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1986 Cycle Master Jury statement

1986 Cycle Master Jury statement

The Master Jury and Steering Committee for the 1986 Award cycle.

As members of the Master jury we have carefully considered the 213 nominations for the third Aga Khan Award for Architecture in two separate meetings in Geneva, in January and in June, 1986. At the first meeting, 25 projects were selected for detailed technical review. In the second meeting we selected the six Award winners. Both meetings were consistently well organised by the Secretariat staff. Without the thoroughness and technical competence of those who prepared the project dossiers and undertook the detailed technical reviews, and the outstanding support given to us by the Award office, the Award staff and the Secretary-General, our deliberations would have been more difficult and protracted.

The three-year period since the last awards has seen the culmination of a remarkable change in the climate of architectural opinion. In the Western world there have been emerging doubts that the earlier assurance of the Modern Movement was justified; at the same time nations in the Third World have begun to feel the need for architectures which express their own goals and identities.

In common with both these situations have been a number of significant developments. The accelerating urban growth has drawn attention to the plight of large sections of the population for whom adequate housing cannot possibly be provided by existing procedures. The decay of the historic centres has led to uncontrolled and unprincipled destruction and rebuilding. The deprivation and alienation experienced by the moving populations has been matched by the increasing validity given by designers to sociological issues and contextualism. Functionalism has been reassessed to include visual meaning and symbolism; human values balance technical values; a new critical spirit is reassessing the past.

In this third cycle of the Award, it is perhaps not surprising that the field was felt by the jry to be somewhat reduced, and few projects excited any passions. The difficulties experienced by the jury in agreeing on more than a small number of works of quality may also reflect the issues of doubt and reassessment mentioned above, and are an indication of a crisis in creativity and innovation.

The award of prizes is only part of the exercise of the jury. Concern for vitality and quality have led us to look carefully at the reasons for the rejection of projects in the first round - and after this to reflect on problems that might be addressed by architects and clients in the Islamic world. The jury has been only too aware of the difficult choices to be made and dilemmas to be faced by architects of the Islamic world over a wide spectrum of issues.

Many of the new buildings reflect the contradictory preferences that exist in countries of the Islamic world which are in a process of transformation or transition. There is no single sense of direction in which tastes are evolving, either with the general public or with the client or the architect. The distortion produced by external influences may interfere with cultural continuity, producing characteristics that are vulgar or ugly, but they can also be positive and enriching. The least we felt that we could do, as a jury, was to examine the submissions looking for works which illuminate the issues with genuine content and an absence of arrogance.

Public Awareness

In so doing, we felt that there was a great need for public debate about architecture within Islamic societies. The programmes of buildings and developments ought not to be left to public officials or powerful architectural firms to determine. A plea must be made for subjecting to public scrutiny all such proposals. The evolution of taste in societies that are transforming themselves should be a public affair, something of concern to every member of the community, about which the community should be able to speak: it should not be the sole prerogative of those in power, whether on the architectural side or on the client's side. A gestation period should also be built into the submission of such proposals to allow for public reaction and participation. Confusion of judgement and a breakdown of aesthetic standards are phenomena of transitional societies to which architects are as much subject as anyone else. By raising these issues, the Award jury hopes to draw the attention of the architectural and non-professional communities to one process out of which a better design culture might begin to crystallise.

The reassessment of traditional values in modern contexts and in ways that respond to modern challenges is something that goes beyond questions of architectural aesthetics and functions, and becomes a key role in the professional ethics of the architect.

Cultural Continuity

To the above is related the important factor of cultural continuity. The whole crisis in Asia and Africa shows that when a nation loses its sense of identity, and therefore its pride in itself, it is deprived of creative genius; for this reason, it is essential that some sense of continuity is retained. Buildings may challenge this continuity, but they should not break with it completely, for then alienation sets in and antagonistic processes may result.

