Architecture for Islamic Societies Today

Architecture for Islamic Societies

Since the Aga Khan Award for Architecture was begun in 1977 it has been in the forefront of recognising the full impact of social and environmental upheaval on the built environment in Third World countries

Thomas Grant 3 years ago 0 15

Since the Aga Khan Award for Architecture was begun in 1977 it has been in the forefront of recognising the full impact of social and environmental upheaval on the built environment in Third World countries.

In this volume the jury’s selection for the fourth cycle of the awards is presented. The selected projects, which deal with issues pertinent to both the developing and developed world, demonstrate their timeless relevance.

The visionary philosophy behind the awards has been to seek to encourage architects, builders, clients and users to learn from and add to the Muslim heritage. The idea has not been to compete with the established scholarship of Islamic culture but to reflect on the continuous relevance of the contemporary expressions of Islam’ as a religion, culture and civilisation. Furthermore the award has sought to identify new methodologies and new conceptions to provide for an enabling culture that would prevent a stagnation of the classical legacy, while recognising the living and inventive tradition in Muslim societies.

All the award-winning projects included are described in detail, examining not only the development and design, construction methods technology, but also the historical background of the site. Projects range from the restoration of the Great Omari Mosque, Lebanon, to the Grameen Bank Housing Programme, Bangladesh, and from the Gürel Summer Residence, Turkey, to the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris. This edition also includes essays from Oleg Grabar, Charles Correa, Ronald Lewcock, Suha Özkan and James Steele.

James Steele has worked as an architect in Philadelphia and has taught architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia. Texas Tech University in Lubbock and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. His publications include: an architectural mono graph on Hassan Fathy. Architecture for a Changing World. covering the 1992 fifth Aga Khan Award for Architecture and Hellenistic Architecture, all published by Academy Editions: and The Hassan Fathy Collection published by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

The Mission and its People


Each day, over a period of three days, an unusual constella tion of people emerged out of the planes arriving at the new, cavernous, international airport in Cairo. They came from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco, Tanzania, France, Germany, Denmark, Great Britain, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Russia and the United States. There were historians of the arts, of the professorial as well as the curatorial variety, from celebrated institutions of higher learning and museums as well as from more modest institutions with relatively smaller prestige. There were also anthropologists, sociolo gists and scholars in other disciplines of the humanities and social sciences; from Europe, North America and Western Asia. There were British critics living in southem France, German ones from the United States, Egyptian ones from Arabia, and many from the Indian subcontinent. There were newspaper and magazine reporters from everywhere and ministers and high level administrators from France, Tanzania, Morocco and Uzbekistan. There was an interior decorator from Bahrain and an Iraqi medical doctor from New York. There were officials from many public and private international organisations. There were quite a few mere students of art, architecture and the social sciences and there were representatives of most of the major Ismaili communities from all over the world. And there was a bevy of the necessary recorders of such events: translators, photographers, secretaries, audio and visual experts who can tape and transmit what is being said and show images on a dozen screens at the same time. Accountants and financial controllers were there, ready to add up bills and expenses and to check them against budgets. There was an assortment of public relations specialists, ready to explain what was being said or what was about to happen to those in attendance and those who were not. Many of these people came with their spouses and some even brought their children. Most were relatively young for such intema tional gatherings, as individuals under fifty clearly predomi nated. Women, while not in the majority, were also surpris ingly prominent in the crowds waiting patiently for the appropriate checks of passports and visas at Cairo airport. Buses brought the visitors to their hotel, a striking, tall and altogether efficient contemporary beehive around the remains of an elegant nineteenth-century palace built in connection with the opening of the Suez Canal and the first performance of Verdi’s Aïda. The new arrivals were met there by a similarly varied array of Egyptian architects, professors, critics and helpers of all sorts. There followed a series of learned and social events, whose high point was the presentation of the fourth Aga Khan Awards for Archi tecture in the spectacular setting of Cairo’s Citadel, suitably smartened up for the occasion.

Most of these people knew each other before meeting in Cairo, or, at the very least, they had heard of each other. Many had met before and most will, God willing, meet again. But few of them had imagined, when they embarked on individual professional careers in so many different lands, that they would eventually belong to a totally unique group, a sort of club without uniforms but with a logo, without rules of membership, practice, or behaviour but with a mission and a commitment. If it had to have a name, the club would probably be called, quite awkwardly, the Network concerned with the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in the lands where Muslims live and work. But it should not have a name, just as it can never have membership cards.

For, even if it is a tangible reality every three years, w the Awards are given, and even if smaller groups from t club meet occasionally, it is less a club than a self-gener ated network. It arose out of a vision formulated by the Khan because of his concern about the quality of the environment in Muslim lands during the early seventies. grew, then, out of its own activities, at times for bureaucratic reasons, at other times because of the ques tions it was raising. The main reason for its achievement, however it is to be judged from the outside, is that its mission is unique, but, even more so, because the range and qualities of its activities and especially of the people who leve devoted themselves to its continuing operation are of an order hitherto unknown in this century. I shall first turn to the character of the mission and then of the people committed to it.

There are two ways to define that mission. One is to return to the speeches and other public statements which accompanied the first Awards in 1980 and to the many papers which can be found in the proceedings of the

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