The content and structure of this volume
Divided into six chapters, this book uncovers architectural knowledge and practice away from the notions of ‘orientalism’ and colonial prejudices by constructing a series of narratives while discussing the role of the Aga Khan Award in setting values of architectural and urban excellence in Islamic societies. Methodologically, in developing these narratives two key resources were utilised: Archnet, the intellectual open access resource focused on architecture, urbanism, environmental and landscape design, and visual culture related to the Muslim world, and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture Portal.10 Consequently, the construction of these narratives is underpinned by theoretical tenets and is based on comprehensive content and reflective analyses of archival and review reports, master jury statements, seminar proceedings, and awards monographs developed over the past four decades. This introductory chapter covers the theoretical implications of the history of colonisation on the geography of knowledge in general, as well as crystallises and elaborates upon the primary aspects of narratives of architectural excellence in Islamic societies as reflected in the structure and process of the Aga Khan Award of Architecture.
The second chapter, “Reinstating the Enduring Values of Architecture,” highlights the complex process of integrating factors required for architecture to endure; this necessitates a holistic understanding of six elements - people, technology, beauty, time, place, and cost - and how they interconnect to produce a meaningful environment. Such an understanding is, in essence, reflected in the oeuvre of the iconic figures who were conferred the AKAA Chairman’s Award which has been bestowed only on four occasions. Three of the Chairman’s Award recipients were professional architects: the late Hassan Fathy (Egypt) in 1980, Rifat Chadirji (Iraq) in 1986, and the late Geoffrey Bawa (Sri Lanka) in 2001; in 2010 the fourth Award was bestowed on the eminent academic, professor, and art and architectural historian, the late Oleg Grabar. The chapter includes analyses of the contextual influences that shaped the beliefs and ideologies of these four recipients, as well as selected examples of their work; it also examines their influence within their local context as well as globally. The following chapters trace the values of excellence, aim to build narratives based on the various projects endorsed by the AKAA, and outline how these projects are upholding and reinforcing the intrinsic features of these values.
The third chapter, “From Restoration to Sustainable Urban Conservation,” discusses examples of architectural excellence in sustainable urban conservation projects in Islamic societies. The chapter showcases how these examples demonstrate excellence in relation to building restoration or community and urban conservation. Moreover, these projects engage with buildings and cities as sustainable organic edifices that retain historical images and heritage values while, at the same time, integrate with and respond to community needs and aspirations.
The fourth chapter, “Sustainable Architecture and Ecological Infrastructure,” focuses on the values of excellence that help expand the concept of built environment sustainability to include energy and environmental preservation - as well as human comfort and well-being. This involves a number of celebrated projects that address the building scale and others that involve the community, infrastructure, and landscape scale. They all represent the complexity of sustainability as a concept and practice as they relate to wider environmental issues and social concerns.
“Plurality of Architectural Approaches and Multiple Modernities” is the title of the fifth chapter. It discusses the debate around the origins of modernity and further examines the variables of social progress by projecting the inherent evolutionary route of progressive and/or regressive development of societies. The chapter highlights the AKAA’s implicit manifesto to deconstruct the linear form of architectural development, as a constant parameter of transformation from primitive to modern, by discussing a selection of projects that have successfully addressed their own contextual particularities. This includes projects that display architectural excellence through design solutions that reflect a unique visual identity of locality and a profound interpretation of cultural and environmental elements and symbols. The projects display momentous interconnection either with their natural environment or their surrounding heritage and archaeological remains while, at the same time, provide modern user-friendly environments that speak to their cultural contexts.
To conclude, chapter 6, entitled “Decolonisation Aspirations of Architecture in Islamic Societies,” recapitulates the outcomes of discussing a number of AKAA award-winning projects that vividly demonstrate various narratives of architectural and urban excellence utilising a variety of themes that include the enduring values of architecture; restoration and sustainable urban conservation; built environment sustainability; socio-cultural revivalism;11 and architectural plurality and multiple modernities. Developing a brief discourse on the quest for decolonised architectural excellence, these themes are further advanced by discussing key merits of recognised projects in the most recent award cycle announced in 2019. The chapter emphasises the distinct character of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, which conveys the key message that architecture is more than a built artefact; rather, it is a composite and matrix of economic, environmental, and socio-cultural interventions that are integral to a particular community and its surroundings.