Two dangers threaten continuity. On the one hand, there are possibilities of distortion through the processes of reinterpretation and re-evaluation of cultures in the face of new challenges and opportunities, and of undue external influences, the latter sometimes introduced through such agencies as misdirected foreign aid. On the other hand, there is the extreme severity and urgency of the urban expansion in the Third World, so that architects have a new responsibility in their handling of socially oriented projects. Housing may now be the most important of the problems that architects in Islamic societies have to face: it challenges them not simply to emulate the standards by which professionals in the First World operate in working for the modern sector, but forces them to be critical of influences from the industrial world, and to face the issue of dealing with indigenous materials, the indigenous capacity for creativity and the special values of traditional societies. There is also the new ecological responsibility that the architect has to assume towards the countryside. Rural villages have grown so fast that urban responses are required; we have to search for new types of rural cities in the Third World capable of being viable at a very low level of income. These are new challenges to the architect which are expanding his ethics and his ethos and which are arising from a specific crisis in the Third World.


Architectural education has a special role to play in preparing architects to deal with these new and major issues, especially, but not only, those of the Third World. The jury has been only too aware of the dilemmas and of the difficult choices that Islamic architects will have to make across a wide spectrum of issues. It is to be hoped that the awards that we have recommended together with the recommendations of this report may help to draw attention to some of the categories now assuming such importance.

The Work of the Award Jury

In all these ways, architecture and urban design in the Islamic world are clearly in a state of transition. In recommending the awards the jury has been considering signs of trends which might prove to be most useful or most desirable; these criteria have been carefully selected bearing in mind the diversity of Islamic cultures.

As a working method, the submitted projects were grouped under five headings and an endeavour was made to find at least one project which was judged worthy of an award in each group: mosques; public, commercial and industrial buildings; human settlements; rehabilitation and improvement; housing; and lastly conservation and adaptive re-use.

In the course of its task, the Award jury was 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 "social, economic, technical, physical and environmental challenges"; which nurture "a heightened awareness of the roots and essence of Muslim Culture"; which are concerned with the challenges of the future; and which have the potential to "stimulate related developments elsewhere in the Islamic world".

At the same time the Award Jury was aware that schemes might justify an award for quite different reasons. For instance, by serving as an example of the evolutionary process, or alternatively by serving as an example of a revolutionary process when appropriate. Throughout, the jury placed emphasis in making its assessments on basic, elemental architectural qualities, as opposed to the over-simplistic, bombastic, or ideological qualities that are sometimes lauded in contemporary and "vernacular" architecture alike. In making its judgement the jury was concerned to note conflicting philosophies between the approach of the "Modern Movement", which is often concerned with the search for a logical language of clarity and unity which might be universally applied, and the results of the continuing evolutionary process, which are frequently more concerned with diversity and vitality, with joy and engagement with the users.

In the judgement of the Award jury its function was to assess not only the value and quality of a building complex but also its contextual significance. At this time in the Islamic world there is an important new category of buildings, those which are sophisticated and highly technical, but this fact should not lead to the neglect of their impact on the societies in which they are placed.

Nor should the development of new building types and technologies lead to the undervaluing of buildings which belong to the traditions of the people and have a naive vitality that is uniquely their own. A lively community has many levels of expression, and the creative vitality of craftsmen in society should be encouraged.

The Award Jury wishes to recognise in making the awards that the contributions of the client and the user were often of the greatest importance to the design process. When the process of design and building is correctly put in train, a true balance of contribution between the client, the user, the architects and the craftsmen is achieved. Such a framework allows the growth of a spontaneous vitality and creative energy. The process of designing constructions and the process of evolving communal action have to combine to generate projects which are within a framework for active use by the population.

In considering the category of sophisticated and highly technical buildings, the jury observed with regret that few of the projects appeared to possess true inner conviction, let alone a vision for the future of architecture in the Islamic world. In selecting from the buildings nominated the jury was keenly aware that its choice would be interpreted as "sending a message" of directions which architects in Islamic societies ought to follow. Few of the nominated projects could perform this role. In the final analysis, the most important criteria were felt to be:

  • To what extent is the building expressive of a new vitality in the architecture of the Islamic world?
  • Could the building stimulate local creativity, even if it is the work of a foreign architect, and thus point to new directions in architectural design?
  • Will the solution adopted have a stimulating effect on identity formation?
  • Does the building reveal a sense of purpose, social responsibility and conviction underlying its design?
  • Is the claim that it is a functional solution truly sustainable?
  • Is the attempt of the architecture to respond to the Islamic environment merely pompous and self-conscious?
  • Is the building in scale with its environment, or does the handling of elements within the building produce a character that is arrogant and insensitive to the context in which it is placed?
  • Is the building likely to induce alienation because of the difference between the image of the architecture and the expectations of the inhabitants of the area about their environment?

