Above all we need to learn from experience, discovering how both ancient and modern forms have evolved so that we can succeed in our task of creating an environment for the Islamic world which is both appropriate to its traditions and relevant to its future. The architectural environment of man is both a master and a servant. Because it is financially and economically an all but irreversible investment, it can become a tyrant dictating a way of life which is abhorrent or, at best, inflexible. But, if fully thought out, it can become a perfectly adaptive setting in which man can grow according to the guidance of Allah to the fullest maturity of which his spirit is capable.

It is a great pleasure to be here today for the opening of an architectural seminar in a country whose heritage is so justly famous. But let me begin these comments by congratulating His Excellency the President in the name of all the participants and my own name for his unanimous re-election to the Presidency. We pray that Allah may grant the President all happiness, success and good health in serving the people of Yemen and we believe such an important and happy event on the eve of this gathering augurs well for our discussions and endeavours. I know I can speak for everyone of the many distinguished participants in paying tribute to His Excellency, the Prime Minister and His Excellency the Director of the Organisation of Antiquities and Libraries for the help and encouragement that they, and government officials at all levels, have given to the organisation of the discussions and site visit which will occupy us for the coming days.

It was a little over five years ago, in April 1978, that the first seminar organised by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in the spirit of Islam was opened. Few among the participants will forget the excitement it generated not merely for the contents of its deliberations, but for the prevailing sense that a new concern and a new awareness have come into being. The concern was for the environment that a rapidly changing Muslim world was creating for itself: was it the environment that its own varied traditions, its real rather than fictitious needs, and its own sense of cultural dignity and autonomy required? The awareness was of the existence of men and women, practitioners or thinkers, Muslims or not, who had thought about these issues, who had asked questions, who had sought information and ideas to help them resolve specific problems or meditate on broader philosophical implications of a Muslim’s life in a shrinking world.

Out of this concern and of this awareness have grown six additional seminars dealing with topics as different as symbolism and housing; all have been published as a series of documents on our continuing process of thinking. And in 1980 the first series of the Aga Khan Award were given to recognise and reward fifteen buildings and activities which seemed to an international jury to exemplify the searches for solutions which satisfied a universal test of architectural quality, a no less universal sense of enhancing the value and dignity of human life, and the more unique test of fitting within a Muslim way and a Muslim tradition.

This year a second [Award for Architecture] jury will once again select a number of completed projects for a similar kind of recognition. Whatever the judgements of the jury may be, the search for ideas, the continuing critical examination of what is happening in the environment, the exchange of information, even debates between opposing points of view must continue.

This year a second jury will once again select a number of completed projects for a similar kind of recognition. Whatever the judgements of the jury may be, the search for ideas, the continuing critical examination of what is happening in the environment, the exchange of information, even debates between opposing points of view must continue. For, even though we shall not — nor do we want to — come to a single truth or a single doctrine about architecture and planning, the more we discuss these matters, the better equipped we shall be individually or collectively to meet the challenge of our time and to help the communities of the faithful and, by extension, of all mankind.

It is for this continuing discussion and for this continuous learning that we have gathered here for the eighth seminar in the series sponsored by the Aga Khan Award, on the general theme of “Architectural Transformations in the Islamic World”. This seminar is dedicated to considering the impact of development on architecture and urbanism and, as you will have seen from the agenda, the working papers cover not only various aspects of the impact which modern constructional techniques and taste are having on traditional architectural styles and methods, but also the wider issues of planning on a national scale and of reconciling conservation with the requirements of development. These are certainly questions which are of crucial importance to planners and governments throughout not only the Muslim community but the entire world, for more buildings have been built by mankind since 1945 than in all the preceding centuries.

The old Islamic world possessed a strong civilisation which expressed itself in good architecture, which both improved and inspired the lives of ordinary people and which represented important things to them. We have to maintain our links with this historic heritage, yet not deny ourselves those contributions which modern technology can make to improving the quality of people’s lives.

The old Islamic world possessed a strong civilisation which expressed itself in good architecture, which both improved and inspired the lives of ordinary people and which represented important things to them. We have to maintain our links with this historic heritage, yet not deny ourselves those contributions which modern technology can make to improving the quality of people’s lives.

Architecture is, after all, a practical art and I am particularly happy at the number of site visits incorporated in the programme for this seminar, since as I said a moment ago, we are privileged to be meeting in a country with a magnificent architectural heritage. Nor is it an accident that, for the second time, the seminar which precedes the ceremony of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture is being held in an Arab country.

Three years ago it was Amman; today it is Sana’a. In the extraordinary story of the birth and spread of Islam, the part played by Yemen was unique indeed. Medieval chronicles and poets have described its brilliant pre-Islamic civilisation, with lofty palaces topped by elaborately decorated cupolas and sculptures of roaring lions. The castles of Ghumdan and the Ma’rib dam are only part of a rich and ancient inheritance. It was a Yemeni cloth which for a long time covered the Holy Ka’ba. Yemen was the richest province of the Arabian peninsula and, after the Yemeni tribes’ acceptance of the Divine Message, it was Yemenis who, together with the northern and central Arabian peoples, spearheaded the first expansion of the faith from Spain to Central Asia. In Cordoba, Damascus or Bukhara, Yemeni memories were a major part of that complex heritage of early Islam, in which Arabian traditions were woven with Mediterranean, Near Eastern and Iranian ones to create Islamic civilisation.

Let me hasten to add that we are [in Yemen] not here to give advice, which would be presumptuous, nor are we here to pass judgement, which would not be proper. We are here, as in all our seminars, to understand, to feel and to learn.

Today Yemen is once again facing an extraordinary challenge and opportunity within the Islamic world. It has preserved longer than many other lands a physical environment which has naturally evolved from its past. In popular literature it appears at times like the keeper of so much that was good and successful in the past, maintaining a harmonious equilibrium between nature and architectural forms within the context of a genuine cultural tradition. But, like all countries, it is now faced with challenges which are not entirely of its own making. There are new expectations in the world, whether we like them or not, and there are human, political, social and other pressures which must somehow be met. This is the first reason we are here, to learn how Yemen is handling these pressures and these needs. Let me hasten to add that we are not here to give advice, which would be presumptuous, nor are we here to pass judgement, which would not be proper. We are here, as in all our seminars, to understand, to feel and to learn.

If we are to succeed in our task of formulating a just equilibrium between external forces and the multiple expressions of Islamic traditions and Muslim peoples, we must understand the extent to which modern styles and forms are a mirage or a necessity. We need to feel because the statistics, graphs and drawings produced by experts all too often have little to do with the lives, habits and expectations of living of men and women.

Above all we need to learn from experience, discovering how both ancient and modern forms have evolved so that we can succeed in our task of creating an environment for the Islamic world which is both appropriate to its traditions and relevant to its future. The architectural environment of man is both a master and a servant. Because it is financially and economically an all but irreversible investment, it can become a tyrant dictating a way of life which is abhorrent or, at best, inflexible. But, if fully thought out, it can become a perfectly adaptive setting in which man can grow according to the guidance of Allah to the fullest maturity of which his spirit is capable.

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