Saudi Arabia Embassy of Finland
The Iraqi government arranged an international invited architecture competition in the spring of 1978 for the design of a conference palace for large international congresses. The winning entry, Heikki Siren as a principal architect, was built in 1978–1982 by a Finnish main contractor to a very tight schedule, despite a halt in autumn 1980 caused by the war with Iran.
The building was designed to operate on the multipurpose principle. The project had an important role in Iraqi administration and culture at the time.
The aim of planning was to produce a public building meeting the demands of this central site and fitting into the streetscape of Baghdad’s administrative centre. Another important principle deriving from the operating programme of the Palace was that it should adapt to many uses. Thus the various functional units, the large auditorium, meeting rooms, administration unit, restaurants, etc. operated completely independently without disturbing functions going on elsewhere. In synthesis, the Palace formed a single mass around open central halls extending up through three storeys.
The building has a concrete frame, with steel in the large auditorium and central lobby. The round towers in the elevation, which opened onto the foyers, acted as discussion areas for small groups. The bluish glazed tile used as facing material was chosen out of respect for the Babylonian heritage. The monumental Brutalist style of the building was based on the western Modernist tradition.
The Palace´s compact floor plan allowed the rest of the site to be used as a garden with palm groves, pedestrian ways and pools. The rear section of the site was used for parking. The heads of state and delegations were planned to enter the Palace area through a gateway comprising two huge granite pillars in front of the main entrance. Other traffic was directed via the south gate.
Around the central lobbies and foyers were grouped the large auditorium (conference places for 123 five-member delegations and 1100 other participants, concert seating for 2100), two 400-seat committee rooms, two 150-seat conference halls, a high standard Presidents’ Conference Room for 200 people and a large number of other meeting rooms, restaurants, etc.
One round tower wing with its own entrance, offices and reception rooms was reserved for the use of the President of Iraq. Facilities serving the main conference areas included the secretariat, administrative section, extensive press and other media facilities, including a fully-equipped TV and radio transmission station, and in the basement a printing unit, machine rooms, first-aid station, other maintenance facilities and parking. The multistorey parking block and technical centre were situated in separate buildings.
The facing material used for the round towers, projecting stairways and the outside walls of the halls was specially made glazed façade tiling, with concrete elsewhere. The climate influenced the design of the outside walls: with the exception of the northeast side, the glass and aluminium frontage is shielded by a sun louvre made up of horizontal concrete slabs. Above this louvre construction were concave concrete units which allowed the hot outside air to flow out of the ’corridor’ surrounding the building.
The interior design of the building followed a consequent plan. The materials were granite and marble – used, for instance, for the central lobbies on the entrance floor – wall-to-wall carpeting and oak in the conference halls and elsewhere, and various soft furnishings and leather in the congress rooms and the presidential suite. The fixtures were designed by the architects and the movable furnishings were all high quality. The interior of the presidential suite was designed by Antti Nurmesniemi.
Works by local artists – sculptures and paintings – were chosen for the lobbies and congress rooms. Finnish handicrafts were represented by a large ryijy rug and wall hanging by Irma Kukkasjärvi and a sculpture by Zoltan Popovits in front of the main entrance.
In the constitution period, Baghdad Conference Palace has housed the parliament of Iraq. The current state of the building is not known.
Source: Finnish Architectural Review 5/1983