The Hanging Cemetery of Baghdad | Naja & deOstos

“Creatures kissing in the rain
Shapeless in the dark again
In a hanging garden
Change the past
In a hanging garden”

The Cure, The Hanging Garden

To all those who want to visit The Hanging Cemetery of Baghdad, it may be useful to buy a Personal Flotation Device [PFD] first, as it is a speculative project completely suspended in the air: a techno-architectural structure that can resist gravity. We can start talking about this hanging cemetery quoting what Elina Axioti wrote about the concept of “floating“:

There is no limit within the idea of floatation where fictional scenes become reality, projecting the past onto the present. There has been a subtle conception of the transformation of preexisting fictional structures in the modernist’s experiments of technological inventions in science, art and architecture, which generated contemporary digital architectural initiatives. This condition could be described as always existing on the border where fiction and reality are involved in a constant, mutual reflection and perception.

Following this idea of floating fictional scenes placed in different scenarios, this project designed by Naja & deOstos is a way to explore the responses that architecture could generate when faced with extreme cultural and political scenarios like the current crisis in the Middle East, that is the main issue of their project. The project has been inspired after the 2003 invasion of Iraq [the first phase of an on-going war] that concluded with the fall of Baghdad in April 2003; and has been continuously developed since 2004.


The Hanging Cemetery of Baghdad. Site plan


The Hanging Cemetery of Baghdad. Perspective

Nannette Jackowski and Ricardo de Ostos define their project with these words:

The main driving force was to consistently explore through an inventive design proposal the ambiguities that surround our current lives, not only as social producers of space but also as global spectators. As with the rest of our work, the focus of the project is less in the form of a final object than as a script that it inserts into the city.

The idea of a script that it inserts into the city makes us think about Takis ZenetosElectronic Urban Planning Utopia, a system with diverse levels and locations for different urban functions, primarily residential, suspended from natural environments, while all functions placed upon a system of cables suspended in the air. Eleni Kalafati and Dimitris Papalexopoulos pointed in their book Takis Zenetos: visioni digitali, architetture costruite that “The last phase of the evolutionary process that gradually ‘lifts up’ a city, is its swinging over the nature”.


Takis Zenetos. Electronic Urban Planning Utopia

Going on with this artificial landscape, the Hanging Cemetery of Baghdad, the architects say that “is not for or about the people of Baghdad”. The project itself is described as:

The Hanging Cemetery of Baghdad is about a city represented and portrait daily through international TV and newspapers; a place almost fictional in the attention it generates but equally one so far removed from our immediate physical reality. Through the TV, the imaginary clashes between a predatory West and a stereotyped East are reduced here to spaces, architectural inventions and structural uncertainty. Consequently the project, or story, reveals itself through the duality of both TV cameras and spectators, searching for an understanding of the colossal suspended apparatus.

Now, if we wonder which is the point on make a floating structure to denounce this situation… we can speculate that maybe is the same kind of hidden desire expresed by Robert Smith when he wrote

“Fall, fall, fall, fall
Into the walls
Jump, jump out of time
Fall, fall, fall, fall
Out of the sky…”

Maybe it’s a way to extend social-cultural issues broader of any physical territory. The constant movement inherent in a floating or hanging structure also refer back to the non-stop conflict on Baghdad and the desire and need of stabilize it. It’s indeed a way to relate technology as a particular way to re-shape society and politics. Here, any problem of integration just ceases to exist, and the memory of the conflict keeps alive, projecting its shadow over the city.


The Hanging Cemetery of Baghdad. Top View Patterns

Lebbeus Woods once wrote about Naja & deOstos:

“The narratives set in motion a series of developments that seem both inexplicable and inevitable: by the time architecture arrives in the project, it is no longer the product of an establishment way of solving things –even less of the architect’s purpose– but a collision between intention and accident, desire and fear; the wondrous and the terrible”

Nikos Tsimas wrote on his article Floatation: Pleasure and Awe the following about Zenetos’ project, but it can be used it also to refer to The Hanging Cemetery of Baghdad, and we want to end quoting Tsimas:

This “upper space” is where many religions place the ideal life, where the immaterial world of Plato’s ideas exists and from where the Utmost springs for the romantic thinkers of the 19th century. This view of the upper space as something ideal led the afore-mentioned -and many others- to seek a greater spirituality. This quest urged an idealisation and motivated people to conquer the upper space. Its value cannot be estimated and one should extend their stay there, no matter how such thing could devaluate the ground of origin.

And while helicopters are still fying like flies over Baghdad, we love to find this projects of unsolicited architecture that stimulates criticism and controversy, with a hanging cemetery that is looking permanently at the ground.

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Recommended reading:
Ambiguous spaces: NaJa & deOstos by Nannette Jackowski, Ricardo de Ostos
Without Stability, Without Foundation Floater#01 editorial by Elina Axioti
– Highly commended to read this post while listening to The Hanging Garden by The Cure
– Naja & deOstos web-site


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