The relatively small number of buildings short-listed in this category is a reflection of the crisis in modern architecture in the Islamic world today and particularly in the contextual significance, or lack of it, in many of the approaches to architectural design being adopted by the profession. Nevertheless, the jury would like to affirm its identification with the contemporary architectural efforts being made by many of the most sincere and committed designers.

The other side of the coin is that, in traditional societies, age-old architectural forms have reached such a state of high sophistication that even as they may slowly degenerate they remain more expressive and sympathetic to the aspirations of the people than all but the most perceptive of contemporary designs. Particularly in the hands of local craftsmen, the expressions of these surviving traditions sometimes have a vigour and conviction which truly celebrate devotion, contemplation or commemoration. The jury felt that the success of these creations should be an object lesson to all interested in the art of architecture and the maintenance of a sense of identity, and that in a few important cases, the work of these humble designers reached a level of inspired expression, sensitivity and occasionally innovation, which merited recognition and encouragement with an award.

The Award jury felt that the quality of the awards might be enhanced by producing a wide-ranging list of recommendations that takes into account the vitality of the "popular" movement in architecture. There is an architecture which is expressive beyond our rational logical understanding. One of the responsibilities of the Award jury was not to impose but to be alert and observant to what is there. Given the range of achievements in the world it is important for everyone to learn to adjust his values in order to be able to experience the full benefits of creative variety in each country and region.

One of the aspects of "popular" architecture that irritates sophisticated people is that it frequently takes elements and uses them in the "wrong ways", but history is full of examples in which such a process has led to important new developments, aesthetic and symbolic; "popular" art can be a source for "high" art and often has been in the history of art.

Architecture has a central role in creating and keeping alive a high level of taste. But this "popular" taste which is kept alive by the ingenuous craftsman may have equal significance for future vitality in the creative arts. In other words, there is a dualistic element of creativity in indigenous societies in the Third World that has tended to be eliminated by its Western-oriented component. Diversity is a necessary element for regeneration, reinterpretation and creation.

If we are called upon to find a direction that might be developed into a viable role for architects in the Islamic world, these divergent directions must be examined seriously. They possess pride and joy and essential, elemental qualities. It is a direction that is not always "nice" but it has this element of vitality.

The Award jury was aware of the danger of bringing to its task a uniformity of approach and taste.

There should not be an imposition of middle-class tastes and styles all over the world but rather the acknowledgement of divergent tastes and styles, a situation which has existed in all creative periods.

The concern of the jury with some projects for conservation is understandable in the light of the need to preserve and recover the past, particularly in the present state of rapid change in the Islamic world. In a global sense, much of what is happening in Islamic societies today is conservation or restoration in one sense or another. This is not a matter of nostalgia or sentiment, it is an intelligent assessment of the state of a civilisation.

Yet a number of the problems confronting the architect have only developed within recent times, so that precedent is no help in solving them. Nor can all questions be reduced to regional questions.

The jury has felt the need to consider these issues in recommending projects. However, the Award jury, while recognising the importance of awarding excellence and encouraging architects, was careful not to compromise the standard of its recommendations for excellence, for the sake of encouragement.

At this point, the jury wishes to say explicitly that the apparent lack of balance in the range of its awards results, in its opinion, from the particular quality of the submissions and not from any bias on its part: social housing, and public and building types exhibiting modern architectural expression are especially relevant categories to be encouraged in the Islamic world and represented with a quality appropriate to their importance.

Six other aspects of the contemporary architectural situation in the Islamic world particularly attracted the attention of the Master Jury:


The jury felt that it had to acknowledge that there were different tastes among different cultures. While emphasising in its deliberations the importance of giving pre-eminence to the protection of the local cultures and the indigenous people from pollution by foreign tourism, and always considering domestic tourism as more important than tourism from outside, the Award jury considered that the provision of tourist amenities did have important educational, culture-bridging and economic benefits.

The design of buildings for tourism was felt to involve quite different criteria from those involved in assessing any other architectures. One member of the Jury expressed this well during the deliberations: "Tourist architecture is scenic architecture, creating a scenic mood. Disney showed us the way. People escape, they play a role. We should be tolerant and show an understanding of this type of building ..."

