After Years Of War, Rebuilding Iraq's Libraries

Sep 8, 2013
Originally published on September 8, 2013 4:26 pm

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

If you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Coming up, the art of embracing failure.

But first, reading and learning have been enshrined in Baghdad's storied libraries for centuries. Some were destroyed by Mongol invaders hundreds of years ago, but more recently, the war in Iraq savaged the country's libraries. Looting and burning left many of them emptied of books and patrons.

Now, for the first time in three decades, plans are afoot to restore Baghdad's former literary glory with a shining new library. The designs and renderings show a grand, marvelously constructed, state-of-the-art green building set atop a lake. Amir Mousawi is director of AMBS Architects, the architectural firm responsible for the design of the new Baghdad library, and he joins us from his office in London. Welcome, Amir Mousawi.

AMIR MOUSAWI: Thank you very much.

LYDEN: Mr. Mousawi, Iraq hasn't built a library in more than 30 years. What makes the time right now to do this, to create a new library?

MOUSAWI: Well, I mean, it's a young government, and they've sort of had a number of years to sort of resolve other issues. But one of the most important issues that needs to be tackled is restoring a level of education and, fundamental to that, public buildings that facilitate that such as libraries.

LYDEN: I was a correspondent in Iraq in 2003 and will never forget the state the library at the college of arts and sciences was in at the Baghdad University: plundered, books strewn everywhere, wires ripped out, half-burned walls, just really, really sad. And now comes your new design. When you look at a picture of this building, it's a flying V or a teardrop? How do you describe it? Tell me about it.

MOUSAWI: Well, it's - it is kind of like a teardrop shape. It takes form on plan. You know, the roof sort of articulates the word read in Arabic, which was the first word that God spoke to the prophet. He said, read.

LYDEN: Mr. Mousawi, you are born in England, you're of Iraqi decent. What does it mean for you to be able to bring this kind of edifice back to the city and the country?

MOUSAWI: You know, the knowledge infrastructure of the country has been destroyed. And everybody that, you know, was highly educated, the majority of them left. And they're all beginning to return, but it will take many years before people are confident enough to actually move their families back. So for me, it's very important because it's, you know, we see this as the rebirth of a new age of Iraq where they can hopefully concentrate on the positives. And, you know, the only real way to get ourselves out of this mess that we're in is through education.

LYDEN: That's Amir Mousawi. He's director of AMBS Architects in London, the firm responsible for the design of the new Baghdad public library, and he joined us from his office in London. Mr. Mousawi, thank you very much.

MOUSAWI: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.