Glimpses from selected projects

A number of extraordinary architectural and urban projects from across the Muslim world have been recognised and lauded by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture for refurbishing and revitalising their unique local identity while manifesting aspects of tradition and contemporaneity. In many of these projects, locality and regional identity act as natural and internal forces that legitimise, filter, and even resist external forces. This section presents a total of twelve projects: eleven winners of the Aga Khan Award, and one shortlisted project for the award.1'2

The Intercontinental Hotel and Conference Centre, Saudi Arabia (awarded 1978–1980)

Saudi Arabia (awarded 1978-1980)

This centre, which includes a hotel and a mosque, was designed by the German team of Rolf Gutbrod and Frei Otto who, in 1966, won an international competition sponsored by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Finance (Flolod and Rastorfer, 1983). The project, originally meant to be located near Riyadh, was changed by the ministry and relocated four miles west of Makkah, along a dry wadi bed, surrounded by the rugged Sirat hills. The final design scheme aimed to harmonise with the landscape and the surrounding rough topography of the hilly area. The design commission and objective was to create a conference centre that would serve the international Muslim community and harmonise with the spiritual and climate characteristics of the Holy City (Al-Hariri, 1980); the design concept was inspired by typical curved roofs of Bedouin tents. The gleaming forms of the auditorium and seminar structures of the centre, in contrast to the surrounding rocky hills, are higher than the hotel complex and visible to passers-by along Makkah-Jeddah road.

The conference complex is approached through a central, partially shaded area, shared by the hotel and conference facilities. A second entrance that leads to the conference centre opens onto the lobby area. The auditorium and three seminar rooms are separate volumes, each of which is designed to express its particular function. All parts are covered by sun-reflecting aluminium ribbed sheeting. The conference centre auditorium is not only the first building in the Middle East to use suspended roof structure (Figure 5.1), but the roofing also includes three layers of mineral rock plank insulation to balance uplift forces (Holod and Rastorfer, 1983). The hotel complex on the left side, in a loose polygonal arrangement, has 170 rooms, each with a balcony which overlooks either the central garden or the gardens and hills surrounding the complex.

The Intercontinental Hotel and Conference Centre, Makkah, Saudi Arabia, by Rolf Gutbrod and Frei Otto

Figure 5.1 The Intercontinental Hotel and Conference Centre, Makkah, Saudi Arabia, by Rolf Gutbrod and Frei Otto

Source: © Aga Khan Trust for Culture/Mokhless Al-Hariri-Rifa’I (photographer)

The structure has two inner incompletely shaded gardens that provide a cool and refreshing oasis from the arid desert environs. The dispersal of spaces around open areas reflects the traditional courtyard housing layout, typical of desert towns and cities (Holod and Rastorfer, 1983).

Another traditional feature is the fixed wooden lattice, or mashrabiya, which shelters the mosque courtyard; it is supported by a grid of steel columns. Each hotel room balcony is shaded by an adjustable kafes, a cage-like structure popular in Ottoman buildings, on pivots. These slat-like elements, made of Scandinavian redwood, combine horizontal, diagonal, and vertical patterns; they also protect the large glazed reception spaces and mosque offices. Both local and imported materials have been used in the structure. Of particular note is the basaltic stone quarried from nearby hills. Hand- carved decorative features, some of which include Koranic texts, add cultural interest to the conference centre.

The National Assembly Building, Bangladesh (awarded 1987–1989)

The departure of the British from the Indian subcontinent in 1948 resulted in two separate states, India and Pakistan. Pakistan was divided into east and west enclaves with India in between (Al-Radi, 1994a). Urdu-speaking West Pakistan, much larger in size, dominated Bengali-speaking East Pakistan, where a second capital was established in Dhaka in 1959, while the secretariat remained in Islamabad. Continuous economic and language discrimination and general neglect resulted in a civil war in 1971 as East Pakistan strove to release its shackles from West Pakistan and opt for independence. With the aid of India, their massive neighbour to the west, East Pakistan achieved independence in 1971 and was renamed Bangladesh; Dhaka remained the capital.

In 1962, a decade before the civil war, the American architect Louis Kahn had been invited to design the plans for the National Assembly building in Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan. The design objectives for the future National Assembly complex were to embody democratic supremacy, revive societal structures, and aspire to modernity (Diba, 1989). Although construction had started in 1966, by the time the war began in 1971, only three quarters of the Assembly complex had been completed. After the People’s Republic of Bangladesh was founded, various alterations were made, and the building was finally completed in 1983, almost twenty years after it was first started (Al-Radi, 1994a).

The building design included an assembly chamber, galleries, meeting rooms, a prayer hall, a post office, a commercial bank, a library, a courtesy office for the presidential offices, a reception hall, offices, a restaurant, and lounge facilities (Diba, 1989). According to architect Louis Kahn, at least a thousand acres was required for such a monumental project. The site allocated for the Assembly building was in a low-lying flat plain, seven miles north of Dhaka city centre. Kahn’s design had five major components, placed in a “necklace formation” (Al-Radi, 1994a): the National Assembly building, the main plaza, the Presidential Square, hostels on the east side, and a residential block on the west. The National Assembly block, a monumental edifice, was the focal point of the main north-south axis of the project. Placing the smaller buildings on diagonals to the east and west of the Assembly block emphasised the structure’s importance and centrality. An artificial lake separates these smaller buildings from the secretariat.

The Assembly building is a cylindrically shaped octagon, in effect, a hollow concrete column with perforated walls (Al-Radi, 1994a). The column has eight sectors on each of its eight sides, against which there are eight outer blocks. The nine blocks, including the central assembly block, interconnect only at levels one and three. Deep openings cut out of the wall facades protect the windows and provide shelter from the wind and rain (Al-Radi, 1994a). The function of the Assembly symbolically represents the communal devotion of worshippers at mosques; to reinforce this spiritual connection, the prayer hall was placed at the entrance to the Assembly buildings to the south. From the north, the complex is approached through the park and the Presidential Square.

The National Assembly Building, Dhaka, Bangladesh, by Louis I. Kahn, with David Wisdom and Associates Source

Figure 5.2 The National Assembly Building, Dhaka, Bangladesh, by Louis I. Kahn, with David Wisdom and Associates Source: © Aga Khan Trust for Culture/Reha Giinay (photographer)

The building’s facade is made of rough-shuttered, fair-faced concrete ornamented with white marble bands that cleverly disguise construction joints and integrate drip mouldings (Figure 5.2). Not only does the National Assembly building represent one of Kahn’s most prominent works, but it is also a symbolic monument to the government of Bangladesh (Souza, 2010). Highly controversial in more than one respect, the edifice is a stunning statement of architectural excellence within the totality of Kahn’s work itself as well (Taylor, 1982).

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