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CONCLUDING REMARKS AT THE SECOND SEMINAR IN THE SERIES ARCHITECTURAL TRANSFORMATIONS IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD OF THE AGA KHAN AWARD FOR ARCHITECTURE - 1978-09-28

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Event - 1978-09-28
Date: 
Thursday, 1978, September 28
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My words to you this morning signal the conclusion of the first seminar organised by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture to be held in an Islamic country. The Aga Khan Awards, the first of which will be granted in 1980, will be substantial: $100,000 in each of five different categories for a potential total of $500,000 every three years. Their purpose is to make a strong and continuing impact on the architectural profession, on decision makers and on public opinion everywhere. I want to begin by reminding you how the Award will try to achieve this, for the members of the Steering Committee and I feel that it has certain unique aspects that deserve to be both emphasised and repeated.

In the first place, the Award will not be confined to architects competing with designs for a succession of prestigious public monuments. We are concerned with the Islamic world and, above all, with the people of Islam. This seminar has therefore been devoted to conservation and adaptive reuse; those to follow will explore other major areas of concern to all people, such as housing and public buildings. Secondly, the Awards will be open not only to designers, but also to the promoters and decision makers who generally employ them, to craftsmen and builders, to civil servants, and even to ordinary people who have shown initiative in improving their own habitats. A third feature is that they will go only to projects that have been tried and proven over a number of years. How many buildings have won acclaim at the time the ribbon was cut, only to be rejected as impractical and inconvenient by those who had to live or work in them? Heralding a venture which eventually proves unsatisfactory is a trap we fully intend to avoid.

Finally, we do not seek anything less ambitious than true excellence in any architecture intended for the Islamic environment. We are not here to advocate a specific school of architectural thought; we have no grandiose ideas to promote, no axes to grind, no facile solutions to propound. The machinery of this Award -- which of course includes this seminar -- has developed gradually over time, with care and thought. We have tried to take advantage of expert opinion in every category and on every issue we have identified, and to listen to the practical experience of professionals in as many regions of the Islamic world as possible.

The seminar in Istanbul has been devoted to conservation and adaptive reuse -- a major area of interest to the Award Committee. We chose Turkey because of the richness and diversity of its architectural heritage, the long exposure of this heritage to the forces of change and, above all, the presence here of a lively and enlightened profession that has had extensive experience in dealing with the problems of transformation and change in all aspects of the built environment. Our expectations have been more than fulfilled. The contributions of the participants have been invaluable, and the interest which our ideas have elicited, both officially and professionally, has been most encouraging.

What have we learned from our three days of deliberation? Speaking generally, I believe everyone has benefited from hearing about the problems and the achievements of conservation projects in widely separated areas of the Islamic world. We have had case histories presented and illustrated from countries as diverse as Morocco, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as Turkey itself. This has been a remarkable experience, if only because so often this type of information tends to be derived almost exclusively from the West. Clearly, a useful bonus of these Awards may be a much greater awareness of what is actually happening in the Islamic world; we shall promote the Award's objectives not only by discovering architectural successes, but also by learning from the mistakes that must inevitably occur. At this seminar we have listened to some dramatic examples of both.

This seminar's discussions have also brought out the importance of public opinion. An awareness of the issues raised by conservation and the ability to directly involve the people affected by each project can avoid the dangers inherent in solutions that are clumsily imposed. Journalists will readily appreciate the importance of the press in building an informed and enlightened public opinion. Related to this is the necessity that conservation projects squarely face the complex human problems produced by environmental change, especially in our big cities where community values are lost and financial resources fail just where they are most urgently needed. These are, of course, universal problems, but they can often be found in their most extreme form in some of Islam's most renowned cities.

Finally, I extend a word of gratitude to those who have participated in the seminar, as well as to those who have helped organize it with invaluable local assistance. I have already referred to the important role Turkish architects and academics have played in our deliberations, and to the broad international scope of the professional contributions from other countries. Those deliberations have been rendered all the more useful because of the presence of representatives of international agencies, governments, local authorities, and bankers and consultants to all these institutions. These people are often the final arbiters, and I hope they have learned as much from us as we have learned from them. I also hope that, especially among the decision makers, the seminar has set in motion a train of thought that will at least help them to ask the right questions. It is when we reach that stage that I shall feel our objectives have already been half achieved.

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