The marshes are a piece of paradise secluded at the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates. It is a sanctuary harbouring a diverse ecosystem of fish, migratory birds and a fragile ecology. It is a picturesque heaven, where nature and humans live side by side. The marsh dwellers are farmers navigating the rich wetland, building their homes on artificial islands formed from tightly packed reeds. For food, they depend on fishing, eggs from chickens and milk from buffalos. These descendants of the early Sumerians roam the land, to build a unique culture, cantered around the marshes and its natural resources. Their engineering ingenuity is seen in the cathedral-like structures they build using bundled and woven reeds, harvested from the marshes where they live. Known for their unparalleled hospitality, the ‘mudhif’ are large reception areas used by the village to welcome visitors and run the day-to-day administration of the council. The reed is the main material used in the bulk of these impressive structures.
The walls, floors and ropes used to tie the stalks into stacks and columns are made from the generous marsh offering. To form the frame long stiff reeds are collected, then firmly tied together to make the main arches, which gives the building resilience and strength. The arches are further strengthened by the pre-stressing of the columns, as they are initially inserted into the soil at opposing angles. For thousands of years, the arches were built in odd numbers; a tradition which has never changed. Ancient civilisations considered an even number of bays as unlucky. The openings between the arches are then filled by shorter reeds, interwoven to form intricate lattice-like mats. In turn, the woven mats allowed natural daylight to seep through, emphasising an impressive atrium space inside, while serving as ventilation bore holes. To live in harmony with nature, meant the marsh dwellers developed natural solutions, that helped them achieve a non-existent impact on the environment. This way, they succeeded in using what the land gave them from renewable resources, to achieve a net zero-energy lifestyle, on an ongoing basis for thousands of years.