The Eleventh Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2009
Berkeley Prize 2009

Hajir Alttahir

I have often sat in the middle of Iraqi gatherings listening to the people happily talk about a time when they were children and the country was hopeful. The stories of my father’s adventures in my grandfather’s lush orchards in Basra climbing date trees and swimming in the Shatt al-Arab under the scorching sun or my mother's travels around the country captivated my attention as a child. These memories are often bittersweet; smiles are often poorly disguised attempts to hide tears, an instinctive reaction to the pain of the past 30 years. Iraq has suffered greatly, in truth it still does. I came to the realization that the country of these adventures is one I will never see - it ceased to exist. The Iraq that many face today is riddled with debris, failing infrastructure and fear.

Yet, its legacy, once the cradle of civilization, home to the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians is one Iraqis refuse to let go of. At such a decisive movement in history, the hope that the Iraq that emerges from our current situation could be a successful reincarnation of the Mesopotamia that once stood in its place is one Iraqis could build on. The Sumerians once had in place an advanced irrigation system that transformed desert land into an oasis. The Babylonians expanded on this knowledge to create one of the Seven Wonders of the World, namely the Hanging Gardens. Ironically in 2001, the United Nations published a report on the rapid disappearance of the Mesopotamian Marshlands, home to unique wildlife species and the Marsh Arabs.

Extensive dam construction in neighbouring countries has virtually eliminated essential floodwater needed to maintain the wetland ecology. Newly commissioned irrigation schemes alongside agricultural chemicals and urban effluents have degraded water quality. The multiple dams leading to seawater encroachment of the Shatt al-Arab now trap a crucial amount of large sediment load carried by both rivers. The consequences are not only environmental but also human, there are 500, 000 displaced Marsh Arabs, an indigenous and unique people.

The proposal seeks to create a transboundary “Peace Park” to rehouse the Marsh Arabs and create a healing node for the country. The park will include a surface and sub-network drainage network derived from Sumerian technology yet tackle the problems that led to its demise. Reduction and revisions of dam policies will further develop a more sustainable solution that would not only help community projects but also reinstate the crucial role of the Marshlands as an environmental moderator for the area. Within the Peace Park are solar powered, locally sourced transitional accommodation units that allow semi-nomadic Marsh Arabs to plug into essential resources such as drinking water, clinics, schools and sanitized areas that currently do not exist. The park aims to reconnect people to their country and rehabilitate a society by embodying them with the same philosophies of their ancestors, namely working with their land to restore the balance they have been lacking for so many years.

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Hajir Alttahir, Manchester School of Architecture, UK
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