On November 2, 1982 in Dakar, President Abdou Diouf opened the Seventh International Seminar sponsored by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Attending the ceremony were His Highness the Aga Khan, Mr. Oumar Welle, Minister for Urban Planning, Habitat and Environment, Mr. Henry Ssentoogo, President of the African Union of Architects, members of Diplomatic Corps and some 70 specialists from all over the world.
The Aga Khan Award, established by the Aga Khan in 1977, encourages awareness of the diversity of Muslim culture which, when combined with the enlightened use of modern technology, will result in buildings more appropriate for the Islamic world. The Award encourages excellence in architecture, better adapted to the indigenous resources, culture and needs of an area's inhabitants, without promoting an ideology or specific definition of Islamic architecture.
President Diouf, in his speech opening the seminar spoke of the role of architecture in the history of the African continent. He declared that the title of the seminar "Reading the Contemporary African City" shows that the concerns of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture go beyond the notion of Islamic architecture as such to encompass other traditions and forms of cultural identity. He welcomed the fact that young Senegalese professionals in search of architecture in harmony with their culture would be participating in the seminar.
The Dakar Seminar was one of a series of seminars sponsored by the Award. It was the first to be held in Africa sought of the Sahara. Previous seminars have been convened in France, Morocco, Turkey, Indonesia, Jordan and China. The last seminar in October 1981 entitled "The Changing Rural Habitat" was held in the People's Republic of China, a country which has the largest rural population in the world. The Dakar Seminar addressed issues involved in the complementary phenomenon: "The Evolution of the Contemporary City", and cities have one of the highest growth rates in the world.
"In the search for Islamic forms in contemporary architectural creativity", the Aga Khan said, "it is easy to justify this leap from Muslim areas of China to the Atlantic coast of Africa". He added that this is in fact logical if one appreciates both the vast scope of the Muslim world and the diversity of Islam's socio-cultural influences. Speaking for all the participants the Aga Khan said that "We wish to see and understand the shapes which your cities have taken and those which you have rejected. We want to hear the voices of men and women who choose, who invent, who build and who live in your modern cities and your traditional villages".
Lectures, presentations and discussions focused on critical aspects of urban development, particularly within the African context. West African cities such as Dakar, Nouakchott and Ross were studied in detail as significant examples of rapid urban growth. Working papers were also presented on outlying areas of Dakar, such as Pikine and Grant Yoff, and visits to these sites complemented the formal sessions.
Mr Ssentoogo in his keynote address called for a vision of African architecture that places it in the context of social history and enables the appraisal of its performance as a culture heritage which must be enriched and strengthened. "This heritage", he said, "forms part of our struggle to avoid the gradual decay of our daily life. The knowledge through the reading and decoding of our existing architecture and town planning is the starting point for a creative and authentic approach".
Mr. Ssentoogo said that the Aga Khan Award for Architecture provides some interesting and valuable beginnings in the exploration and reassessment of the contemporary city so as to enable the preservation of existing values and the suitable adjustment to the changes in the future life styles of society.
"Architects in Africa should be able to learn a great deal from Islam's considerable success in adapting and assimilating existing cultural values, beliefs and customs, as well as architectural language with regional differentiations, while maintaining its visible Islamic identity, as can be witnessed in North Africa and in this particular Sahel region", said Mr. Ssentoogo.
The Seminars constitute an important part of the Aga Khan Award For Architecture, bringing together people from various disciplines, including historians, architects, urban planners, sociologists and economists. Their proceedings from the basis for identi Jury's selection of projects nominated for the Aga Khan Awards, given every three years. The first awards were presented in 1980 when 15 projects from 12 Muslim countries, including Senegal, were selected to receive the prizes totalling US Dollars 500,000. The prizes were presented by the Aga Khan and the President of Pakistan, General Zia-Ul-Hak at a ceremony held in Lahore. The next awards will be given in Istanbul in late 1983.
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