MONDAY, MARCH 26th 1979

Source: Housing Process and Physical Form: Proceedings of Seminar Three, pp. xi-xii

Hikmat, II, 3 (January 1984), pp. 22-23

We have long been looking forward to our first visit to Indonesia and its famed capital of Jakarta; the warmth of our welcome here has more than equalled our expectations. We are sincerely honoured that His Excellency the Vice President of Indonesia has consented to preside at the seminar's opening function, and that His Royal Highness Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan has joined us. Not only is he a distinguished guest, but a highly qualified seminar participant; his experience in developing housing projects in Jordan will be of great interest to us all. To these and to all our distinguished guests, it is an honour and a personal pleasure to welcome you to a seminar which will discuss one of the most pressing issues in the world, and the Islamic world in particular: housing.

As the Imam of a widespread Muslim community, I have been exposed to and involved with many types of building in many parts of the Muslim world. I have had direct exposure to the difficulties of meeting development requirements appropriately, and have seen how similar problems are faced in disparate areas. Thus, through direct personal experience and by observing the work of others, I have come to the conclusion that the Islamic world is at the brink: it balances precariously between destroying much of the past and, perhaps even worse, committing its future built environment to a direction which has been insufficiently considered and insufficiently prepared.

I do not wish to imply that there is only one problem, or only one answer to it; nor do I wish to suggest that a narrow-minded solution such as mimicking our great architectural traditions will bring light out of the darkness. I have created the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in order to provoke, to mobilise and to premiate a questioning and a thinking process, a reaction to a direction which I believe we in the Muslim world have taken without sufficient forethought and attention.

We are faced today with buildings which obviously do not reflect or respond to Islamic tradition, thought or ways of life, either historical or contemporary. Information about Islamic architectural traditions, physical and social characteristics, cultural accomplishments and contemporary yearnings is scattered and scarce. There is a serious paucity of men and women able to understand and resolve the practical, cultural, social and aesthetic needs of an evolving Muslim world. Of immediate significance to the built environment is the fact that architects, both Muslim and non-Muslim professionals working in the Islamic world, lack cultural and historical training. Finally, these professionals are hampered by the lack of contact between scholars, historians, sociologists and design professionals. If we acknowledge that we face these problems, then we also face a challenge: to take stock of the present situation, to seek out and develop solutions and to motivate and assist in their implementation.

The Award's Steering Committee decided that organising a series of seminars in a number of areas of concern would help focus attention upon this multifaceted challenge. The seminars, each in a different region and treating a different topic, would draw together a varied group of experts and policy makers. This would also help us develop criteria for the Master Jury, who will be responsible for selecting those projects worthy of recognition and reward.

The first seminar was held a year ago at my own Secretariat in France. It reviewed the major causes and effects of architectural transformation in the Islamic world. Although many points of view were presented, the overwhelming consensus held that the genius of historic Islamic architecture is often obscured, even buried beneath alien cultures and modern technology. The seminar served to confirm the long-term objective of the Award, which is to provide an environment which future generations of Muslims will recognize as their own.

The second seminar, held in Istanbul, dealt with the issue of conservation and restoration. It highlighted the fact that there is enough technical knowledge to save and restore individual buildings, but conserving and reanimating a whole area or neighbourhood requires decisions at all levels of government or public administration. The seminar also identified the pressures caused by an unintended influx of population; as a variety of new groups settle in overwhelming numbers, they catalyze or escalate the deterioration of historic areas. Planning agencies did not recognize that it was the prospect of employment which attracted these multitudes to the already available housing stock which had been abandoned by the emigration of the elite from the urban centres. The very problem of successful conservation of historic centres was part of a larger issue: the provision of services for alternative housing for at least a part of the new urban population.

The present seminar, which has gathered some of the most eminent thinkers and policy makers in the field of housing, must address a much wider problem. We are looking to the seminar discussions for ways in which the Award for housing can encourage planners to seek new means of solving this great contemporary dilemma. It is my hope that these four days will be as fruitful for the seminar participants as they will be for the Steering Committee. However, the dilemma is greater than this. We want to identify specific housing problems and solutions which are appropriate to contemporary Islamic societies, and develop models which could be replicated in concept if not in design elsewhere in the Islamic world.

Why is this seminar on housing being held in Jakarta? One important reason is that Indonesia is the most populous country in the Muslim world and, like others, it has had to come to terms with the fact that there are no easy answers to the housing question. In its Third National Plan, Indonesia's three major objectives are the provision of sandang (clothing), pangan (food) and papan (shelter): these basic goals are consistent with the aims of other developing nations. In the area of housing Indonesia can boast several viable approaches, which we hope to learn more about during the course of the seminar.

Indonesia is already noteworthy for the practical, economical and workable solutions developed through the initiative of the Jakarta municipal government. In addition to extensive construction of low and middle income housing schemes, a concerted effort has been made to utilize already existing shelters by providing the inhabitants with the basic municipal services of water, streets and sewage disposal. This local programme has attracted international attention and financial support from such institutions as the World Bank, the United Nations and the Asian Development Bank. We can learn much from such a programme: we can examine and commend its cost-effectiveness and impact on its own society, and consider how such a programme may serve as a model for other rapidly urbanising centres of the Islamic world.

The remaining two seminars to be held before the Aga Khan Award for Architecture is given in 1980 will have the following issues as their central theme: 'Architecture as Symbol and Self-identity," and "Major Public Buildings and Spaces." The seminar series is designed to complement the aims of the Award itself. which is intended to encourage an understanding and awareness of the strength and diversity of Muslim cultural traditions. When combined with an enlightened use of modern technology for contemporary society, this will result in more appropriate buildings for the Islamic world of tomorrow.

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