Abu Nuwas Project in 1981

Alan Bell talks about working with Arthur on the Abu Nuwas project in Baghdad

Arthur’s large projects usually went through an extended period of gestation, with extensive studies and dialogue involving various design team members.  But in 1981, for the Abu Nuwas project in Baghdad, we were required to produce two complete, bold schemes for the entire 3.5 km of Tigris River frontage for a very tight deadline. These two schemes were to serve as the focus for an international planning and design conference in Baghdad, and to provoke clearer instructions from the ultimate client – Saddam Hussein himself.  And each scheme required a “big idea” that could only come from Arthur. 

Arthur’s first “big idea” – a new island in the middle of the river – had come very quickly in response to a surprise question from the Mayor of Baghdad.  But as the days ticked by, the team was getting desperate for Arthur to come up with a bold concept for the second scheme.  Then one morning, faxed from wherever Arthur happened to be that day, we received five pages of 8½ x 11”sketches that he had done on his airplane tray table or in his hotel room.  Three sheets combined to form a complete layout for a series of gardens along the banks of the Tigris, while the other two sheets provided more detail on some individual gardens, right down to species of scented trees and geometries inspired by traditional Islamic patterning.

Photo credit: Erickson Estate Collection