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African Projects Win Aga Khan Award-2001-11-06

Tuesday, 2001, November 6

The Nation

Chris Mburu

The 18th Century A'alam Va'ez House in Isfahan, which is now used as the Isfahan headquaters. It is part of an ongoing project comprising more than 30 urban revitalisation and development initiatives in 21 cities throughout Iran that won the 2001 New Life for Old Structures Award.

Three African projects were among nine winners of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture that were presented yesterday at the Citadel of Aleppo, Syria at a ceremony held under the patronage of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

His Highness the Aga Khan and the Begum Aga Khan attended the occasion, the eighth triennial Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

The nine winners in the 2001 award cycle, who were chosen from 427 nominations, represent a wide variety of projects spread across a diverse geographic and cultural span from West Africa to southeast Asia.

The three African projects are a poultry farming school in Koliagbe, Guinea, the village of Ait Iktel, Morocco, and the Nubian Museum at Aswan, Egypt.

The other six are university student facilities in Antalya, Turkey; a restoration and revitalisation programme as well as a public park, both in Iran; projects of the "Barefoot Architects" in Tilonia, India; a children's home in Aqaba, Jordan, and a hotel in Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia.

The award is governed by a nine-member steering committee of architects, architectural historians and archeologists, under the chairmanship of the Aga Khan.

"Anything connected with me is automatically disallowed in the award process, and disqualified," the Aga Khan told the Architectural Record in an interview in August.

The awards are selected by an independent Master Jury of professionals appointed by the steering committee for each three-year award cycle. Thirty-five of the nominations were reviewed on site by independent experts.

On the basis of environmental sustainability, social equality, cultural and historical heritage and identity, and human dignity, the Master Jury selected the nine as exemplary representations of architecture that enhance the conditions of life.

For example, the Ait Iktel village in Morocco is a joint effort by people who had earlier migrated to towns and villagers left behind to develop a water and electricity supply and a school system. This sort of project encourages disadvantaged communities to increase productivity, improve their environment and share access to new opportunities and better communications.

Another notable project in this regard is the Barefoot Architects in Tilonia, India, a programme that augments the traditions and knowledge of a rural community, enabling "untutored" residents to design and build for themselves.

The jury also selected projects that respond to economic forces, such as tourism, in a way that respects the environment and introduces local culture, such as the Datai Hotel in Malaysia.

Projects that secure the future of historical buildings within towns, as does the New Life for Old Structures programme in Iran, and that provide new parks for urban communities, as at Bagh-e-Ferdowsi, represent other important factors.

The SOS Children's Village in Jordan, a complex designed around the principle of well-being for orphaned children and their integration into a larger urban community, was selected because it also places emphasis on the value of vernacular traditions in contemporary architecture and on the incorporation of green spaces into urban settings.

Several projects respond to educational imperatives. The Kahere Eila Poultry Farming School of Guinea, which addresses the need for technical instruction in chicken farming, draws on African local planning relationships, with a courtyard dominated by a central tree and articulating teaching and accommodation spaces.

The Nubian Museum in Egypt draws on the need to understand an ancient civilisation, while the Olbia Social Centre, Turkey, links two disparate parts of a university campus to foster interaction among students and faculty.

"In the Award, you'll see more and more small rural projects, put together by village organisations or non-governmental organisations working in rural environments," the Aga Khan said.

The winner of the 2001 Chairman's Award, to be presented only for the third time in the Award's 23-year history, is Sri Lanka's most prolific and influential architect, Geoffrey Bawa.

Mr Bawa's work is said to have had tremendous impact on architecture throughout Asia, and is acclaimed throughout the world.

Today's occasion completes the eighth cycle of the programme, which has a triennial prize fund of $500,000 (Sh39 million), making it the world's largest architectural award.

The award programme will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2003. It was established by the Aga Khan in 1977 to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of Islamic societies.

Unlike other awards in which highly-touted architects dominate the short-lists, the programme regularly confers honour on lesser-known individuals and communities.

"By permitting different types of projects, and different environments in different countries with different architectural traditions and languages, the award has enhanced the notion that pluralism is an asset," the Aga Khan said.

The awards are part of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which co-ordinates the cultural activities of the Aga Khan Development Network under whose aegis the Trust and a wide range of other development agencies operate.

The network is a group of private international development agencies created by the Aga Khan, who is the Imam (spiritual leader) of the world's Ismaili Muslims.

Philosophically, the network is grounded in Islam's ethic of inclusiveness, compassion, sharing, self-reliance, respect for health and life, the cultivation of a sound and enlightened mind, and humanity's collective responsibility for sustainable physical, social and cultural environments.

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