1980 Cycle Cycle Master Jury Statement - Aga Khan Award for Architecture
Aga Khan Development Network

1980 Cycle Cycle Master Jury Statement

As members of the Master jury, we have carefully considered the nominations for the first Aga Khan Award for Architecture during our meetings in Geneva from June 30th to July 5th, 1980. Our deliberations were greatly facilitated by the thoroughness and technical competence of the nomination, review, and evaluation process conducted under the supervision of the Steering Committee for the Award over the last two years, and by the high level of discussion in the five seminars on architectural concepts and designs.

In our task, we were guided by the terms of reference for the Award which stress recognition of those projects "which demonstrate architectural excellence at all levels"; which respond to their "social, economic, technical, physical, and environmental challenges"; which nurture "a heightened awareness of the roots and essence of Muslim culture"; and which "have the potential to stimulate related developments elsewhere in the Muslim world."

We found our task a difficult one. The difficulty arose from the prevailing reality that Muslim culture is slowly emerging from a long period of subjugation and neglect in which it had virtually lost its identity, its self-confidence, its very language - those characteristics which, after all, are what relevant architecture does and should express. The present is a period of transition - a period when traditional heritage is being rediscovered, when new experiments are being made to combine modern technology with cultural continuity in both richer and poorer countries, and when there is urgent search for socially responsive forms of architecture for the poor majority.

Considering the fact that this is the first time that an award of this kind has been instituted, the sustained effort and imagination that went into the nomination, review, and evaluation process were remarkably thorough. An impressive effort was made to review projects in as many as thirty countries. However, there was a somewhat restricted coverage in the projects we reviewed, and certain areas of architecture were not fully represented, such as educational buildings, mosques, community centres, and public offices. We hope that a much larger sample of projects will be made available to future juries once the objectives of the Award are better understood and firmly established. Thus, the projects presented to us reflected the present stage of transition, experimentation, and continued search in Muslim societies.

In most instances they represented not the ultimate in architectural excellence, but steps in a process of discovery, still an incomplete voyage towards many promising frontiers. Although we have selected some of the projects for their excellence in architecture, many of them stand as accomplishments in this continuing search for relevant forms and designs that has already started and which must be supported. For this reason we have deliberately chosen a fairly broad sample of projects for the Award, rather than up to only five projects, since few projects really meet all the criteria for a creative and socially responsive Islamic architecture, though each presents an important facet of the ongoing search for an ideal. For this reason too, we have allocated the prize money with the intention of striking a balance between need and encouragement, keeping in mind the use to which this money can be put by those receiving it.

In the process of our independent review and selection of projects for this Award, we have become deeply conscious of the need for future evolution of Islamic architecture to meet the urgent needs of the impatient masses. The search for appropriate forms of low-cost housing is one such area of urgent crisis in many Muslim societies. A good deal of intensive research and analysis is needed to identify cost-effective, indigenous, and innovative solutions to the architectural forms which are most suitable for the economic, cultural, and technological needs of the Muslim world. No responsible architect can ever afford to ignore the socio-economic environment in his legitimate pursuit of excellence of design, nor is it necessary to sacrifice architectural excellence in finding socially responsive solutions to the difficult problems of these societies. We faced this dilemma time and time again in our discussions, but on closer examination the dilemma proved to be a false one. What is really needed is a redefinition of architectural excellence in a socio-economic context.

We believe that it is necessary to support continued research on appropriate forms of architecture for Muslim societies when only limited financing is available. The study of architecture should be encouraged in schools as part of a broad movement to train future generations for practising and disseminating relevant concepts. We urge that special efforts be made to provide adequate financing for research and training in this area.

We would like to place on record our deep appreciation for the visionary initiative taken by His Highness the Aga Khan. We also value highly the major role played by the Steering Committee in piloting the entire process for the Award, the high calibre of technical review, and the substantive organisation by the Convenor and her staff. The Award has started a new dynamic process towards a contemporary architecture that meets the evolving needs of Muslim societies.

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