Architectural Record | Maki’s Aga Khan Museum Makes Its Debut

Toronto’s cultural brand has moved into a new galaxy.

With the new, sublimely detailed 124,000-square-foot building, Tokyo-based Maki and Associates (with Toronto’s Moriyama & Teshima Architects) expand the [Toronto] city’s repertoire of museums and university buildings designed by local and international architects, including Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, Will Alsop, and Daniel Libeskind.

The museum complex exemplifies the big thinking and attention to detail that has long defined the Aga Khan Awards for Architecture and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network.

Lisa Rochon, Senior Fellow at the Global Cities Institute, University of Toronto.

The Aga Khan Museum (foreground), shares a park plaza with Ismaili Centre (shown at top left). (Photo © Kalloon Photography via Architectural Record)
The Aga Khan Museum (foreground), shares a park plaza with Ismaili Centre (shown at top left). (Photo © Kalloon Photography via Architectural Record)

By Lisa Rochon, FOR Architectural Record. Published September 19, 2014.

After four years of construction, the Aga Khan Museum, designed by Pritzker Prize–winner Fumihiko Maki, opened east of the city’s downtown on Thursday.

Architectural Record | Maki's Aga Khan Museum Makes Its Debut
A museum gallery receives daylight filtered through hexagonal skylights. Photo Aga Khan Museum

To help fill in the knowledge gap, Maki’s museum doubles as a cultural center, offering live dance and music performances within the glass-walled interior courtyard and in an intimate teak-lined theater. The packed outreach schedule includes curator talks, poetry readings, and foodie events.

Hexagonal skylights cast delicately patterned shadows into the permanent gallery on the museum’s ground floor and temporary galleries on the second, where visitors are given plenty of room to inspect treasures such as the 11th-century Canon of Medicine, several pages of the 16th-century Shahnameh – considered to be one of the greatest painted manuscripts of all time—and a perfectly preserved 13th-century silk robe once worn by a Mongol nobleman.

Ceramics, metalwork, and books are placed within seamless, high-security glass casework, designed by Studio Adrien Gardère of Paris. There are architectural replicas and cultural lodestones, including a reconstruction of a Mumluk fountain, which once refreshed the historic palaces of Cairo.

The Bellerive Room, another reconstruction, offers a fascinating peek at the interior of the Geneva residence owned by the Aga Khan’s aunt and late uncle, the Princess Catherine and Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan. The family’s ceramic collection is also on display.

Context & Perspective – Charles Correa

It is bookended to the west by the stunning, newly opened Ismaili Centre by legendary Mumbai architect Charles Correa. Standing below the faceted glass dome in his center’s prayer hall, Correa, 84, presented a series of spontaneous meditations on architecture at a press event earlier, celebrating the opening of the museum and the center: “There is God’s sky above and God’s earth below, and when you acknowledge both of them, that moves you.

Context & Perspective – Gary Kamemoto

The master plan was inspired by the vast urban dimensions of the plaza in Istanbul that links the Blue Mosque to the Hagia Sofia, said Gary Kamemoto, a director at Maki and Associates, during the museum’s opening.

Context & Perspective –  Vladimir Djurovic

To powerful effect, the civic plaza features five minimalist black reflecting pools offset by lush plantings of mature trees. Designed by the Beirut landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic, the plaza provides a serene urban refuge and an effective acoustical buffer from the noisy Don Valley Parkway running along the edge of the sloped site.

Context & Perspective – Toronto, Canada

Toronto is North America’s fourth-largest city, widely recognized as a place that sits comfortably with cultural diversity. The majority of its population was born outside of Canada, and some 150 languages are spoken within the metropolis. With that in mind, and reportedly as a thank you to Canada for welcoming Ismailis when they faced persecution in Uganda during the 1970s, the wealthy Aga Khan – renowned for founding universities and hospitals in the Muslim world as well as for his patronage of Islamic studies at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – gave the $300-million museum and civic complex to Toronto.

Discover, Explore & Learn more at Architectural Record | Maki’s Aga Khan Museum Makes Its Debut

Lisa Rochon is a Toronto-based architecture critic and a Senior Fellow at the Global Cities Institute, University of Toronto.

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