The past cannot be repeated. By copying it, it proves that one cannot do better. By repeating the past, by designing the same thing is not the solution. Modernity cannot be denied. How do we merge the two? That is continuity. We can’t ask people to live in mud houses. We have to come up with new solutions. The award tries to connect the two. The monuments of the past are important but the monuments of today are also important and they have to be recognised.

Times of India (Web) ‘Celebrating Beauty’

Interviewer: Unknown

Times of India: The award was instituted as it was felt by the Aga Khan that the gap between past accomplishments and current practice in Islamic architecture was massive. Has that gap been bridged after the award was instituted?

His Highness the Aga Khan: The award has several premises. There was a lot of thoughtless urbanisation after the Second World War. The need to promote architecture which was relevant and had cultural continuity was felt. In cultural continuity, faith is important but it is not the only thing. There are many other factors. For instance, we gave an award to a leper’s hospital which is a Christian organisation. We believe in plurality and coexistence. The meticulous process of nomination, decision-making and the actual award has been very effective. We want to change the mindset of clients. The award money goes to all those involved with the project. All other players that share the environment are important. And this award addresses the pioneering people in architecture.

TOI: Could you elaborate on the word plurality?

Plurality takes place in various forms. Race, colour are born qualities. On top of it there is education, economic empowerment. There are various grades of access to resources…. If we deny plurality, we would talk only of a privileged group.

AK: Plurality takes place in various forms. Race, colour are born qualities. On top of it there is education, economic empowerment. There are various grades of access to resources. It is to recognise these forces in society and bring them together for better coexistence. If we deny plurality, we would talk only of a privileged group. The award can put these forces together and send the message across. An award is not a matter of caste and creed and it can bring equality.

TOI: Architecture in the Muslim world is both enriched by the past and in some ways burdened by it. A bit like being the child of a famous parent.

AK: The past cannot be repeated. By copying it, it proves that one cannot do better. By repeating the past, by designing the same thing is not the solution. Modernity cannot be denied. How do we merge the two? That is continuity. We can’t ask people to live in mud houses. We have to come up with new solutions. The award tries to connect the two. The monuments of the past are important but the monuments of today are also important and they have to be recognised.

TOI: In the context of world events, has this award cycle been different from past cycles?

Every [award] cycle is different. Three years is a substantial period. Every time we compose a new master jury…. I would say the award highlights experimentation.

AK: Every cycle is different. Three years is a substantial period. Every time we compose a new master jury. There is a new cast of characters and new ideas. We try and involve young people. Every time new priorities are outlined. This time at the risk of oversimplifying, I would say the award highlights experimentation.

TOI: How has Islamic architecture changed?

AK: It is a difficult question. Islam has spread all over. In the desert climatic conditions, you see monolithic structures. In Malaysia, it’s more tropical and celebratory. When modernity came it was so aggressive and Islam was no exception. There is a collection of thoughtless skyscrapers. The award wants to confront this. The Islamic countries repeated the architectural mistakes of the West. Housing is different in different places. We have identified many interesting projects in Riyadh, Kuwait, where people are thinking in a different way

TOI: What would you say is the impact of the award in shaping the design sensibilities in the Islamic world?

AK: It has set new standards. Many architects now openly ask for projects from the clients pledging the award. Every faith has certain aspects of life and culture that defines life. Islam is no exception from any other culture. Architecturally Muslim continuity is what we are talking about.

TOI: The award presentation ceremony has come to India for the first time. How is the venue decided upon?

AK: When we give the awards we want to put the message of the award through the country where it is hosted. In order to strengthen the award we use major historical Islamic venues. We are hosting three ceremonies as the heritage in India is so strong. It is basically a celebration of history of which India is a custodian. The political leadership also welcomed us which is important. Personally this has been my dream for 20 years.

TOI: What is your opinion of modern Indian architecture?

[Modern Indian architecture] is stunningly good. I am not talking about 90 per cent of it. Charles Correa is a school of architecture on his own. B V Doshi, Raj Rewal, to name a few, are the other big names in Indian modern architecture. India’s attitude towards modernity is responsible for this blossoming of talent.

AK: It is stunningly good. I am not talking about 90 per cent of it. Charles Correa is a school of architecture on his own. B V Doshi, Raj Rewal, to name a few, are the other big names in Indian modern architecture. India’s attitude towards modernity is responsible for this blossoming of talent. India had the confidence to ask the best architects from Nehru’s time to come to India to develop urban spaces. In Turkey, we had the same agenda as India but Turkey never had the confidence of bringing the best of the world to design its urban spaces. Corbusier never built on the scale of Chandigarh anywhere else in the world. The French did not trust him. This has given confidence to the younger generations. India is an open society.

