Tehran, Iran, 17 October 2002 — “We need to know our past, see our present and then design our future.” “How can we expand our ability to think more globally?” “With the satellite and the Internet, the world is now very small.” “The chance to discuss new ideas will make us current.”
Next door, in Iraq, their neighbours live with a daily nightmare of imminent war. In Tehran last night, an overwhelmingly youthful group, more women than men, dared to dream aloud of the new cities they will help recreate, not only in their own country, but also in the West.
Vibrant exchanges saw Arata Isozaki, Charles Jencks, Rodo Tisnado, Ken Yeang and Michael Sorkin, amongst other leading architects and urbanists, challenge and be challenged by, Iranian students and professionals on a vision of the future unlike any imagined in the recent past.
At unprecedented encounters in the historic city of Yazd and in Tehran, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA) brought together planners, architects and conservationists from France, Japan and the United States, as well as from the Maghreb, Lebanon, Turkey and Uzbekistan to a five-day international seminar on “Architecture for a Changing World” organised with the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organisation and Iran’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning.
“Energising these exchanges,” said Dr. Suha Ozkan, Secretary-General of AKAA, “has been the unbridled enthusiasm of young professionals and students from across Iran. Their participation and contribution to the debate, and the palpable excitement that the Seminar has generated, underline the importance of this type of dialogue for those who would design for tomorrow, both in Iran and the Islamic world, as well as elsewhere.”
In scenes more reminiscent of sold-out pop concerts or sports events, students, engineers and architects spilled over from jammed aisles into adjoining lounges and an open-air theatre of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.
Lively discussion centred around challenges of innovation as well as those of conservation, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Experiences cited ranged from Ken Yeang’s groundbreaking bioclimatic projects from London to Kuala Lumpur, through restoration in Jerusalem, Tabriz, Tunis and Bukhara, to Solidere’s reconstruction of Beirut and spectacular representational buildings by contemporary Iranian architects in Stockholm and Berlin.
Does “cosmogenesis” as the basis of a paradigm-shift in architecture have any pertinence for tomorrow’s architects in Iran? Will the influence of local cultures risk being submerged by a process of globalisation? How can more architecture be made more ecological? In the renewal of decaying or destroyed cities, what role can private capital or modern architecture play? These questions that emerged from the Seminar forced participants to think far beyond the frontiers of their own societies and also animated conversations late into the night.
(The Seminar concluded late in the evening of 16th October.)
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Arata Isozaki, world famous as the leading creative figure in Japanese architecture, is equally important as a writer and theorist and consistently the leading interpreter of outside trends and movements for other Japanese designers. Charles Jencks is a leading theorist and critic known for his books questioning modern architecture, contemporary building, post-modern thought, landscape design and furniture. Rodo Tisnado, known as the “architect of democracy,” designed the European Parliament and was one of the architects of the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. Michael Sorkin is an utopian thinker and planner for “green” pedestrian cities. Ken Yeang is a pioneer in ecological design and the inventor of bioclimatic architecture.
The Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA) was established by His Highness the Aga Khan in 1977 to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of societies in which Muslims have a significant presence. Under the Award’s programme, an independent multidisciplinary jury grants a US$500,000 prize every three years for projects that exemplify effective solutions to challenges of the built environment. The AKAA is administered by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The Trust is a non-denominational philanthropic foundation that implements cultural initiatives aimed at revitalising the heritage of Islamic societies and contributing to their social and economic development. Its activities also include the Historic Cities Support Programme, the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, www.archnet.org, the Music Initiative in Central Asia and the Aga Khan Humanities Project. The Trust is one of the agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network. The Network is 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. Its agencies work in over 20 countries for the common good of all citizens, regardless of their gender, origin or religion and its underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society.
As entities, public and private stand on the threshold of commissioning major buildings, this international seminar in Iran furnished a vital forum for the discussion of contemporary architectural ideals and approaches whilst bringing into the process critical thinking at the highest level.