[To the architects:] Do not only set the example, share it in a generous and deliberate way, so that it reaches all those who build in every part of the world. Your skills have a meaning and an impact which can become vital. The results of your efforts, for good and ill, are felt far beyond the responses of your clients or your peers. This impact is a challenge, without precedent or parallel, to your profession and to its schools. The challenge is for all to raise, through the thoughtful practise of your profession, the well-being of the planet and its people of today and tomorrow. There are a series of specific questions I urge you to take up to meet this challenge:

  • Because there is nothing so powerful as tested knowledge and judgement, I urge you to ask how you can better learn from each other in debate and constructive criticism.
  • Because you are privileged with this knowledge, I urge you to ask how you can share what you learn, by deliberate efforts, with the many millions who wilt build without the benefit of an architect’s advice.
  • Because your actions will set standards and expectations, I urge you to imagine that your example will be followed by millions of others who build in this world and therefore to ask how you can exercise greater care in setting that example.
  • Because we share the burden of stewardship of the earth, please ask how the design and technology of buildings can minimise the call on non-renewable resources.
  • Because the resources we pass on to future generations are cultural as well as material, I urge you to ask how better to recognise and honour the requirement that both be enriched, and finally,
  • Because the most pressing environmental and human risks are to lie found in the developing world, I urge you to turn a serious part of your attention to questions confronting the creation of the built environment in that world: to rural areas where the greatest risks to the world’s ecology and human opportunity reside; and to the great and small cities that will emerge in the twenty-first century, where enterprises must be guided with far greater respect to physical and cultural resources than this century has shown.

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

To speak to the World Congress of Architects is a special privilege. I am honoured to be with you today, especially as this meeting is one of the most important gatherings of architects the world has ever seen. I am daunted by the task of talking to such a distinguished and unprecedented audience.

Let me say how deeply I share the conviction of the organisers of this Congress that architects have a critical and subtle role to play in moving the world towards a sustainable society. Indeed it is my very faith, Islam, which articulates that concept. God has entrusted His world to the living, in order that we may improve it from one generation to the next. This is the ethic which must govern our actions in relation to the physical world around us. Thus, our spiritual, cultural and institutional capacity, as well as the earth’s physical and natural resources become our legacy, a legacy which we must pass on to future generations.

For these, but also for other reasons — at least three — I have an abiding interest in architecture.

The institutions with which I am involved seek to light the flame of human opportunity in the poorest areas of Asia and Africa.

Firstly, issues of development are central to my concerns and responsibilities. The institutions with which I am involved seek to light the flame of human opportunity in the poorest areas of Asia and Africa. These parts of our world face extraordinary pressures of constraint. The issues arc truly humbling. Buildings, spaces, settlements and cities are forceful factors in the development process. The qualities they have — or can be given — enable or confine opportunity. Buildings lead or mislead by their example. The qualities we give them are therefore an essential link in the chain that leads to expanded human opportunity.

Secondly, the development of sustainable environments draws not only on the physical resources of a society but also upon the cultural and artistic resources that shape the values of that society. Buildings, spaces, settlements and cities are the embodiment and bearer of those values. In 1986 the masterful rehabilitation of the old town of Mostar was recognised by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. From a lifeless relic of an historic past, the city thrived culturally and exploded in economic opportunity. The rebuilding of Mostar illustrated how powerfully cultural continuity contributes to human well-being. In today’s tragic Yugoslavia, death has returned to Mostar.

Undoubtedly, architecture will carry cultural values from one generation to the next. I must therefore seek to understand architecture if I am to address the processes of change, orderly or disorderly, in contemporary society and especially so in the dynamic and diverse settings of the Muslim world.

Hospitals, schools, housing and commercial buildings were, and unfortunately still are, being built [in the developing world] with an unthinking allegiance to what I might call the “Footsteps” credo.

