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Date: Tue, 19 Oct 2004 13:23:40 -0700
New building to strengthen ties between Canada, Aga Khan Publication:
CIT - The Ottawa Citizen Source: INF - All CanWest Publications Oct 19, 2004 1:00


Page: B1 / Front Section: City Edition: Final Byline:

Maria Cook - Renowned Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki has designed a landmark Sussex Drive building for the Aga Khan Foundation that aims to create a positive image of Islam and strengthen Canada's role in the Aga Khan's humanitarian activities. The Ottawa Centre for the Aga Khan Development Network is the first building in the world designed to represent the Aga Khan and his agencies.

The building promises to become a major architectural attraction that will command worldwide attention. "This is very significant," said Steve Fai, director of the Carleton University school of architecture. "I don't know if there are any buildings in Ottawa by an architect of that international stature." The Pritzker-prize winning Mr. Maki has designed numerous buildings in Japan, Europe and the United States, including the Media and Sciences Building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Earlier this year, he won a competition to design a building for the United Nations in New York. This is the Tokyo-based architect's first building in Canada. Mr. Maki is working in association with Moriyama & Teshima Architects of Toronto. "It is a big deal," said George Baird, dean of the University of Toronto school of architecture. "The fact they would choose the most senior Japanese architect to design it is a significant consideration. It's not an expedient way of doing this." Gary Kamemoto, an associate of the 75-year-old Mr. Maki, presented plans for the building in an exclusive interview before last night's information session, which attracted about 35 peopl! e. "It's not a loud building," he said. "It has a quiet presence, but at the same time, somewhat stately and ceremonial."

Construction is to start next summer for completion in 2007. The budget has not yet been established. The Aga Khan, a British citizen, is the 49th hereditary spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community, which has about 12 million members, including 75,000 in Canada. He is one of the richest men in the world, a racehorse owner and an important patron of architecture. His vision is of a peaceful and intellectual Islam that helps the world to become a better place. The centre will be a secular facility that will provide information about the Aga Khan Development Network, a series of agencies involved in international development, health, education and culture. "This is great news for Canada," said Gulzar Haider, a Carleton University emeritus professor of architecture, and Toronto design consultant. "It will reinforce the message that we are a pluralistic ! country with an interest in human development." The building will house meeting rooms, exhibition areas, a lecture theatre, research library and private apartments.

"His Highness sees Canada as a long-term partner in international development," said Firoz Rasul, president of the Aga Khan Council for Canada. "He wanted a presence in Ottawa to work with the government of Canada as well as commercial and non-governmental organizations." The building will occupy a highly visible, irregular and sloping site facing Sussex Drive. It is bounded by a grassy embankment of King Edward Avenue to the north and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the south. The 8,500-square-metre structure, including underground parking garage, is designed to manifest Islamic features and ambience with a contemporary _expression. Two storeys high, the building will have a simple rectilinear form resting on a granite podium. An asymmetric, crystalline dome, 17 metres at its apex, emerges from the buildi! ng, creating a distinctive silhouette. "We want it to be something very dynamic that changes in light and changes throughout the day," said Mr. Kamemoto. "We hope there will be a new discovery every time you see it." Residential and administrative areas surround two large symbolic spaces -- an interior atrium and exterior courtyard -- which together create an inner sanctuary, somewhat separated from the outside world. The courtyard recalls the traditional Persian-Islamic garden -- the chahr-bagh, a garden that is divided into four sections. These spaces are intended to be an interpretive _expression of Islamic architectural character. However, from key vantage points, fragments of the atrium and courtyard will become visible to the passerby. "It creates a sense of mystery, but it has a sense of openness," said Mr. Rasul. "To really understand it, you have to step in, to get closer. And that's not unlike Islam." The building was conceived as a pavilion in a park to create a feel! ing of openness and transparency. Terraces and balconies extend its interior spaces.

The Aga Khan gave Mr. Maki the commission in 2002, requesting he take inspiration from the angular and mysterious qualities of a rock crystal. As a result, different types of glass have been combined to give the building an ethereal quality and varying degrees of transparency, translucency and opacity. The primary facades on Sussex Drive and Boteler Street are clad in white neoparies, a modern material made of crystallized glass that produces a soft opaque colour and smooth marble-like texture. The north and south walls are arranged in alternating bands of transparent and translucent glass. Within the glass dome is an inner membrane made of glass-fibre fabric that will appear to float over the atrium space. It will be draped with a composition of patterned aluminum lattice screens that recall traditional carved screens. "The interplay of light in terms of transparency, translucency, opaqueness and! shadows is an important feature in Islamic architecture," said Zool Samji, who heads the foundation's project development team. "I think the architects have come up with a quite magnificent representation of that." The Aga Khan Foundation Canada bought the one-hectare site in 2000 from the National Capital Commission for $5.24 million.

The foundation is a non-profit international development agency established in Canada in 1980. As part of the world-wide Aga Khan Development Network, it supports social development projects in Africa and Asia. The Aga Khan's interest in architecture is far-reaching. He has established the Aga Khan Program for Islamic architecture at Harvard University, and an online resource called Archnet. His triennial Aga Khan award for architecture recognizes outstanding contemporary design in societies where Muslims have a significant presence, with prize money totalling $500,000 U.S. "He feels that the built environment has a very important role to play in the development of people," said Mr. Rasul.

Colour Photo: Bruno Schlumberger, The Ottawa Citizen / Gary Kamemoto presented plans for the Aga Khan Foundation building. He says the building has 'a quiet presence,' but is 'somewhat stately and ceremonial.'

