By Farrokh Derakhshani, Director, Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
The Aga Khan Award for Architecture focuses on processes of change in part of the world where the built environment is undergoing rapid transformation, at times with dire consequences. Over the past four decades the Award has sought to understand the nature of this change and to have an impact on design and building in the hope of creating a better quality of life for the people who inhabit these environments. To this end, it recognises exemplary projects and shares the lessons they offer with all those who play a role in this endeavour – architects, planners, government agencies, clients and, above all, the final users of the buildings. Each three-year cycle of the Award involves an exhaustive search for innovative solutions and positive achievements, which highlight the significant contribution that architecture can make towards shaping and improving our lives.
From the outset the Award has made both the architectural profession and the wider public aware of a broad new approach to what constitutes architecture. The 15 projects selected in the very first 1977-80 cycle engaged with a wide range of issues, from conservation to slum upgrading, and embraced traditional as well as new designs. Works by both emerging architectural talents and established practices were celebrated alongside the efforts of clients and builders. Together, these projects spoke of the plurality of societies in countries where Muslims have a significant presence, from Indonesia to Morocco.
This pluralistic approach has been pursued by successive independent Master Juries, responding to diverse concerns identified by a rotating Steering Committee for each triennial Award Cycle. The Chairman of the Steering Committee is His Highness the Aga Khan, who established the Award in 1977 to recognise architecture’s primary role in improving the quality of life in fast-changing Muslim societies.
One of the most pressing aspects of such change is the movement of peoples far from their homelands. Sometimes forced, sometimes voluntary, this mass migration – from rural to urban areas, or from one country or continent to another – has given traditionally mono-cultural societies a new character shaped by multi-layered identities. But it has also posed challenges. How do you create a sense of cohesion in a disparate population? How do you draw new communities into the public sphere, facilitate their engagement with civil society? The Aga Khan Award for Architecture confronts such issues head on, showcasing projects of excellence that address the aspirations of these communities.
This text was extracted from the preface of the 2016 publication Architecture and Plurality, edited by Mohsen Mostafavi, member of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2014-2016 Cycle Master Jury and Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design.
The 20 shortlisted projects for the 2019 Aga Khan Award for Architecture were announced in April 2019. The projects will compete for US$ 1 million in prize money. Click here to view the introductory video of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2017-2019 Cycle.