Location: Baghdad, Iraq
Client: Federal Government of Iraq
Consultants: Adamson Associates, Buro Happold, Schumann Smith
Cost: $1Bn

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New parliament buildings and masterplan in Baghdad, Iraq. The project includes a large complex of buildings in addition to the parliamentary chambers, and a masterplan for the adjacent part of the city. The scheme is approached as urban design and not as one architectural object, with the majority of the complex formed as a pattern of streets (indoor and outdoor) green courtyards, key landmark buildings, and plazas.

The site is a 50-hectare site near the disused Al-Muhanna airport, where Saddam Hussein had begun to construct a super-mosque. The mosque construction was halted 10 years ago by the US-led invasion, all that remains  is a series of 45 metre-high concrete columns and substantial foundations.



The site is at the geographical centre of Baghdad and adjacent the key city landmarks of Zawra Park, Central Rail Station, the Tigris River, and the city centre. It is significant that the primary rail lines which serve northern and southern Iraq terminate immediately adjacent the parliament site. Zawra Park is one of the largest and most important parks in central Baghdad, and lies immediately to the site’s southern boundary.           

Image source: [2011]

Image source: [2011]


The site is located in a pocket of limited movement connectivity. The rail lands form a long uninterrupted barrier to the east of the site and a large stretch of uncrossed land extends to the north. To the west is a dry tributary to the Tigris River with only intermittent crossings, and the expanse of Zawra Park lies to the south. Rail lines extending north and south from central station and the Tigris River form a second ring of movement barriers, further filtering access to the site.


The limited connectivity determines key through-routes proximate to the site. Primary among these are the existing express-way leading to the northern tip of the site, and the cross-roads at the north of Zawra Park. These key through-roads in turn influence the placement of the entry points to the parliamentary compound itself.

Entry points

Three primary entry points are proposed. The public and ceremonial entry is to the south facing Zawra Park and easily accessible from the rail station. VIP’s and staff enter from the north, where an existing expressway allows discrete and rapid access to the compound. The proposed service access is to the west, with good movement connections and the mute neighbour of the existing rail lands.

Image source: [2011]

Image source: [2011]

Primary face

The most important urban elements adjacent the site are Zawra Park and the central rail station - the public entrance of the Parliament explicitly addresses them. In past Iraqi urbanism primary architectural elements do not align with property boundaries but instead reflect the inner geometry of courtyards, and this approach is deliberately adopted.

A new visitor viewing tower is suggested on axis in Zawra Park. A large development corridor is proposed to the north, with flanking access roads and legible plot divisions. This corridor is able to accept major future development and will form a backbone of the new governmental quarter of the city.

THE complex

The parliamentary complex is conceived as a piece of urban design and not as one large architectural object. The majority of the complex is formed as a pattern of streets - indoor and outdoor - and green courtyards, connecting a comfortable fabric of two-storey buildings of a variety of functions. Against this fabric key landmark buildings and plazas are highlighted: the House of Representatives, Federal Council, and the Prayer Space.

The dialogue of landmark buildings in a fabric is highly legible and navigable. It is also flexible, easy to phase, zone, and upgrade. The many courtyards and streets’ allow excellent daylighting and services access, whilst also providing a variety of identities for groups of users (as in an urban environment).


The complex’s extensive cellular program is made up of a pattern of quality two storey buildings, courtyards and streets (internal and external). This fabric represents an urban approach versus that of the singular inflexible super building.

A grading of family relationships exists within the fabric, using the external material and detailing palette of local Baghdad brick, render, glazed ceramic tiles, terracotta elements, and metal brise soleil.

The external spaces also form hierarchies. The landmark buildings reside in generous plazas and on large-scale axes, serving as crossing spaces for Members, the public, press, VIPs, temporary and permanent committees, and delegates. The plazas also carry shared services at their edges including libraries, dining spaces, banks, etc.

