Book review by Zahir Dhalla: Under the Eaves of Architecture – Philip Jodidio

Book Review

Under the Eaves of Architecture – The Aga Khan: Builder and Patron

by Philip Jodidio. Golden Jubilee Edition 2007, Prestel Publishing. 216 pages, 100s of photos, images, commentary. 9”x11” hardcover CA$25 at Jamat Khana book stores.

Review by: Zahir K. Dhalla, March 2018, Toronto.


“…under the eaves of architecture, you can shelter a great many discussions.”

Aga Khan speech draft.


jodidioIn the opening chapter, Introduction: Builder of Bridges, the author states: “It is no exaggeration to say that few individuals have contributed so much to the improvement of the physical environment of so many.” The author would know this very well, being a well-known writer on architecture. And indeed, this book covers “so much” about “so many”, from Afghanistan, Burnaby, Cairo, Dushanbe, … all the way down to Zanzibar. This is a book that belongs on the shelves of fans and patrons of beauty – and of travel, especially of the armchair kind.

The author takes us through the project groupings listed below, using an attractive format of glossy photos, images plus relevant text, embedding in it quotes from many an expert, some of which are given here below in the groupings.

He opens the book with a background and history of the Aga Khan, his followers and his projects, including the origins of these, namely institutional buildings (prayer halls, schools, housing, health centres) and Costa Smeralda, Sardinia. In the next chapter is an extensive interview he had had with the Aga Khan in London, UK in 2007, in which, among many other things, the Aga Khan emphasized the doctrine of Din-o-Duniya, Spirit and Life, the latter being the guiding principle in improving Quality of Life. The rest of the book is devoted to each of the following groupings:


Aga Khan Award for Architecture (since 1977)

“…wisest prize program in architecture.” Martin Campbell, Boston Globe.

“…no matter how witty or beautiful a building, its value – to society, to the Aga Khan awards – is measured in how well it serves the community.” Clay Risen, The New Republic.

Water Towers of Kuwait; Hajj Terminal, Saudi Arabia; Great Mosque, Mali village; Grameen Bank housing, Bangladesh; Kaedi Mosque Mauritania, …


Aga Khan Historic Cities Program (since 1991)

“…a healthy civil society is indispensable to fostering and legitimizing pluralism…the restoration of historic communities and important cultural assets serves as a trampoline for economic development.” Aga Khan.

Azhar Park et al (Cairo), Baltit Fort (Karimabad/Hunza), Mostar (Bosnia), Stone Town Zanzibar (Forodhani Park, Tharia Topan Hospital, old dispensary now Cultural Centre) …

Baltit Fort: “…the most amazing fort ever rebuilt,” Time.


Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard & MIT (since 1979)

Aga Khan professors: Oleg Grabar, first professor at Harvard in 1980, Ronald Lewcock at M.I.T.


Education: Aga Khan Schools, Academies, Universities (since 1905)

The Aga Khan, on his approaching Zia-ul-Haq, President of Pakistan, asking to be granted degree-giving power (something unheard of vis-à-vis a private self-governing university): “I expected the discussion to last well over an hour…After the first sentence and a half, he cut me off, and he said: ‘Yes.’” The Aga Khan also explains what motivated this positive response!

Aga Khan Schools (first ones in 1905 in Zanzibar; in Mundra, Cutch; in Gwadior, Pakistan), Aga Khan Academies (Mombasa; Dar es Salaam; Hyderabad, India; plus 11 more), Universities (Karachi, whose later Faculty of Arts & Science is as large as Harvard’s; Kazakhstan / Tajikistan / Kyrgyzstan)


Ismaili Centres (since 1981)

Ismaili Centres: London, the very first one, Burnaby, Lisbon, Dushanbe, Dubai. The theme of Light (an-Noor as chapter 24 is named in the Quran) pervades in all these centres. [All these are ‘high profile’ centres. On a lower level are also numerous jamat khanas, prayer edifices, on all continents. A fine example is in Toronto: see “The Willowdale Jamat Khana Story”, available at Amazon.]


Pluralism Projects in Canada (since 2008)

Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa; Ismaili Centre, Toronto; Aga Khan Museum, Toronto; Aga Khan Park, Toronto (the last three being contiguous in one area, in Toronto).

Ismaili Centre Toronto: Clearly visible from the Don Valley Parkway, at night this roof will “glow from within like a jewel,” architect Charles Correa.

The museum, the Ismaili Centre and their surrounding gardens offer ”an oasis of calm and serenity,” author Philip Jodidio.

 “Shadows, light, petals, leaves and water in motion…What the Aga Khan is doing is not for now, it is for generations to come…His Highness is happiest when he discusses the gardens. He really wants us to reinterpret the Islamic garden in a contemporary way…the sound of water and the smell of jasmine.” Vladimir Djurovic, architect of the Aga Khan Park, Toronto, serenely situated right above the hustle and bustle of Eglinton Avenue below.


All of the above are architecture-related projects/awards sponsored by the Aga Khan, all brought together in one single book! A book to curl up with on a cold wintry evening.


Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

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