Desktop version

Home arrow Sociology

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>

The Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA)

The public and mainstream professional architects occasionally wonder about the reason of or the need for architectural awards while questioning their validity: Are they necessary? In response, the position of the authors is that architectural awards are critical; they validate the achievements of professional architects while making their contributions more widely acknowledged by the public, hence promoting excellence in architecture (Salama, 2008a, 2011). The discourse that awards generate is highly valuable to the development of the architecture as a profession and a discipline. Some awards recognise the extraordinary lifetime achievement of an architect, and others praise projects of virtue that offer guidance for changing the status quo toward a positive change. Globally, architects aggressively compete for various prestigious architectural awards to gain both attention to a specific work and recognition in the field.3

The AKAA, a part of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, was established in 1977 under the auspices of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims who is believed to be a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In 1957, at the age of twenty, Prince Karim Aga Khan became the imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community, after the death of his Indian- born grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan. The Ismailis are a minority Shia sect who live in over twenty-five countries throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and North and South America. His Highness was born in Switzerland but is a British citizen raised in Kenya; he later lived in France and the United States, where he earned his BA in Islamic history from Harvard University. Having links with both the East and the West, and as the perspicacious and respected imam of such widely dispersed Muslim adherents, he continually calls for ethnic pluralism, tolerance, and acceptance. His Highness, the Aga Khan, admonishes his followers to be open-minded, to respect one another, and to value Islamic principles and teachings. He also calls for universal understanding by “demystifying Islam” (Haldevang, 2017). For the Aga Khan, Islam is a profound faith that sustains human dignity and human rights; he has thus devoted his life to improving the quality of life of the most vulnerable populations in different parts of the globe. These beliefs underpin the mission of the Aga Khan’s organisation, not only as a cultural agency, but also as a platform to implement his philosophy within architectural and cultural production and representation.

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture is a significant section within the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN); it promotes cultural heritage as an essential, inspiring, and important aspect of development initiatives and schemes. This cultural agency includes activities of preservation and promotes the advancement of the physical and spiritual legacy of Muslim societies. The Award is managed by a steering committee that is composed of prominent intellectuals and practitioners. The first two conveners of the Award were Canadian Professor Renata Holod, a respected specialist in Islamic Art, and Hasan-Uddin Khan, Distinguished Professor of Historic Preservation, who made up the ‘secretariat’ of the Aga Khan Award (Khan, 2010). This secretariat is responsible for convening the committee meetings, identifying the nomination criteria of the projects, and managing the jury process. The successors of Professors Holod and Khan were Mr Said Zulfikar of UNESCO and then Dr Suha Ozkan as secretary general, who worked from 1982 to 2007 and helped establish the Award as one of the premier architectural institutions of the world dedicated to the recognition and celebration of work of highest excellence in Islamic societies. Since

2007, Mr Farrokh Derakhshani has been assuming the role of the director of the Award.

For each award cycle, the steering committee selects the members of the master jury and plans the Award’s programme of international seminars, exhibitions, and publications. Aspiring to a new identity that is liberated from inherited ‘isms’ and cliches imposed on the Muslim world, the Award recognises projects that fulfil community aspirations and needs and implement norms that respect their local environmental and cultural settings. The AKAA is offered in a three-year cycle by a new jury committee, which establishes the eligibility criteria for project submissions. The jury also manages the thematic direction of the cycle; this depends on the immediate urgencies and current issues of the various Muslim communities. Additionally, the committee makes proposals to the steering committee for the development and the future of the Award.

The nominated projects are mainly selected for innovative ideas, excellence in architecture, sound planning practices, and appropriate historic preservation and landscape architecture. The Award strives to recognise architectural concepts that can positively inspire and impact societies in which Muslims have a substantial presence. The nomination process considers architecture that not only fulfils people’s physical, social, and economic needs, but that also inspires and suits their contextual particularities.

The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture (AKPIA) at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) issues a yearly major publication, Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World. Muqarnas is a forum of scholarly works on the history of Islamic art, architecture, and education. It includes lively discussions among scholars and students from both the West and the Islamic world. Particular attention is paid to building schemes that use local resources and appropriate technology in innovative ways, as well as to projects likely to inspire similar efforts elsewhere. The Award’s underlying goal is to achieve a synthesis between cultural preservation, modernity, and globalisation by means of an operative concept-laboratory of spatial practice and active publications that enable decolonising knowledge from binaries.

To date, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture has completed fourteen cycles; during this time, more than 110 projects have been selected to receive the Award from over 8000 projects over the past four decades.4 The final choice of the nominated projects is based on the review of an independent multidisciplinary master jury, which is appointed each cycle by the secretariat and the steering committee. Their final decision on the awarded projects depends on input from nominators and on-site reviewers: approximately three hundred to four hundred architects from different countries across the globe. These architects are responsible for identifying and nominating deserving and worthwhile projects from all over the world for consideration. The nominated projects are then sorted by the secretariat, which excludes those that do not conform to the award criteria. These are as follows: contemporary buildings of no less than two years and no more than twenty-five years of age; restoration projects in which the technical restoration is performed during the same range of two to twenty-five years; and buildings in a predominantly Islamic country or built for an Islamic community. Additionally, no building that involves anyone associated with the Aga Khan Award or Foundation can be considered. First the nominated projects are screened, after which the secretariat contacts the architect of the respective project and asks him or her to prepare a detailed dossier. The committee and the secretariat then select the jury members. Next, the jury reviews approximately two hundred projects in each cycle and makes a shortlist of twenty-five to thirty-five projects.

The following stage requires a technical review team of highly trained architects to visit each project site, where they spend several days gathering extensive information including occupant interviews and on-site observations and preparing a technical-visual report. These reports are then submitted to the master jury to make their final decisions; they prepare a report documenting the reasons for their selection. The jury members carefully consider reports that respond to particular criteria; for example, thematic categories such as identity, revitalisation, or sustainability. Each category includes detailed standards covering two main levels: architectural and urban. While the architectural level describes exterior morphology, spatial organisation, facade treatment, building materials, and responsive building elements, the urban level focuses on buildings position, orientations, urban structure (grid, density), and shape of urban spaces (courtyards, gardens) (Catalani et al., 2018). The prize fund of the awarded projects, selected by an independent master jury, is currently set at US$1,000,000.

The boundaries between these criteria are examined, interrogated, and evaluated in seminars, workshop discussions, and scholarly debates about the role of architecture and urbanism in Islamic societies. Each cycle involves a number of seminars and series of publications that stress particular discourses, which respond to exigencies concerning the Muslim world. These publications enable the Award to extend its role to act as a vehicle for disseminating and promoting the unique concepts of the recognised projects. Moreover, on-site assessments are made to evaluate textual and visual information about the shortlisted projects before the announcement of the conclusive results to the master jury. Over an intensive week to ten-day period, jury sessions include workshops and presentations by technical reviewers who assessed the projects under consideration. This rigorous process is exclusive to the Aga Khan Award; no other award programme in any part of the world appoints on-site reviewers. Another exclusive aspect of the AKAA is that it is the only award that recognises and commends the efforts of master builders and craftspeople. The AKAA is also inclusive and unique in being the only award that focuses on non-Western communities. As a general practice, academics and practitioners, from the West and the East, are involved in various capacities to advise and help with the evaluation and publication procedures as well as engage in intellectual and cross-cultural discourses instigated in the seminars and debated in various publications.

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics