Commemorating 40th Anniversary of Aga Khan Award for Architecture

“Beginning in 1980 and every three years thereafter, I propose to offer a substantial monetary prize to the architect who has completed a building which most successfully embraces the spirit of Muslim architecture.”
His Highness the Aga Khan
February 29, 1976, Karachi Pakistan
(Ilm, March 1979)

Aga Khan Award for Architecture
Ranjit Sabikhi (left) Indian architect and Ramesh Khosla (right), Canadian designer, posing with His Highness the Aga Khan after receiving the Aga Khan Award for Architecture for their design of the Sheraton Mughal Hotel at Agra, India, 1980. Photo: AKDN / Christopher Little

His Highness the Aga Khan established the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1977. The Award is given every three years to projects that set new standards of excellence in architecture, planning practices, historic preservation and landscape architecture. Through its efforts, the Award seeks to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of societies across the world, in which Muslims have a significant presence.

AKAA logo
Designed by Karl Schlamminger, the logo of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture comprises the word ‘Allah’ repeated 8 times in square Kufic script. (Ilm magazine, Vol 6 No 3)

The Award is governed by a steering committee chaired by His Highness the Aga Khan. A new committee is formed for each cycle that determines the eligibility criteria for project submissions, provides thematic direction in response to emerging priorities and issues, and develops plans for the future of the Award. The steering committee is responsible for the appointment of an independent master jury for each cycle, and for the Award’s programme of international seminars, lectures, exhibitions, and publications. The master jury selects the projects that will receive the Award.

The Award has completed eleven cycles of activity since 1977, and documentation has been compiled on over 8,000 building projects throughout the world.

At the presentation of the first awards, His Highness the Aga Khan expressed the objectives for establishing the Award:

“In the contemporary world, the Awards have recognised that other part, perhaps now much more important than in the past, the part of the common man creating for himself and his neighbours a setting for life and for health, preserving and utilising what nature has created, developing ways to maintain his identity rather than accepting the elephantine massiveness of so much of today’s world…

It is the expression of that social concern for thousands of separate communities within the whole Ummah which is so uniquely a central part of the Muslim message. We have recognised an architecture for men, women, and children, not yet an architecture for history books and tourists. Through architecture we are recognising the quality of life within the Muslim world today. And, by recognising a housing project developed by a whole community or a medical centre, we are preserving for all times the memory of this quality of life.

… The issue is: what architecture are we recognising? Is it the planning and design of master architects? Is it the architecture of the craftsmen, artisans, and specialists of all sorts who put a building together? Is it the architecture of users? Is it the architecture of certain lands with their peculiar physical characteristics? Is it the architecture of a faith which transcends national, geographic, social, or technological limits?…

The implication is that we are recognising as unique a creative and generative process in which the imagination of one architect or the expectation of Muslim patrons and users interact constantly. Within this continuum no single moment or decision can be isolated like the element of a chemical compound, because its creative life itself, it is the elusive process of human existence which is the winner, not merely a monument.

…the Award process itself is designed to be one of the means for this collective search. A partial failure can be as important as a unique success. It is in this spirit of common search for solutions to thousands of problems that these Awards will play their part. It is a spirit which is well proclaimed in the Muslim message, for the intention of man (the niyah) is a fundamental part of his action…

From the travails and labours of thousands, humble masons or expensive experts, there have emerged those works made by us and for us which we can present as being, all together, as an aggregate, as a group, the statement of our hopes and of our expectations as much as of our achievements.”
His Highness the Aga Khan
Presentation of the first awards of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture
Lahore, Pakistan, October 23, 1980
Speech at AKDN

Previously on Ismailimail…

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