Image source: Traditional Houses in Baghdad, Warren and Fethi, 1982

Image source:
Traditional Houses in Baghdad, Warren and Fethi, 1982

The fabric however contains a family of smaller private courtyards of varying character, size, and shape which interact via a network of secondary routes. Fabric courtyards have different landscape characters, lending identity to the departments encircling them and aiding overall site navigation. Whilst often reading as separate parts, buildings within the fabric share many operations, such as: supporting air-conditioned connections to neighbouring buildings, centralised services ring main, and underground security tunnels.

Walking distances across the complex are short (< 5 minutes) and a variety of routes are available to any destination - air-conditioned or shaded open air.

Image source: Traditional Houses in Baghdad, Warren and Fethi, 1982

Image source:
Traditional Houses in Baghdad, Warren and Fethi, 1982

Routes are given a hierarchy of widths depending on their traffic and status. The massing is similarly approachable, and further broken down by a cantilevering upper floor which shades the ground floor below (and produces the occasional arcade). Large ceiling heights are set throughout, especially at first floor where higher-status functions are planned (also an echo of the tall upper storey of the traditional Baghdadi house). Room depth generally is never more than 1.5 x the height of the window head to ensure full daylighting, which drives building depths in the plan.

The two storey nature of the fabric provides numerous benefits. A plethora of access, fire, and service issues become greatly simplified. Structure is not complex or expensive; spans are not large. Daylighting opportunities are excellent. The ground plane of cool leafy courtyards is proximate, not remote. The need for lifts is greatly reduced, and stairs can mostly be open and participate in the spaces (hence the building is not electricity reliant for many of its basic functions). Phasing and change of the built fabric (eg upgrading services) is less disruptive and can be applied incrementally if needed. Cost-efficient, quick, sustainable construction technologies such as ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms) may be contemplated.


The urban approach to the complex design as a whole enables a positive development form in each expansion phase.

The scheme shows the parliamentary complex at full expansion - beyond the given Brief demonstrating a final build-out form. At the earlier phases the landmark buildings, the main plazas, and the primary courtyards act as anchor elements with accommodation lining their edges. User departments are grouped around dedicated courtyards, aiding legibility and departmental identity. Expansion may then occur at the level of the user group as well as the overall complex. Some larger courtyards are made to enable limited development into them for localised expansion.

Main plaza

The main plaza terminates a series of major and minor axes leading to the House of Representatives building. The plaza is rectangular, and works with the circular building form to create irregular corner spaces. The plaza is kept tight to the building, preserving the sculpturally charged feel of the complex as a whole.

Important functions line the edges of the main plaza. To the east on entry is the large public meeting hall, and to the west at a generous 1st floor are the offices and facilities of the Prime Minister, President, and Speaker. The main dining area, library, and bank are at ground floor to the northern plaza edge, with some VIP accommodation above. The press are also provided for to the east and in the lower ground floor of the House of Representatives building itself, with access directly off the main plaza.

Landmark buildings

The forms of the landmark buildings are stable, elemental forms sitting firmly on the ground. Their raised profiles read clearly above the firm horizontal datum of the fabric brise soleil. As a family of elements they also share a common material palette of light stone cladding which is continued in the materials of the main plazas themselves, helping to ground them and support their monumentality. As with the Fabric, selected materials have a durable, self-finishing “essential” quality, and mature well.

From Zawra Park the House of Representatives building has clear landmark qualities, terminating the primary axis leading north. The face of the House of Representative building is equal from all axes and sides, both inside and outside the complex.

The major chambers of all the landmark buildings are placed at ground floor level for the easy flow of large numbers of people. The urban nature of the complex design allows people to occupy clearly held spaces, despite the building forms having landmark qualities. This is distinct from single-object iconic designs, which often struggle to form convincing integrated spaces.