The jury therefore gave particularly careful consideration to the problem of designing architecture for tourism.

While mentioning tourism the Award jury wished to praise the commendable conservation achievements of the Touring and Automobile Association of Turkey in undertaking the repair and adaptive re-use of a large number of important buildings, large and small, in and around Istanbul for the use of visitors and the public. One of the most noteworthy of the projects undertaken is the conservation and refitting of the Khedive Palace at Cubuklu for use as a hotel. The President of the Association has, by his driving force, achieved this remarkable programme which continues to engage ever more ambitious conservation projects and, at the same time, to serve the people of his country and tourism.


Airports were considered by the jury to be of great importance to any nation. Apart from their functionality, they act as symbols of the society to strangers from abroad; they are gateways to the region they serve; they create images in the same way as the great railway stations in the cities of the nineteenth century.

These aspects were paramount in the minds of the jury as they considered the nominated projects in this category which was felt to be a category of great importance in contemporary terms.

Industrial Architecture

The Award jury resolved to place on record its view that architects in the Islamic world might pay more attention to the architectural design of industrial buildings. The jury regretted that only one of the submitted industrial buildings was short-listed for the final round of the jury. However, it was encouraging to note that this was of high merit.


The jury noted with regret a detailed report on the failure of one well intentioned mass-housing project, initiated by agencies operating from abroad, due primarily to misjudgement of the priorities of the local population. In particular, the introduction of alien forms and materials of construction was a major cause of the rejection of the scheme by the people, because of adverse formal associations; they felt that the houses produced had nothing to do with their culture.

There was also a failure on the part of the architects to test, in the field, preliminary climatic studies. A further reason given for the cessation of the scheme was an unfortunate breakdown of communication among the agencies of external financing, the architects and urbanists, and national officials who combined some incompetence with some resistance to co-operation.

Such histories on the intervention of outsiders are unfortunately only too common, and the jury recommends that they be studied carefully by architects and international agencies, and that the practice of making case studies available for assessment be introduced, in the hope that the likelihood of such failures may be significantly reduced in future.

Human Settlements, Rehabilitation and Improvement

Throughout the Third World the booming expansion of cities is one of the most worrying prospects: at the present rate of growth, the urban poor of the Third World will form the majority of the world's population within 15 years.

In this situation the Award jury gave the highest priority to making an award in the area of human settlements and rehabilitation. A number of projects were examined, and while the jury noted with satisfaction that in some cases earlier awards had clearly encouraged further efforts along the same lines, their interventions were mainly of an infrastructural type. Schemes exhibiting the intervention of the skills of the architect to devise strategies by which the urban poor might be better served with housing and environmental amenities - other than those which are the normal responsibility of an efficient municipality - were felt to be in some cases flawed, and, in at least one case, of too recent a date for the jury to be in a position to assess it. Such schemes are endeavouring to provide permanence to human settlements: it has become clear that title to property in some form is an essential precondition of any successful scheme for revitalisation.

At the same time the economic implications of such an approach have to be fully worked out, and the long-term effects on the quality of life and social stability have to be clearly understood.

It was therefore with great regret the jury felt that no award could be given in this category in this cycle. Nevertheless the Jury wish to stress their conclusion that this area of activity is one to which architectural schools and practitioners ought to be increasingly paying more attention, because of its urgency and its significance.

National Symbols and Patriotic Monuments

The Jury felt that any monuments which have a national patriotic meaning or symbolism, particularly mausoleums of recent leaders or martyrs, should be excluded from the competition. Whatever the decision of the Award jury, whether positive or negative, it is bound to arouse feelings with respect to the Award. These symbols are so laden with emotions that any attempt to engage in judgement of them by the Award may lead to some misunderstanding; architectural judgements are only a minute part of the judgements that will eventually be made on the approval or rejection of such emotive monuments.

Before going on to list the citations of the Award, the jury would like to comment on one project for which it is recommended that consideration for an award be postponed to the next cycle.

Sher-E-Bangla Nagar Capitol Complex, Dhaka

The Award Jury concluded that the time is not ripe to make an assessment on the Capitol Complex because the building has not so far been used fully enough to be tested socially and functionally. There is now some likelihood that this situation will be rectified soon, with the election of a new parliament. For this reason it was decided to recommend that the Complex be re-assessed by the next Award Jury.

