Washington DC, USA, 26 January 2005 - His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (hereditary spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, received the National Building Museum’s Vincent Scully Prize yesterday, in recognition of his contributions to promoting design excellence, urban and rural revitalization, and historic preservation in countries where Muslims have a significant presence. His efforts, the National Building Museum noted, have “helped bridge the gap of understanding between Western and Islamic cultures.” The National Building Museum, created by an act of Congress in 1980, is America’s premier cultural institution dedicated to exploring and celebrating architecture and the built environment.
Explaining the rationale behind the creation of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the Aga Khan expressed “thirty years ago, I began to question why architecture in the Islamic world had lost touch with the great achievements of its past.” In recent decades, he went on, new projects in urban Muslim societies were increasingly pedestrian, often carbon copies of the so-called modernism that one would see in any western city. “There was little relevance to the distinctive needs of Muslim communities today or a vision for the future. And hardly anyone was looking at the needs of poor and rural communities” he added.
Accepting the Vincent Scully Prize, the Aga Khan announced that he would donate the $25,000 monetary award received with the prize, together with a matching contribution of his own, to support architectural students from developing countries studying at Harvard, Yale and MIT. Founded in 1979, the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture (AKPIA) at Harvard and MIT educates architects, planners, teachers, and researchers who contribute to meeting the building and design needs of Muslim communities. The contribution to Yale, the Aga Khan noted, was in tribute to Vincent Scully, the Sterling Professor Emeritus of the history of art at Yale University whose teaching and scholarship have profoundly influenced prominent architects and urban planners for more than four decades.
In introducing and paying tribute to the Aga Khan at the Vincent Scully Prize ceremony, James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, noted the Aga Khan’s “extraordinary sense of humanity” and his exceptional accomplishments in improving the lives of populations in developing countries. Carolyn Schwenker Brody, Chair of the National Building Museum’s Board of Trustees, who presented the award, added “Through his work, His Highness has been able to inspire communities in developing countries as well as the West to appreciate the vital impact that the built environment plays in the quality of life.”
The Aga Khan accepted the Vincent Scully Prize on behalf of the architects, philosophers, artists, teachers, historians and thinkers from all religious faiths and regions - “a pluralist microcosm of the world itself” - who had worked with the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, to extend the understanding of architecture far beyond the act of building and technical perfection. He noted that these concerns encompassed issues such as the quality of life, social justice, pluralism, cross-cultural exchange, education, the proper use of resources and corporate responsibility.
The Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the world’s largest architectural prize, was established by the Aga Khan in 1977 to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of Islamic societies. The Award recognizes examples of architectural excellence throughout the Islamic world in the fields of contemporary design, social housing, community improvement and development, restoration, reuse and area conservation, as well as landscape design and improvement of the environment.
Through endeavours in various domains of culture, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture helps to better the quality of life for people in countries where Muslims have a significant presence. Its restoration and urban revitalisation projects encompass settings as varied as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Spain, Syria and Zanzibar. Its educational initiatives include: designing a humanities curriculum for universities and schools in Central Asia; the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard and MIT; managing the world’s first virtual on-line community for architects, planners and students (www.Archnet.org); and promoting the performance, preservation and study of musical and cultural traditions of Central Asia. The Trust also administers the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
The Vincent Scully Prize was established by the National Building Museum in 1999 to recognize exemplary practice, scholarship or criticism in architecture, historic preservation and urban design. Past recipients of the prize have included Vincent J. Scully, Jane Jacobs, Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.
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The Aga Khan Trust for Culture is part of the Aga Khan Development Network, a group of private development agencies working to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in Africa and Asia. The agencies’ mandates range from the fields of health and education to architecture, rural development and the promotion of private-sector enterprise. They collaborate in working towards a common goal - building institutions and programmes that can respond to the challenges of social, economic and cultural change on an ongoing basis. Active in over 30 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America, the Network’s underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society. Its agencies and institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of origin, gender or religion. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture coordinates the cultural activities of the Aga Khan Development Network.