Thirdly, I have been involved, since the death of my grandfather in 1957, extensively, and in person, in the building process. It was then that I began to observe, in depth, what was being built in the developing world. Hospitals, schools, housing and commercial buildings were, and unfortunately still are, being built with an unthinking allegiance to what I might call the “Footsteps” credo. This credo implied that there was a single path to be taken in social and architectural development, a path already trodden in the First World. I came to believe that this path deserved to be questioned on many grounds: cultural, social, economic and aesthetic. It was also dubious whether this path would lead to the goal of sustainability

The questions were clear and precise, but the answers had to be sought from a series of ventures into the unknown. The Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard and MIT, and the Historic Cities Support Program of [the] Trust for Culture were created to analyse the issues and search for answers. Their goal is, simply, to have a positive impact on the quality of buildings, spaces, settlements and cities throughout the world, but particularly in the Muslim World.

Throughout Asia and Africa the overwhelming bulk of the population live and build in rural areas. In a changing world, the choices these people are going to be able to make will have a profound impact on the ecology of the planet. It is others who are making choices today, and the impact of those choices is devastating. It is urgent and essential that these choices should be made in a way which respect a people’s legitimate claim to a better life, whilst remaining sensitive to the ecology of their setting.

What have we learnt so far? Certainly, the first important lesson is that efforts to create a humane, sustainable environment must focus more urgently and positively on rural areas in the developing world. Throughout Asia and Africa the overwhelming bulk of the population live and build in rural areas. In a changing world, the choices these people are going to be able to make will have a profound impact on the ecology of the planet. It is others who are making choices today, and the impact of those choices is devastating. It is urgent and essential that these choices should be made in a way which respect a people’s legitimate claim to a better life, whilst remaining sensitive to the ecology of their setting. I truly believe that these two sets of demands can be reconciled in harmony.

We have ample evidence in our work in rural areas in India and Pakistan that this can be done. For the sustainable development of a rural economy and its environment, access to education and professional expertise and the energy and motivation of the people involved, are required. Sustainable development in the Third World requires an accessible understanding of a process of change that is without precedent in the experience of its people. There is a clear need that the choice of local people be informed and not compelled. For such a process to be sustained, those taking part must view it as a priority in their lives. They must be able to see identifiable benefits as a result of their participation. And they must be able to take part in the process at a cost they can afford.

Architects, planners, economists and experts in agriculture, hydrology, geology, forestry and other fields must find ways to work together with, and on behalf of, the people of rural areas, to develop an anticipatory process for the development of the physical environment. By such a process I mean one in which a rigorous exchange leads to practical solutions that reconcile ecological, economic, social and cultural demands.

Too often the physical problems associated with the development have been thought to be relatively simple, and not deserving of the same level of attention given, deservedly, to issues of health, literacy or economic development. We must not displace the attention given to these issues. Rather we should recognise that physical development problems are complex, pervasive and insidious in their impact. As such they deserve a clear place in development priorities, policies and higher education. They also deserve far greater attention in the primary and secondary curricula.

Those who build and those who advise them in that task will make these choices and trade-offs on the basis of the ethnic and social values they hold. We have learned that there are sometimes deep and significant differences in their values. These differences need to be open to debate.

In our work we have learned that the quality of a built environment will almost always be a reflection of the respect and stewardship given to material resources. Quality can also be found in the elegance and fit of the trade-offs made when conflicting demands arise between one realm of resource and another. Those who build and those who advise them in that task will make these choices and trade-offs on the basis of the ethnic and social values they hold. We have learned that there are sometimes deep and significant differences in their values. These differences need to be open to debate. Debate and enquiry in architects enlarge their share of responsibility for the quality of the built environment. Enquiry must reach across all dimensions of architecture. The economic, technical, cultural and aesthetic dimensions of buildings all demand our attention and deep understanding.

What else are we learning? For the first time, from the Award for Architecture, we are beginning to see that buildings and places can be created in ways that reconcile, with elegance, the different demands of sustainability. Never before have we seen so many new buildings of social purpose — small schools and medical centres of real quality — in rural villages that set such a remarkable standard. The judgements of the 1992 Award Jury, for example, hold some crucial lessons for an architecture that will support a sustainable world. The evident combination of dignity, aptness and modesty that is found in each of the winning projects points to an architecture that is competent, caring and subtle in its call upon resources.

