A Postwar Future for Mosul

Melding ancient and ultra-modern to bring new life from devastation.
Fiona Mischel

AFTER DECLARING VICTORY over ISIS, the daunting task of rebuilding Mosul in Iraq is just beginning. Seven hundred thousand displaced citizens are waiting to return home to a city in ruins. But a visionary proposal to restore Mosul’s vital bridges could breathe new life into the area. The plans, imagined by Paris’ Vincent Callebaut Architectures and a winner of the Rifat Chadirji Prize in the Mosul Housing Competition, could give Iraq a promising way forward from decades of war. 

Callebaut’s “Five Farming Bridges” are much more than roadways over the local Tigris River. The elaborate designs capture the spirit of Iraq’s past and bring it into the present. Drawing inspiration from the muqarnas—the classic honeycomb pattern in Islamic architecture—the Bridges also consist of rising tiers of family dwellings. Each accommodates different family sizes, with each house made up of two, five, or ten modules. The structures also incorporate solar water heaters, gray-water recycling systems, and wind chimneys as natural air conditioners. 

The houses themselves would be constructed using 3D printers capable of building 30 houses a day. But instead of consuming new resources, the massive printers would recycle Mosul’s broken buildings into printing “ink.” Drones bringing concrete and other materials to the printers would aid in the overwhelming task of cleaning up the city. 

But these futuristic ideas are only one part of the plan. The proposal also honors Iraq’s rich history. Orchards and vertical farms cascade over the Bridges. These walls of greenery are a clear homage to the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Furthermore, the fields could be irrigated using Archimedes’ screw, a device some researchers believe was also used to water the Hanging Gardens. 

This dream, however, is a long way from being realized. The Iraqi government estimates it will take five years and $1 billion to rebuild Mosul. There is also a fear that ISIS could regain a foothold in the region if Mosul’s infrastructure is not quickly reestablished. 

The Bridges proposal takes the pressing security situation into account. Construction could be completed in five years, directly in line with the government’s broad estimates. The long-term sustainability of the structures and the food autonomy from urban agriculture could also have a stabilizing influence on Mosul and the surrounding region.