Since the nineteen-eighties, the complex scenario derived from the different wars that have been fought in Iraq has had a clear and direct impact on the country’s society, education and architecture. In spite of widespread violence, assassinations, kidnappings, sackings or electricity restrictions, activity continues at the Faculty of Architecture of Baghdad University, a public, non-denominational institution where Christians, Muslims, Shiites and Sunnis live and work together. While the adverse circumstances have driven into exile many professors who were threatened and in some cases even murdered, the Faculty continues to encourage graduate students to persevere with their training through post-graduate studies, a choice that, furthermore, automatically exempts them from service in the army.
Talks, encounters, interviews with people from the cultural and academic world and other activities all serve to keep up this climate of fellowship and a constructive attitude committed to the self-sufficient recovery of the city. Transformed into a place of peace, the faculty of architecture approaches its activity from a critical point of view, inviting students to intervene in maintaining the urban fabric threatened by the New Baghdad Plan that is currently in the hands of North American construction companies. This manner of working has already produced successes, as for example in the case of the documentation for the Adhamyiah district.
Since 2003, the high point of the escalation of violence and the time that saw a drastic increase in the destruction of the city, each student from the faculty has taken charge of an historical building. In order to avoid risks on the streets (crossfire, explosions, collapses of buildings…) they were advised to work at documental level at times of greatest hostilities. These documentation tasks, especially of the most emblematic buildings (such as the most representative cafés and libraries) have ultimately been crucial if we take into account that a large part of the centre of Baghdad is being devastated.
Organised into different work groups, professors and students fulfil commissions, generally from the administration, for the reconstruction of Baghdad and other areas of Iraq. The professors, who retain their salaries as civil servants, share all the benefits made by these «university working groups» with the students, allowing them to support their families (who depend almost entirely on their income) and to pay for the cost of their degrees. Currently, 70% of students are working in public and private institutions and as consultants, actively participating in the country’s reconstruction.
This resistance by the Faculty of Architecture represents the preservation of a past that forms part of the collective memory and therefore of the vast majority of Iraqis. Transformed into increasingly important actors, the members of the academic world are having a growing impact on the media. Through this knowledge, people closely connected to the university, such as professor Ghada Al Siliq, are making use of their decision-making power to defend a Baghdad that looks after its urbanism and, above all, after its history.