The Aga Khan Award for Architecture/Building for Tomorrow (Ed. Azim Nanji) Academy Editions
Review by Ian Ritchie 03/95 for the Journal CITY
The Aga Khan Awards began in 1977, and are awarded every three years.
It is apparent that the Awards want to recognise and encourage both the social and the artistic consciousness of architects, such that in promoting excellent Muslim architecture, it can genuinely help to bring dignity and identity to Moslim people.
This publication brings together nearly twenty different perspectives on the purpose, criteria and success of the Awards, and the importance of the Aga Khan’s energy in recognising the importance of architecture, particularly, but not only Islamic, in the development of everybody’s lives.
The essays discuss the cultural, intellectual and social contexts, architecture and conservation, enabling processes and institutional building.
It is apparent that the relatively recent independence from foreign domination of much of the Muslim world, has brought a recognition of the degree of loss, and the need to recapture cultural identity and self-confidence. At the same time, the pressures of the contemporary world are far different from before, and the search for authenticity through a renewed investigation of Islamic culture is only part of the problem. Working towards a modern, revitalised, democratic and just Islamic civilisation involves much more than a concern for architecture. The essays amply highlight this, and judiciously place the issues and importance of architecture within the ideological, political and social context. Yet they reveal how architecture in its broadest sense can affect and effect a renaissance within societies. This is so often absent within most western architectural thought.
However, the overriding issue is how architecture can address and help alleviate the consequences of poverty – particularly in the ever increasing and ever more densely packed urban areas. The references to those who seek to find answers working with the people in these areas, and who create through organisational structures the means to allow architecture to give hope and sense of dignity are of enormous significance.
This collection of reflections is informative, and much can be learned from the broad consideration by many who have contributed and are evidently conscious of the tremendous responsibilities and challenges facing architecture.The Aga Khan Award recognises that it is through humility and respect of the people for whom architects work, and the management and creativity with the material resources at the their disposal that an essential architectural contribution is made to society.
If the history of architecture reveals to us that power, whether religious or secular, has been the driving force behind architectural expression, this publication reminds us that today more than ever before, we have a need for architectural examples which offer man dignity in his housing.
One aspect which is stated between the lines is that architectural arrogance, no matter how artistic its creation, has no place in the Aga Khan Award.
© Ian Ritchie March 1995