Zaha Hadid to build new Iraqi Parliament despite placing third in design competition

(Central Bank of Iraq / Zaha Hadid Architects)

Hadid’s design for the Central Bank of Iraq. (Zaha Hadid Architects)

Despite coming in 3rd place in a design competition for a new Iraqi parliament center, Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid signed a deal last month with the Iraqi embassy to design a new parliament complex in Baghdad. According to Building Design, London firm Assemblage has confirmed they received the prize money of $250,000 for coming in first place, but will lose out on the billion dollar commission. Hadid was recently in Iraq to officially sign a contract for the project.


Winning design in the RIBA-run international competition (Courtesy Assemblage)

Almost two years ago in August 2012 Assemblage was told they had won the competition by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) jury panel. The winning team consisted of London-based practice Assemblage, Adamson Associates, and engineer Buro Happold. Their design was commended to be highly navigable and received a score of 88 percent. The second place proposal was designed by Capita Symonds.

RIBA jury member and former architecture minister, Alan Howarth, admitted in the summer of 2012 “there are rumors the Iraqis are taking their own decision,” according to BD. The RIBA judges gave Zaha Hadid‘s scheme a score of 76 percent—12 points lower than Assemblage.

Details are sparse during the period of Zaha Hadid replacing Assemblage. First, over the two year span, Assemblage was never officially notified that they had lost the bid. Although, in private they knew they were frozen out of conversation. Second, leading Iraqi architectural critic Ihsan Fethi said there has been a veil of secrecy as he has tried several times to see the plan for the parliamentary building. Finally, the Iraqi Council of Representatives never had a chance to choose the winner selected by the RIBA judges.

Despite the competition, the final decision was ultimately up to the Iraqis. “Obviously we selected a winner, therefore we would like to have seen it, but the client reserved the right to pick any of the top three and they have gone ahead and done that,” Sunand Prasad, former RIBA president and competition juror told The Architect’s Journal last November. Last year, Zaha Hadid Architects told the Guardian, “ZHA was made aware that the competition rules allow for any of the submitted design proposals to be selected for construction, irrespective of placement in the competition.”

“Like many things in Iraq, they start off on the right foot but don’t carry it with the transparency that’s required,” Peter Besley, director of Assemblage, told BD. The young firm is understandably upset by the loss of such a major commission. Besley told the Independent, “Given what happened in Cardiff, [where Hadid was outraged when her competition-winning opera house was refused funding] people are very surprised Zaha did not step aside.”

Hadid’s parliament design will be built on a 123-acre former airport site in Baghdad and is expected to cost around one billion dollars. Her firm is also designing the Central Bank of Iraq tower pictured at top.

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