The jury's opinions have been sharply divided by its assessment of the significance of the project. Some members of the jury agonised through a period of days over the dilemmas that they felt confronted by in these buildings. Since so much time was devoted to this task, it was felt worthwhile to record both the positive and negative conclusions of these deliberations.

Louis Kahn is one of the leading figures of our century; the complex is acknowledged to have outstanding quality and originality in many ways, to be most creative in its handling of scale, in the layering of space and in its original use of openings in walls. But it is also apparent that the Dhaka design contains some problems that are inherent to it; yet the problems were felt to be of a type that is almost inevitable in buildings that are so innovative - the sweat stains of struggle show.

Some jury members did question certain qualities in the design: a tendency to over-formalism, a lack of connection with indigenous traditions and symbolism, a lack of connection to the city in which it is placed and finally the enormous expense in a country with very few resources and very low income levels. However, allowance ought also to be made for the great change that has taken place in the emphasis given to these factors in the twenty years since the building was designed. In addition, Kahn's architecture has entered the cycle of decline in prestige that almost inevitably follows a decade after an architect's death. A longer time-frame will undoubtedly rectify this to some extent. On the positive side, the building has made an invaluable contribution in the attention paid to the process of design and construction using rather simple materials yet achieving a design solution of high visual quality.

Dissenting Reports

Mehmet Doruk Pamir, Member of the 1986 Master Jury

The majority position of the jury is a pre-meditated and clearly articulated defence of a severely limited set of options within the entire spectrum of possibilities which the Award might recognise. There is a romantic bias toward traditionalism, historicism and the vernacular. This reflects at least one dominant strain within the architectural discourse in Europe and America during the last decade. But the obvious question arises as to whether or not this one-dimensional message is a sufficient response to the complexities facing architects in the developing world. Most notably lacking is recognition of those projects which engage in the search for answers to the kind of technological issues which still face architects in regions where modern technical development cannot be taken for granted. Also curious was the tendency to suppress the creative hand of the architect through the predominance of awards to projects which involved a minimum of "design" concerns, at least in the strictest sense of self-conscious creative endeavour. Indeed, the projects seem to suppress these issues, relying on craft, folk-art and historic replication or preservation for aesthetic interest. For the large-scale projects, which are also well represented, the lumpen aesthetics of the marketplace or "kitsch" predominates. This is not to discount the sociological interest inherent to these projects, but again, for the architect as a professional there is a conspicuous absence of an aesthetic realm which one would hope is as important in the developing world as it is everywhere else.

The bias of the jury did not accrue from a lack of endeavour. Projects were rejected which even by global standards represent major advances in high-rise design, for example, or in industrial prefabrication, or which involved creative transformation of regional building imperatives, while aspiring toward technological development. Beyond the polemical nature of the jury's criteria lay a kind of professional discourse which is irrelevant to the high purpose of the Award. That the Sher-E-Bangla Nagar Capitol Complex in Dhaka should be excluded based on insufficient user evaluation does not succeed in overshadowing the less overt criteria, having to do, among other things, with the "prestige" of fashion. That the project is a masterpiece in the eyes of world architects can hardly be changed by the jury's decision. But its exclusion does raise questions about the jury's criteria which unfortunately are destined to remain obscure. The minority representation can take some reassurance from the hope that the next Award cycle will address some of the problems of balance and avoid fluctuations from one polemic to another, rather than aspiring to an even range of criteria within all cycles.

Hans Hollein, Member of the 1986 Master Jury

The result of the judging does not reflect the opinion of a specific minority of jury members. It is clearly accepted that, in a democratic process, the majority wins. However, pluralistic tendencies are manifested in the fact that not one but several awards are attributed. An outsider would assume that the distribution to many diverse projects would reflect these pluralistic tendencies. The appointment of jurors of different persuasion seems to take care of having advocates for various opinions and secure such honouring of projects of different attitudes. This was not the case. Projects of unquestionable superior architectural merit and quality - such as the Sher-e-Bangla Nagar Capitol Complex in Dhaka - have been voted out because of a constant bias of the majority of the jury. In the light of history this judgement will be reversed. To the aims of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, a judgement against architecture is a disservice.