Ottawa, Canada, 27 November 2013 — The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) presented its 2013 Gold Medal — the Institute’s highest honour — to His Highness the Aga Khan this evening. The occasion marks the first time in over 30 years that a non-architect has been chosen to receive the distinction.
“In recognising His Highness we cite his remarkable accomplishments in various aspects of the field of architecture as part of his broader social and economic development work, particularly the specialised cultural programming undertaken through the Aga Khan Trust for Culture,” stated George Baird, recipient of the 2010 Gold Medal who nominated the Aga Khan for this year’s distinction. “This includes the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, which has been responsible for the restoration of many heritage sites throughout the Muslim world, as well as the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.”
RAIC’s selection of the Aga Khan, he noted, recognises his “extraordinary achievements using architecture as an instrument to further peaceful and sustainable community development around the world.”
His Highness expressed his profound gratitude to RAIC at being presented with the Gold Medal, noting the many ways in which the Institution is “shaping forces that influence the essence of human life.”
The “definition of architecture goes beyond a concern for buildings designed by architects,” the Aga Khan remarked, adding that "I see architecture as embracing practically all aspects – all aspects – of our entire built environment.” He connected his interest in the built environment with the way it fundamentally affects quality of life, a concern that stems from his responsibility as Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims.
“In Islam, the role of an Imam is not limited to the domain of faith,” said the Aga Khan. “It also includes a deep engagement in the world, in all of the wide and complex issues that affect our quality of life. Among those issues, not many have more impact than architecture.”
His Highness illustrated this impact by sharing the experience of the Ismaili community, many of whom migrated to Canada or the United Kingdom from East Africa in the 1970s. In an effort to demonstrate the Community’s determination to rebuild, Ismaili Centres were established in Vancouver and London. The Aga Khan commented that these buildings “had to reflect our aspirations for the future, rather than the tragedy of our recent past. We saw them as structures where we could receive other communities and institutions in a dignified manner, and where we could demystify our faith — which was sometimes badly misunderstood. They would be symbols of new hope, replacing past pain.”
Canada’s welcoming pluralism provided a particularly fertile environment in which to express the global heritage in the Ismaili community, whose roots extend to “many parts of the diverse Islamic world.”
His Highness went on to speak about the projects underway in Canada, including the Charles Correa-designed Ismaili Centre, Toronto, the Aga Khan Museum, a product of a partnership between Fumihiko Maki and the Canadian firm Moriyama and Teshima, as well as park and garden projects at various stages of development in Toronto, Edmonton and Burnaby.
“I believe,” he said, “that the Islamic faith has played a particular role in the development of Islamic architectural expressions. For our faith constantly reminds us to observe and be thankful for the beauty of the world and the universe around us, and our responsibility and obligation, as good stewards of God’s creation, to leave the world in a better condition than we found it.”
“Let me conclude by emphasising again the potential of architecture to communicate across the boundaries that may otherwise divide us,” said the Aga Khan. “Architecture provides us with ways to express that, which is distinctive in our own experiences, even as it responds to what is universally human.”
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