December 7, 1987

Architecture Seminar in Malta

The role of criticism in architecture was the theme of a seminar organized by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture held in Malta, 7 to 9 December 1987.

More than 60 architects, scholars and critics for both developed and developing countries attended the three-day session.

In this inaugural remarks the acting President of Malta, H.E. Mr.Paul Xuereb, paid tribute to Mawlana Hazar Imam's "dedication to architectural excellence". This was not simply an aesthetic pursuit, he said, but a "commitment to a proper environment worthy of human-beings".

Said Zulficar, Secretary General of the Aga Khan Award of Architecture, welcomed the opportunity of holding the seminar in Malta. He described the mediterranean island nation as "a geographical and cultural crossroads between north and south, east and west." The role of criticism in architecture was at the core of the concerns of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, he said. "This is a reflection of our hope to encourage excellence in the built environment of the third world".

The Aga Khan Award for Architecture was established by Hazar Imam in 1976. Over the last decade, in addition to awards worth US $ 500,000 made every three years to specific architectural projects, the Award has provided a forum through its regular seminars for free and open debate on issues relating to the contempory cultural and physical environment in the Islamic world.

At the final session of the seminar the Prime Minister of Malta, Dr. E. Fenech Adami said that criticism was the creative response to creative activity. "For this reason the development and currency of critical language is one criterion of the general level of creativity reached by a society".

"There is no more eloquent a summary of history and a sense of a place than in architecture", the Prime Minister said.

But what should critics look for in the architecture of the Islamic world?

Ismail Serageldin, an Egyptian architect and a senior officer with the World Bank, called for the abstraction of traditional forms from the Islamic architectural tradition and their reinterpretation in a modern context. This, Serageldin said, was "essential element for a positive growth of the contemporary culture of Muslim societies".

Exploring the meaning of tradition, Hasan-Uddin Khan, an architect and member of the steering committee of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture said that there were two major forces at work in the architecture of all countries, but particularly in the developing world--those of universality and particularism. "These polar forces exist in dialectic within which architects have to operate. It appears impossible not to be influenced by international developments and to base designed architecture strictly on a regional tradition...On the other hand, it is dangerous to "invent the future" without reference to the traditions of the past. One has to know where one is coming from to know where one is going to", he said.

Western architectural critics at the seminar pointed to the difficulties of finding space in newspapers and on television for architectural issues. Meanwhile a number of delegates from the developing world pointed to the absence of critical discourse on architectural issues in their countries.

Source: Ismaili Mirror

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