Of the seven wonders of the ancient Mediterranean world, including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus of Rhodes, four were destroyed by earthquakes, two by fire. Only the Great Pyramid of Giza today remains.
We no longer know who built those fabled monuments to the grandiosity of kings, pharaohs, and gods; nowadays, at least, it’s easier to identify the various wonders of our world with their architects. Maya Lin, for instance, spun the moving black marble Vietnam Memorial from her remarkable brain for the veterans of that war; Frank Gehry dreamt up his visionary titanium-covered museum in Bilbao, Spain, for the Guggenheim; and the architectural firm of BDY (Berger Devine Yaeger), previously responsible for the Sprint Corporation’s world headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas; the Visitation Church in Kansas City, Missouri; and Harrah’s Hotel and Casino in North Kansas City, Missouri, turns out to have designed the biggest wonder of all — an embassy large enough to embody the Bush administration’s vision of an American-reordered Middle East. We’re talking, of course, about the still-uncompleted American embassy, the largest on the planet, being constructed on a 104-acre stretch of land in the heart of Baghdad’s embattled Green Zone, now regularly under mortar fire. As Patrick Lenahan, Senior Architect and Project Manager at BDY, has put it (according to the firm’s website): “We understand how to involve the client most effectively as we direct our resources to make our client’s vision a reality.”
And what a vision it was! What a reality it’s turned out to be!
Who can forget the grandiose architecture of pre-Bush-administration Baghdad: Saddam Hussein’s mighty vision of kitsch Orientalism melting into terror, based on which, in those last years of his rule, he reconstructed parts of the Iraqi capital? He ensured that what was soon to become the Green Zone would be dotted with overheated, Disneyesque, Arabian-Nights palaces by the score, filled with every luxury imaginable in a country whose population was growing increasingly desperate under the weight of UN sanctions. Who can forget those vast, sculpted hands, “The Hands of Victory,” supposedly modeled on Saddam’s own, holding 12-story-high giant crossed swords (over piles of Iranian helmets) on a vast Baghdad parade ground? Meant to commemorate a triumph over Iran that the despot never actually achieved, they still sit there, partially dismantled and a monument to folly; while, as Jane Arraf has written, Saddam’s actual hands,”the hands that wrote the orders for the war against Iran and the destruction of Iraqi villages, the hands handcuffed behind his back as he went to trial and then was led to his execution are moldering under ground.”