Inspired By: Marsh Arabs and Zaha Hadid

June 6, 2011

I am preparing an article about Zaha Hadid and her influence on landscape design for the trade publication Landscape (based in the Middle East) (if you don’t know of her, she is a celebrated modern deconstructionist architect that was born in Baghdad).

In reading about her over the weekend, I learned that she claims her greatest inspiration for her work is a visit that she made to the see the marsh Arabs as a young teen.  Marsh Arabs have lived in the marsh area where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers merge for over 5000 years.   Their way of life, coping with their natural environment and fantastic architecture inspire Ms. Hadid and they are inspiring me as well.   I have already ordered the book Marsh Arabs by Explorer Wilfred Thesiger (with whom the young Ms. Hadid made her visit) and can’t wait to dive in.

marsh arabs

All the lands were sea…
Gilimma bound reeds upon the face of the waters,
He formed soil and poured it out beside the reeds.
He filled in a dike by the side of the sea,
He made a swamp, he formed a marsh
and he brought it into existence,
Reeds he formed, trees he created.

Sumerian creation myth


Sadly, I understand that this civilization, who for centuries stayed outside the politics of the region and were left to live their lives as they have for thousands of years, were wiped out by Saddam Hussein.  But these images remain….and their way of life is still inspiring modern thinkers.

inside march arab structures

Have you been inspired by Zaha Hadid or have an interesting point to make about her influence on landscape design?  I would love to hear it….I think I would find it tremendously helpful.


images from Laputan Logic.

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  1. I’ll admit I’d never heard of the Marsh Arabs or of Zaha Hadid. And now that I have I’m sad to hear that their way of life is no more. Being from Arizona, the environments we work on/in couldn’t be more distinct, but still it’s inspiring to see see what they were able to create for themselves. I’ll have to think about how this translates to landscape design in Arizona.

  2. Denise says:

    I remember reading about the destruction and draining of the marshes but had no images to relate to. Thanks for providing images of this water world, an amazingly creative response to a challenging habitat.

  3. louise says:

    there was a show of her work a few years back in NY and ZH was giving talks, which friends of mine attended and were wowed by her . Prizker prize winner and does some outrageous interesting forms in space. Organic flowing forms- but seemingly unconstrained unlike the Marsh dwellers whose forms of bundled reeds reminded me of our once local native wigwams. Those pics are priceless. thanks for sharing and good luck with the article.

  4. Stephanie Miller says:

    Wow Thanks for this! I homeschool my two and my eldest daughter and I have been fascinated by that culture for awhile now and deeply saddened it is no more. I wasn’t aware of this woman’s work and her photographs, what a treasure!

  5. Heidi says:

    They didn’t stay “for centuries outside of politics.” They actively resisted Saddam and harbored fugitives, which is why he drained the marshes in retaliation. After he was deposed, the marshes were refilled, but the population boom upstream mean that levels are falling again as the rivers are getting used more heavily on their way to the sea.

    By the way, this is why there is no Kurdistan. The Jews and the Kurds were the two groups betrayed in the WWI peace talks, being promised countries of their own but not getting them. The Kurds’ homeland is essentially most of the source of water AND most of the oil in that part of the Middle East, so they weren’t going to be allowed to have it. Instead, it cot split up by a number of countries that have waged programs that range from mildly persecutory to outright genocidal against them.

    The style of huts and general lifestyle of the Marsh Arabs may not have changed much in over 7,000 years. Now that is pretty wild to think about….

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