However, we have learned that it is impractical, even misleading, to imagine that an architect’s services will be employed to guide more than the smallest fraction of the additions made every year to the world’s stock buildings.

There are those who would say that the profession is irrelevant to the mass of building taking place in the world. I firmly believe otherwise. I urge you to take up the deliberate responsibility to guide by example and by precept. Your few works must give examples to the millions who build without architects every year.

There are those who would say that the profession is irrelevant to the mass of building taking place in the world. I firmly believe otherwise. I urge you to take up the deliberate responsibility to guide by example and by precept. Your few works must give examples to the millions who build without architects every year. You must show, by example, how self-built rural housing in Central Asia can be built to withstand the devastation of earthquakes; how a backstreet factory in Senegal can meet acceptable environmental standards for those who work there; or how the design of a community’s school in Java can enhance and dignify the learning experience.

Do not only set the example, share it in a generous and deliberate way, so that it reaches all those who build in every part of the world. Your skills have a meaning and an impact which can become vital. The results of your efforts, for good and ill, are felt far beyond the responses of your clients or your peers. This impact is a challenge, without precedent or parallel, to your profession and to its schools. The challenge is for all to raise, through the thoughtful practise of your profession, the well-being of the planet and its people of today and tomorrow. There are a series of specific questions I urge you to take up to meet this challenge:

  • Because there is nothing so powerful as tested knowledge and judgement, I urge you to ask how you can better learn from each other in debate and constructive criticism.
  • Because you are privileged with this knowledge, I urge you to ask how you can share what you learn, by deliberate efforts, with the many millions who wilt build without the benefit of an architect’s advice.
  • Because your actions will set standards and expectations, I urge you to imagine that your example will be followed by millions of others who build in this world and therefore to ask how you can exercise greater care in setting that example.
  • Because we share the burden of stewardship of the earth, please ask how the design and technology of buildings can minimise the call on non-renewable resources.
  • Because the resources we pass on to future generations are cultural as well as material, I urge you to ask how better to recognise and honour the requirement that both be enriched, and finally,
  • Because the most pressing environmental and human risks are to lie found in the developing world, I urge you to turn a serious part of your attention to questions confronting the creation of the built environment in that world: to rural areas where the greatest risks to the world’s ecology and human opportunity reside; and to the great and small cities that will emerge in the twenty-first century, where enterprises must be guided with far greater respect to physical and cultural resources than this century has shown.

For my own part I am committed to the same challenge and to address the same questions which I urge upon you. I shall continue to work with architects and the communities and clients they serve throughout the world (especially in the Muslim world). And I shall seek to develop new understandings and interventions that might enable the people in rural and urban areas in Asia and Africa to take a more informed and sensitive command of their environment and social development. In all of these activities I will seek your ideas, your support and your critical participation.

In these endeavours we must together seek to strengthen and enrich the dialogue in which we account for the consequences of our actions as makers of buildings, spaces, settlements and cities. And we must together enlarge the freedom that will enable that dialogue to take place.

In these endeavours we must together seek to strengthen and enrich the dialogue in which we account for the consequences of our actions as makers of buildings, spaces, settlements and cities. And we must together enlarge the freedom that will enable that dialogue to take place. Architecture and its concerns need to become a staple topic in the lives of millions more people in the world today. Such attention will be earned by your actions and your advocacy. It will stem from the evidence that your buildings and your teaching lead to the conservation and revitalisation of the earth’s resources. If you ensure that your work sustains these resources, your standards will become an imperative that the world will not ignore.

Thank you for the opportunity to raise these questions.

His Highness the Aga Khan IV

NOTES

  1. All mphasis, original.

SOURCES

POSSIBLY RELATED READINGS (GENERATED AUTOMATICALLY)