The starting point for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture was a realisation that changing social and economic conditions, coupled with the accelerating pace of technological development, were inflicting upon the world’s 800 million Muslims an environment which often did not reflect their culture, their life-styles, their faith and hopes or even the demands of the climates in which they live. Accordingly, since its foundation ten years ago the Award has sought to focus professional and public attention on directions in architecture which will enrich the physical environment of the Islamic world….

In the past the horizons of architectural education have often been limited to principles of construction and the aesthetics of design and decoration. The Award seeks to stimulate architects to think and learn more widely about their art; about the vast spectrum of sources from which they legitimately can and should draw inspiration; about the impact their work will have on the future of the societies they serve.

It is the greatest privilege for all those concerned with the Aga Khan Award for Architecture that Your Majesty has graciously consented to preside over the inauguration of this seminar. Your honouring us today is not only an affirmation of the importance which Spain attaches to preserving her magnificent architectural inheritance. Your presence symbolises support for a wider concept: that the cultural heritage of the world is a global responsibility and that the richer, more industrialised nations should be concerned for the cultures of the less developed ones.

Your Majesty, your welcoming us to this legendary Palace of the Alhambra is a vivid reminder that Spain is uniquely qualified to foster such understanding. Your country protects some of the most beautiful manifestations of Islamic architecture. At the same time the living links your own civilisation maintains internationally through its achievements, faith and history and the constant renewal of its energies can give inspiration to the parallel efforts of those seeking to revive the creativity of Islamic culture. Thus the famous city of Granada is the right place in which to hold a seminar concerned with a key aspect of the re-invigoration of Islamic architectural practice: the education of architects.

Your Majesty, some of this distinguished audience may wonder why I should be sponsoring such a seminar when I am neither an architect nor an educator; when, at best, I am probably no more than a rather difficult client of architects.

The reason is that, as a client, I have long been aware of how acutely the built environment which we inhabit affects the qualities of all our lives, whether we are Christians or Muslims, rich or poor. To prove satisfactory and stimulating the multifarious structures comprising that environment must express the ethos of its civilisation.

The starting point for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture was a realisation that changing social and economic conditions, coupled with the accelerating pace of technological development, were inflicting upon the world’s 800 million Muslims an environment which often did not reflect their culture, their life-styles, their faith and hopes or even the demands of the climates in which they live. Accordingly, since its foundation ten years ago the Award has sought to focus professional and public attention on directions in architecture which will enrich the physical environment of the Islamic world.

As part of this process the Award has organised a series of seminars on contemporary architectural issues. There was previously no established international forum for the discussions and analysis of problems facing those who design for Muslims.

The seminar which Your Majesty is inaugurating today is in many respects a culmination of all the work that has gone before. The education of architects is the key to the profession’s competence; its attitude towards its role and responsibilities; and, especially, to its social, cultural and environmental sensibility.

In the past the horizons of architectural education have often been limited to principles of construction and the aesthetics of design and decoration. The Award seeks to stimulate architects to think and learn more widely about their art; about the vast spectrum of sources from which they legitimately can and should draw inspiration; about the impact their work will have on the future of the societies they serve.

Through exchanges of information the Award can promote understanding of the Islamic design vocabulary and the cultural and humanistic implications of the Islamic faith relative to its built environment.

Through exchanges of information the Award can promote understanding of the Islamic design vocabulary and the cultural and humanistic implications of the Islamic faith relative to its built environment. An architectural language is usually a distinctive trait of any major culture and continuity in the culture requires continuity in the evolution of that language.

Whilst a broader based education embracing cultural, demographic and economic influences will improve the student’s comprehension, later in his career he is likely to need more specific qualifications. Such buildings as airports and hospitals, corporate offices and hotels, even sports facilities, have become so closely focused on the activities they support that each has its own high technology. The architect’s professional upbringing must probably now cater both for a wide basic learning and a narrowing toward specialisation as he progresses.

Two aspects of the [Harvard and MIT based Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture’s] work deserve mention here. One is the compilation of an illustrated, analytic archive, recording Muslim built environments and accessible to students. The second is the development of relationships with schools of architecture in Islamic countries: in my view a vital activity.

Because the Award is not an educational institution, I established the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture in 1979 jointly at Harvard University and MIT. Its aim is to promote research and teaching in Islamic art, architecture and urbanism. Two aspects of the Program’s work deserve mention here. One is the compilation of an illustrated, analytic archive, recording Muslim built environments and accessible to students. The second is the development of relationships with schools of architecture in Islamic countries: in my view a vital activity. I am delighted that experts from the Program and noted academics from other schools are contributing to the theme lectures, case studies and workshops of this seminar.

