Next month the Ismaili Centre, Toronto, the Aga Khan Museum and their Park are expected to be officially opened. In anticipation of this landmark event, NanoWisdoms is pleased to present The Road to Toronto series in which, each week, we’ll focus on a different aspect of this multi-faceted institution. This week’s instalment is on the societal aspect and the park.

The park is the latest of some two dozen parks and gardens created, or committed to, by His Highness the Aga Khan and illustrated on the graphic. Click on the image, or here, to view it in full size or download as a wall-paper for your computer.

In an interview with Philip Jodidio, the park’s designer, Lebanese architect Vladimir Djurovic, said the Aga Khan has a “passion for gardens which is intoxicating” and that he feels the Aga Khan “is happiest when he is working and discussing the gardens.” Why is this? Why are parks and gardens such a point of focus and happiness for the Aga Khan?

Parks and encounters

In his 1994 Commencement address to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Aga Khan talked of encounters, stating:

Encounters. When two people meet. Or two particles. Or two cultures. In that crucial moment of interaction the results of an encounter are determined. In the simplest of encounters — say, with two billiard balls — the outcome is a predictable result of position, velocity and mass. But the encounters that interest me most are not so simple. In the encounters of people and cultures, much depends on the path that each has taken to that point.

Creating opportunities for such encounters is a driving motivation behind many of the Aga Khan’s projects, especially parks and gardens:

[Green spaces] are leisure spaces and meeting places for all ages and all social categories, encouraging different sectors of the population to mix and integrate. (Source) … When a public space is in a historic area or even in an ordinary area, the population from all backgrounds comes together. People from all ages, from different backgrounds, come together. It’s a space of immense social gathering. That’s part of civil society. It’s getting people to talk to other people informally in these environments. (Source)

Vladimir Djurovic on the Toronto Park and the Aga Khan’s vision

And so it is for the Toronto park, which, in addition, places special emphasis on offering its visitors a serene, contemplative environment as well. Djurovic explains the juxtaposition of the formal with the informal “captures the essence of the Islamic garden and translates it into an expression that reflects its context and contemporary age” creating “a serene environment where contemplation finds spirituality.” He continues:

Embracing the five senses as the means to reach the soul, every space and every garden are imbued with the delicate sensations that we seem to have lost in this fast-paced era. The ephemeral and the eternal are both essential to our composition of spaces…. The reading of two structures embedded in a memorable park was always a main aspiration of His Highness the Aga Khan for this project.

After I won the competition for the garden in Toronto, His Highness gave me a list of places to visit around the world. ‘Once you have visited these places, let us meet again,’ he said. I had never been to India and I found the gardens of Humayun’s Tomb and Fatehpur Sikri remarkable…. I realised after these visits that what the Aga Khan is doing is not for now, it is for generations to come. I understood that anything I do for him has to last as long as possible….

I think that His Highness is happiest when he is working and discussing the gardens. He really wants us to reinterpret the Islamic garden in a contemporary way. We did not copy any garden — it is more about what you feel and smell and hear in an Islamic garden…. His Highness’s passion for gardens is intoxicating. His ideas for creating appropriate and memorable outdoor spaces became our main source of inspiration and motivation to truly excel in this project. His insights, recommendations and unwavering involvement throughout the design process has shaped and effectively resulted in the gardens that we have developed for this project. (Source: The Aga Khan Museum, Philip Jodidio, Prestel (Toronto, Munich), 2008, pp 82-101)

Fortunately, with over two dozen parks and gardens completed or in development, the Aga Khan has spoken extensively about the importance of parks and gardens for society and so to help better understand the Aga Khan’s passion for parks and gardens, we bring you his full remarks in our Extended Quote: “His Highness the Aga Khan on the vision and rationale behind his passion fpr parks, gardens and urban green spaces.”

Click here to read: His Highness the Aga Khan on the vision and rationale behind his passion for parks, gardens and urban green spaces

Other instalments in the Road to Toronto series

The Road to Toronto (Spiritual): The vision and rationale behind the Ismaili Centres

The Road to Toronto (Intellectual): The vision and rationale behind the Aga Khan Museum

The Road to Toronto (Collaborative): The vision and rationale behind the Aga Khan Museum’s pre-launch exhibitions


Images, pursuant to 2012 Canadian Statute, Bill C-11, Section 29.21:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, Flickr user bobcatnorth, Mohib Ebrahim.