Islamic Voice
Shaban/Ramadan 1422
November 2001
Volume 15-11 No:179

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Aga Khan Architecture Award & Fellowship: Awarding Beauty and Utility

Aga Khan Architecture Award & Fellowship

Awarding Beauty and Utility

Aga Khan Awards and Programme aim at promoting architecture with a heart.

For nearly a quarter century Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA) has emerged as the major honour for the designs and buildings around the world. Though the award is mostly given to such projects which have got something to do with Muslim people, most of the prizes have gone to architects from diverse regions and faith.

In many ways AKAA is a very different award. First it is not given to individual architects but team that build. Secondly, it does not so much consider the creator’s intention but evaluates users’ response. Third, it mainly goes for projects rather than modern buildings of steel glass. Fourth, it will always insist on the structures to be in use, at least for one year, in order to see how well they suit the user and is not merely judged by the designed.


1. The tent-shaped Haj Terminal at Jeddah Airport
2. A vaulted House in Hebron Old Town, restored in 1998
3. The Aranya Community Housing Project near Indore, Awarded in 1985
4. Yaama Mosque in Niger, Awarded in 1986
5. The Social Security Complex in Istanbul, Turkey, Awarded in 1986





This being the distinguishing character of the Award, a jury of highly qualified and experienced architects and experts selects a large number of buildings and projects and they are short-listed further. The annual award carries $ 500,000 and is often distributed among several entries that are finally selected. Other well known awards for architecture are Pritzker Architectural Prize which annually carries $ one lakh and less well known Carlsberg Award is worth $ 225,000. But they mostly go to individual architects.

This award was instituted by Prince Karim Aga Khan in 1977 by donating a sum of $ 14 million to Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Geneva. Aga Khan is leader of the Ismaili Shias living in 25 countries of the world. The Trust also takes active interest in conserving, restoring and creative usage of historic buildings and public spaces.

The Award itself has begun to influence the architecture. Several architects in Turkey have included the basic values that Award promotes into their approach. No wonder then 11 projects and buildings in Turkey have so far received the AKAA. One of them is the mosque of Grand National Assembly in Ankara. The mosque’s qiblah wall is made of glass and overlooks a landscaped garden which brings the worshippers to a natural ambience. Istanbul’s Social Security Complex (picture no. 1), completed in 1970, is a cascading, horizontal structure.

In India three buildings have received this award. And all the three are in Madhya Pradesh. One of them is circular building of Vidhana Bhavan in Bhopal (Picture no. 2) which mainly used local material and artworks. Second one was Lepers Hospital in Indore while the third was Aranya Community Housing Project (picture no. 3) which included construction of an effective sewage disposal system for a colony of 60,000 people and cleansed a river from sewage where the sewage was being disposed. Now this former slum colony has all pucca houses and a clean atmosphere. In the housing project the focus was on not to disperse the people already living there (social integration and improving environment. Now several parks have come up along the river which was once a gutter filled with human waste.

The Jeddah’s Haj Terminal (picture no. 4) at the King Abdul Aziz International Airport which handles 2.5 lakh pilgrims won the Award in 1983. It is spread over 105 acres and has been raised in the form of huge tents which are held high with tension fabric. Similarly the conservation programmes in old Islamic towns such as Hebron in Palestine (picture no. 5), Kairouan in Morocco (picture no 6) and Bukhara in Uzbekistan (picture no. 7) restored several historic buildings and towns.

Fellowship Program: Agha Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT at Harvard was set up in 1977 to promote research and investigation in architecture of the Muslim world. At present there are two professors and 30 students at Ph.D. and Masters level. The students come from all backgrounds and all nations. Three scholarships are granted every year and competition is worldwide. There is a library for Islamic architecture which preserves a lot of video programs and slides and conferences and seminar are held regularly. So far nearly 100 Ph.Ds have been produced under the programme. In at least three major countries a lot of work has been done.

According to Prof. Omar Khalidi at the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, it has a good mix of thinkers and doers. Aga Khan gets the progress of the program reviewed every three years. Address: The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Ave., romm 7-238, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307, USA, Ph: 001-617-258-5597, Fax: 617-253-9331.

(The information for this piece was mainly procured from Dr. Omar Khalidi, Professor, of Aga Khan Programme for Architecture at MIT, Harvard, US.)


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