Council of representatives

The Council of Representatives building is placed as a landmark in the primary arrival plaza on axis to the Zawra Park approach. It has a circular outer shell of monumental brise soleil which protects the building and whose deep shadows tell of the intense Iraqi sun. Encircled within are the two great hemicycles of the Great Hall and the Council Chamber, with technical spaces and services embedded in the spine walls. The charged space between these two great volumes is the Entrance Foyer, further dramatised by raking rooflights. A press conference hall is situated at lower ground level.

The public and members may populate the building’s facade by appearing amongst the large fins of the brise soleil. Generous areas adjacent the facade may be occupied at all levels, animating the entire perimeter of the building at all levels. Navigation is simple and intuitive. Users of the building look down from the perimeter areas into the Great Hall and Entrance Foyer, witnessing the motions of government. This transparency in the building is direct: to at once look out over the land and its citizens, and then at those who represent and serve.

Image source: Traditional Houses in Baghdad, Warren and Fethi, 1982

Image source:
Traditional Houses in Baghdad, Warren and Fethi, 1982


The House of Representatives building is formed in the shape of a circle: a strong, simple geometry of great architectural power and lineage. In this context as an image of the State, it is a symbol of convergence and stability. A circle has no one elevation, presenting the same face to all. Divergent axes are co-ordinated and brought into agreement. The building’s circular plan echoes the shapes of the hemicycle within - themselves a geometry of agreement - and allows views out in all directions from the generous perimeter areas.

Direct reference is also made to the historic City of Peace, from which Baghdad takes its name. Having stood just north of the parliament site, the circular city was built by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mansour in 766 AD at a time when Baghdad was at a peak of power and prestige. City of Stories, Ghada Musa Rzouki Al Silq, 2011.


A further building in the landmark family is the Prayer Space, here articulated as a separate building to emphasise its sculptural qualities. The pure cubic geometry is rotated to Mecca and stands in dynamic contrast to its own unrotated courtyard. Despite leading directly to the large plazas of the complex the courtyard retains an intimate quality. 

The building and courtyard are placed centrally in the masterplan reflecting its importance and enabling ease of access. Interior spaces in the building are lofty and have carefully judged daylighting effects. Architectural geometries in the building generally are simple and pure emphasising their spiritual connotations.

Federal council

The Federal Council is given its own identity in the complex design with a distinct landmark building. This is in recognition of its programmatic importance reflecting Iraq’s status as a federalised state, and in order to provide legibility in the overall masterplan.

The building is formed as a simple, strong rectangular volume residing in it’s own plaza on an axis with the House of Representatives building. It shares the same monolithic vertical brise soleil facade, this time in a single rectilinear format. The building’s volume contains two hemicycles, a generous foyer, and attendant functions.

"We selected as winner the entry that held the best promise to house the future parliament of a country with an ambition to create a genuinely open and participative democracy, in a city with one of the oldest urban civilisations. Clearly that is the one we hope emerges as the concept to take forward."

Sunand Prasad
Past president, RIBA

Design principles

The overall design is guided by three general principles:

Image source:

Image source:


A modern parliament building must embody the transparency between citizens and their government which reflects their essential democratic relationship. This is not literal transparency, but is about the building’s feeling of public ownership and accessibility. It must impart the positive possibility of the State: larger than the individual, but supportive and engaging - not aggressive or oppressive.


The design should be formed of elemental qualities which stand the test of time, for example the Iraqi climate and its quality of light, geometric simplicity, clarity of articulation, materials and detailing which age well. Modish expression should be avoided, as not serving the Iraqi people in the long term.


The design should be readily achievable, and function well. A parliament building no less than a parliament exists to serve and cannot do so if achieved at crippling cost or complexity. The design should not impede the construction or fetter the working of the complex when finished. The design should default to known achievable techniques suited to the Iraqi context.

A brave new vision for the country.” 

Oliver Wainwright
Guardian Journalist

"The campus solution was very attractive. It creates a strong relationship between the public and their government representatives, as well as a collegiate situation between departments, creating the space for chance meetings with a free flow through the site."  

Piers Gough
RIBA Competition Judge