Times of India (Print) ‘Education has not kept pace with globalisation’

Interviewer: Bachi Karkaria

Religious leadership has always been linked with high finance. Uniquely, the institution of the Aga Khan has come to carry the ultimate lifestyle label as well. The triple burden sits lightly on the sharply cut shoulder pads of the present incumbent, revered by his 15 million followers in 25 countries as the 49th direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Anointed at 20, Prince Karim, now 68, has steered clear of both fundamentalism and the flashy life which killed his father, Prince Aly Khan. Instead, he has crafted an exemplary package which fits equally into sacred or corporate spaces, salon or slum. He is in New Delhi for the 2004 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. This $500,000 triennial prize will be presented this Saturday at Humayun’s Tomb, a site spectacularly restored largely by his foundation.

Times of India: Isn’t the concept of a ‘spiritual prince’ an anachronism in a secular, democratic age. How have you reinvented the role of the Ismaili Imam?

The Imam’s mandate is to guide and lead as a person of that particular time. The Imamship of my grandfather was shaped by his colonial times. Mine has been in the context of decolonisation, the break up of the Soviet empire, and now globalisation. We had to create the institutional capacities to deal with a new set of needs — economic and social.

His Highness the Aga Khan: The Imam’s mandate is to guide and lead as a person of that particular time. The Imamship of my grandfather (Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah) was shaped by his colonial times. Mine has been in the context of decolonisation, the break up of the Soviet empire, and now globalisation. We had to create the institutional capacities to deal with a new set of needs — economic and social. The Imam is entrusted with improving quality of life for his followers. He has not only to address issues of faith but those of the real, material world. This dual responsibility is unique to the Imam. The governance of the global community takes place under one constitution, with country-specific rules and regulations.

TOI: How have you internalised your two roles as head of both Church and State?

AK: In Shia Islam we don’t differentiate between faith and world. We look at life in its totality, in the context of the individual and the external situation. Forgoing one for the other is contrary to at least our interpretation of Islam.

TOI: Would you elaborate on ‘clash of ignorance’, the phrase you prefer to Samuel Huntington’s now-notorious ‘clash of civilisations’?

[T]he definition of an educated person hasn’t changed perceptibly since that of the 1960s; the paradigm of education certainly has not kept pace with globalisation. It does not yet provide a comfort level with pluralism.

AK: Today’s world has a new set of opportunities and centrifugal forces in place of the Cold War’s context. But the definition of an educated person hasn’t changed perceptibly since that of the 1960s; the paradigm of education certainly has not kept pace with globalisation. It does not yet provide a comfort level with pluralism. The West’s understanding, its academic context is still Judeo-Christian. It’s apprehensions rise from a lack of knowledge about Islam.

TOI: As a man of the world, head of a phenomenal business empire, and brand leader for cultural development, how do you react to your faith being seen as synonymous with terrorism?

AK: I am deeply worried about more than a billion people being tarred by specific historical and regional issues projected as a religious one. Whether you look at the Middle East or Kashmir, there are issues of extreme frustration and despondency. It is unfair to look at hot spots only in relation to Islam. I give you North Ireland, Spain, the Tamil question, the tribal relations in Africa. The Middle East is an inheritance of the first world war. If you leave a problem to — forgive me for using an ugly word — pullulate, decade after decade, it’s certain to end up with deep sickness.

Equally disturbing, most of these conflicts were predictable, and greater focus should have been put on them before they became explosive. The capacity of the international community to assess the degree of future heat isn’t as well defined as it should be.

TOI: How have you managed to isolate the Imamship, and the Ismailis from the worst stereotypes?

AK: Our source of strength is the importance we place on education, from pre-primary to post graduate. This investment — I prefer the word ‘commitment’ — has taken the community forward. It has been our greatest asset in crisis situations. When you have to leave in a hurry, all you can take with you is your knowledge; and it’s the one resource that helps you resettle faster. This happened in Uganda, Pakistan, Bangladesh.

What is our most precious asset as human beings? A value system that is both time-resistant and time-adaptable.

TOI: What is our most precious asset as human beings?

AK: A value system that is both time-resistant and time-adaptable.

TOI: And the worst?

AK: Killing, indeed all violence. Going by the record of the last 50 years, this is what offends me most.

SOURCES

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