center Associate; Co-organizers: Dr. ukasz Stanek, Manchester Architecture Research Center; Phillip Baker, Harvard Graduate School of Design

Sponsored by

Harvard University Weatherhead Center for International Affairs


The Aga Khan Program at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design; MIT Center for International Studies; Harvard University Graduate School of Design Master of Design Studies Program; Harvard University Graduate School of Design Urban Theory Lab; Harvard University Graduate School of Design Master of Design Studies Risk and Resilience Track; Urban Planning and Design Interdisciplinary Urbanism Initiative


[email protected]


“No Registration Required”

Part of the intent of this conference is to bring together scholars and practitioners in an effort to generate further collaboration on research, publication, and exhibition both abroad and in Baghdad. Join our contact list, and if you are interested in joining the collaboration, please also provide your affiliation and a brief description of how you can assist our future efforts. 

Anyone requiring accessibility accommodations should contact the Public Programs Office at (617) 496-2414 or [email protected].