Building embodies an open Islam

Publication: CIT - The Ottawa Citizen Source: INF - All CanWest Publications Oct 19, 2004 1:00

Page: B3 Section: City Edition: Final Byline: Rhys Phillips - Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, principal designer of the proposed Ottawa Centre for the Aga Khan Development Network, is an international superstar and winner of the 1993 Pritzker Architecture Prize, the profession's Nobel. More important, over 40 years of practice, he has produced a humane, sometimes eclectic Modernism based first on creating excellent spaces for human activi! ty, what he has called "unforgettable scenes" or "an overall image of life." Only then does he create the outward presentation of their form. If these eventual exteriors are frequently abstract, sometimes enigmatic collages, he has always remained seized with the role his buildings play within the city's context. All of this made him an appropriate choice to design the Aga Khan centre.

First, the proposed site, the last vacant land on Sussex Drive, demands excellence. It is, after all, both a remarkable belvedere providing sweeping vistas up, down and across the Ottawa River and a complex, irregularly shaped piece of land visible from all directions. "We were amazed by the site's beauty," says Maki associate Gary Kamemoto, "as well as its four-sided openness within the city, a characteristic so rare in Japan." Kamemoto and Maki hopped on bicycles and pedaled around the site and over to Gatineau to better understand how the building would be experienced. As is standard for the firm, ! it took more than six months of study before the architect felt he had it right.

The choice also fit well with the client. The Aga Khan is a major force in the development of a progressive Islamic architecture. He sponsors a major Islamic Architecture Awards program that showcases work including historic restoration, low-cost building, urban design for developing countries and glistening high-tech modernism. He and the network are major architecture clients. The Aga Khan was clear that he wanted not "a slavish version of an Islamic past" but a building that reflects Islam and the network's approach as open and modern, while grounded on "optimism, fascination and enlightenment." Based on his visits to Ottawa, he also wanted the views fully exploited. As presented (it remains to be fully detailed), the design responds with finesse to the challenge of representing something that is not entirely indigenous while also making it part of a specific place. Even if it remains perhaps apart ! -- a uniquely white, horizontal, if engaging artifact in Ottawa's urban landscape -- the centre's abstract modernity is refreshing and evocative. At the same time, within the context of its author's work, the centre represents a fine synthesis of both the language and form frequently found throughout his career with new ideas of lightness and ethereal imagery that have increasingly engaged Maki over the last decade.

In 1988, the American critic Charles Jencks referred to Maki's work as representing an intuitive modernism marked by coolly abstracted linear geometry that nonetheless introduced "a fragmented complexity to create a vigorously moving surface." These surfaces relied on intuition, on sensibility rather than reason, to create "very animated buildings by shifting outlines and volumes." The results are buildings that "convey the ethereal abstraction of a Japanese Shogi screen." Only a few years later, however, critic Kenneth Frampton noted Maki's increasing interest in li! ghtness, "both in fact and in metaphor, that derives in large measure from the immateriality of modern material." Examples include the mammoth Makuhari Messe convention centre (1997) and several gyms and concert halls with metal roofs that seem to suggest a samurai helmet. But if Maki's forms have changed over time, they also tend to reappear; nothing is really lost, just put away to be reborn, often juxtaposed to newer ideas.

So, with the Aga Khan centre we are given an asymmetrically facetted "rock crystal" wrapped -- but not completely -- by a series of rigorously orthogonal and tightly linked forms. Inside the dome, a secondary shell of tensioned glass fabric pulled off the diagonal axis to provide a sense of rotation, adds a further "ephemeral membrane" of lightness. Set on a granite plinth, an example of Maki's frequently employed "artificial ground," each element has its own unique, entirely modern facade that is simultaneously porous and enigmatically opaque. In particular, ! along Sussex a crisply carved-out, but apparently windowless plane clad in white, re-crystallized glass panels floats above its recessed first floor and seems to ignore the possibility of splendid views. By angling generous glazing across the faces of the facade's two terraces, however, Maki purposely frames views that largely "remove" the city.

From all sides, the design offers glimpses either through to the closed atrium or into an open courtyard that provides the complex's other core element. On its south side facing the Saudi Embassy, the crystal is fully exposed; from Sussex it is visible through the glazed entrance at the first level. The idea, says Kamemoto, is to hint at, but not fully expose the essential interior of the centre. And, once inside, both spaces serve as places of sanctuary, "as universal spaces that lose the sense of being in Ottawa." There can be little doubt that the centre will have a unique quality of interior light (if for no other reason than the clos! eness to windows of all working and living spaces) created by the transparent double dome. It remains to be discovered how the exterior neoparies, or marble-like glass cladding, will play with Ottawa's strong nordic light.

Probably well, for as the Pritzker jury wrote in its citation, Maki "uses light in a masterful way making it as tangible a part of every design as are the walls and roof." Despite its Modernism, the centre also reflects certain traits of Islamic architecture, such as the four-part inner courtyard, or chahr-bagh, and a geometric screen, albeit of aluminum, that will surround the atrium. "These spaces are intended to be an interpretive _expression of an Islamic architectural character both spatially and aesthetically creating a dichotomy and a congruency with the exterior environment," explains the architect's project statement. In its dance of contradiction between representing both the here and the other, Fumihiko Maki's pavilion should contribute a uniquely chall! enging addition to Ottawa's urban landscape. Rhys Phillips, of Ottawa, writes about architecture and urban design.

Colour Photo: Makoto Otake, Maki and Associates / The Ottawa Centre for the Aga Khan Development Network, expected to open in 2007, will sit on Sussex Drive between a grassy embankment and the Saudi Arabian Embassy.