Students who later practise outside their own countries or cultures will face unfamiliar considerations which you, the educators, can help them understand. Whether they serve Hispanic, Far Eastern, African or other societies, or whether they work in the Islamic world, they will have to empathise with that civilisation’s cultural base and bridge a vast gap between it and the predominantly Western idioms and technology which have become the stock in trade of so-called “international” architecture.

Within the Islamic world, it is increasingly being recognised by the politicians, financiers, industrialists, planners and architects who control development that architectural idioms which reflect Muslims’ social patterns are compatible with an improvement in their quality of life; indeed, are likely to be a precondition of such betterment. It has been a major concern of the Award to promote that recognition. One fundamental issue is the evolution of a design language capable of satisfying Muslim values.

This is not the moment to recall the historic origin of this gap; the point is that the situation is now changing. Within the Islamic world, it is increasingly being recognised by the politicians, financiers, industrialists, planners and architects who control development that architectural idioms which reflect Muslims’ social patterns are compatible with an improvement in their quality of life; indeed, are likely to be a precondition of such betterment. It has been a major concern of the Award to promote that recognition.

One fundamental issue is the evolution of a design language capable of satisfying Muslim values. This does not mean copying the outward forms of the past. For example, the Master Jury has premiated the Kuwait Water Towers as being advanced technologically whilst enhancing the Islamic architectural vocabulary.

However, it is not only in the realm of technology that we must seek appropriate design. The vast majority of Muslims are rural dwellers and are poor. For them the self-built house has always been the principal form of shelter and it is certain to remain so. But this need not exclude these people from the benefits of modern architectural practice. The architect can have a valued role in Third-World rural development by being the professional who both enables development to take place and raises its standards, by assisting villagers to build more effectively for themselves.

Such guidance can involve complex factors. Safety, from fire and seismic disturbance; health, improved through protection against climatic extremes and through proper ventilation; siting concepts that conserve productive agricultural land and permit the cost-effective concentration of services. The architect-planner must re-examine local materials which the vernacular architecture employs, but which are often eclipsed in the minds of developers by concrete, glass and steel, and suggest a blend which is viable aesthetically, technically and in price. He will have to regard dormant traditions as domains of knowledge with contemporary relevance.

And what of the rural immigrants who crowd inexorably into the Third World’s cities with no comprehension of the patterns of life and space which used to make city living tolerable?

By the year 2000 — already uncomfortably close — there are expected to be fifty cities with populations over fifteen million. Forty of those fifty are in the Third World. Many are Muslim or have substantial Muslim communities. One has only to study projections for the growth of Cairo or Jakarta to appreciate that urbanisation is likely to be the outstanding architectural and planning issue of the early twenty-first century.

Unofficial housing in cities reveals elements of poverty, lack of facilities and uncontrolled — often unsafe — housing that are also found in villages. This comparability was demonstrated by the effectiveness of simple indigenous techniques in the Jakarta Kampung Improvement Programme, which the Award also premiated.

Will the rising generation of architects have been educated to participate in the restructuring either of the cities or the rural areas? Will they be able to do so within the terms of a specific culture?

Will the rising generation of architects have been educated to participate in the restructuring either of the cities or the rural areas? Will they be able to do so within the terms of a specific culture?

Only the educators can provide the tools of knowledge with which the coming generation of architects will address these issues. In most of the Islamic world formal architectural education — as opposed to apprenticeship — is a relatively recent phenomenon. What we are seeking of those who will build in the Islamic world is a sympathetic approach to our culture and faith: a willingness to share in finding solutions to changing circumstances.

Your Majesty, through your generous patronage this week’s discussions are being held in the Alhambra at the heart of a fabled Spanish city: appropriately linked symbols of the great cultures, both of which have had an enduring impact on the built environment of the world, both of which must educate their architects to face the challenges of the coming century. If this Seminar can contribute to a revival of Islamic architecture which emulates the superb continuity of Hispanic achievement, then this activity of the Award will have fully served its purpose.

Your Majesty, it is my honour and privilege to ask you to declare these proceedings open.

His Highness the Aga Khan IV

SOURCES

POSSIBLY RELATED READINGS (GENERATED AUTOMATICALLY)