In his fading years, the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright embarked on a final grand project. Invited in 1957 by King Faisal of Iraq to design a new opera house, Wright expanded the brief into a plan for Baghdad complete with museums, parks, university and authentic bazaar. Dispensing with his ‘prairie style’, he peppered the scheme with domes, spires and ziggurats.
The 1958 revolution meant that none of it was built. But the ever-resourceful Wright simply offered the design to a new client. And today, the Baghdad opera house is the Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium at Arizona State University: an example of Wright’s versatility and the forum for next week’s presidential debate. Under the arches of a lost Iraqi skyline, George W Bush and John Kerry will meet in debate for the final time….
Talk about unlikely coincidences! Alas, I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t noticed this one–and I know a pretty fair amount about Frank Lloyd Wright.
UPDATE: A reader writes:
Having gone to Arizona State as an undergrad (I grew up in Phoenix), I spent a lot of time at the Gammage building for rehearsals (in very weird-shaped rehearsal rooms, the layout of which was a function of Wright’s obsession with circles at the time) and performances (I had the fun of being in an upper-balcony-brass-choir for a performance of the Berlioz Requiem). The most significant peculiarity of Gammage are the sweeping ramps that stretch out from the mezzanine into the vast parking lot in which the building is situated. (Everything in Arizona is situated in the middle of vast parking lots). The ramps are never actually used (even though they might be seen as the most ambitious expression of the noble impulse behind the Americans With Disabilities Act). So why are they there? It’s the legacy of the building’s Baghdad origin–the opera house was to have been built on an island in the Tigris and the Gammage ramps are truncated versions of what were to have been pedestrian bridges connecting the building to the shores on every side.