Aga Khan and Presidents of MIT and Harvard Lay Foundations For An Architecture Of Understanding

Aga Khan and Presidents of MIT and Harvard Lay Foundations For An Architecture Of Understanding

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Sept. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- While the world remains focused on conflict and destruction amidst Muslim societies, a collaborative venture in technology shows how the East and the West can together construct a world that recognizes shared heritage.

His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims; Charles M. Vest, President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); and Lawrence H. Summers, President of Harvard University today launched a global electronic resource designed to bridge cultural, civilisational and digital divides.

ArchNet ( is the world's largest on-line resource on architecture, urbanism, landscape design, and related issues with a particular focus on the Muslim world. The creative global community that ArchNet represents, with over 6,000 members from 110 countries, joins together the academic and professional resources of two prominent universities and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

"Not only is ArchNet a means by which we share information on architecture and design," said the Aga Khan, "it is also a very real attempt to build an architecture of understanding between those regions of the world that might benefit from a better understanding of each other. I think there is a consensus that we need that now more than ever. ArchNet's particular importance lies in the way it informs the debate on what sort of world we seek to build." The Aga Khan also underlined the importance of locating it at "an institution whose technological competencies would underwrite its capacity to serve decades into the future."

With nothing more than a personal computer and an Internet connection, people anywhere in the world can take advantage of this extraordinary online repository. Students, faculty and architects from Cairo to Kuala Lumpur, Ahmedabad to Ankara, and Damascus to Sarajevo are among those in some eight countries where partner institutions contribute research, images, projects and monographs to ArchNet. Noting that about 70% of ArchNet's users were under the age of 35, the Aga Khan described it as "an extraordinarily powerful resource at a global scale which will be an ongoing living encyclopedia of knowledge for the younger generations in the Islamic world."

"ArchNet fulfils the original promise of the Internet," said President Vest of MIT. "It provides accessibility to teaching resources that are currently unavailable to many universities, while creating a worldwide on-line community that is constantly enriching the contents of the catalog. Everyone benefits. At MIT, we benefit from the upload of unique resources from ArchNet partner schools, while schools around the world have the opportunity to choose teaching materials from the combined resources of MIT, Harvard, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and other partner schools."

Concern for "the world in which all of our children will live" said President Summers of Harvard University, "makes it essential for universities like Harvard and MIT to not just deepen our own understanding, but to deepen our contribution to the understanding of things Islamic, to truly globalize what we are all about, because there is very little else that is asimportant."

"As trustees of God's creation," observed the Aga Khan, "we are instructed to seek to leave the world a better place than it was when we came into it.

"If ArchNet can help bring values into environments, buildings, and contexts that make the quality of life better for future generations than it is today, it will have served its purpose." Pointing to environmental design and landscape architecture, an area in which he said "historically, the Islamic world has stood out," the Aga Khan acknowledged the commitment of the Harvard Design School to the academic program that he had endowed in these fields.

"MIT has a distinguished history of educating design and planning professionals and working with institutions in the developing world," said William Mitchell, Dean, School of Architecture and Planning at MIT. "We are proud to continue this tradition through the support we offer ArchNet's electronic community."

ArchNet is an example of MIT's OpenCourseWare initiative that makes course materials available on the World Wide Web, free of charge, to any user anywhere in the world. Schools in the developing world suffer continuing cost pressures, the perennial lack of teaching materials and very limited access to publications, images, and research. ArchNet provides myriad ways of leapfrogging beyond cost or other constraints including the provision of hardware and software, training, and infrastructure support. Participants establish "workspaces," facilitating the sharing of projects and research. Other site features include job listings, a digital calendar of events and directories.

The Aga Khan is the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims and a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). A Harvard graduate in Islamic history, the Aga Khan, 65, succeeded his grandfather as Imam of the Ismailis in 1957. He has established and leads a number of private, international, non-denominational development agencies, collectively known as the Aga Khan Development Network. The Network's agencies seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities. Active in over 20 countries, the Network's underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society and its agencies and institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of origin, gender or religion.

ArchNet's emphasis on improving the built environment echoes the multiple mandates of the Aga Khan Development Network. More specifically, ArchNet reflects the goals of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which include creating greater awareness and appreciation of the diversity and pluralism of Islamic cultures -- within the Islamic world itself as well as in the West; increasing cross-cultural understanding of Islamic architecture and the intimate connection between architecture and culture in Islamic civilizations; and improving the training of architectural professionals for work in the Islamic world. ArchNet builds on and complements the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Program, established under an endowment from the Aga Khan over two decades ago, encompasses professorships, academic courses, research grants and archival collections aimed at enhancing the understanding of Islamic art, architecture and urbanism in light of critical, theoretical and developmental issues.

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Shiraz Allibhai
Managing Director, ArchNet
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Telephone: +1.617.452.2292
Fax: +1.617.452.2846