Times of India SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2004 12:00:00 AM

Celebrating Beauty

The award was instituted as it was felt by the Aga Khan that the gap between past accomplishments and current practice in Islamic architecture was massive. Has that gap been bridged after the award was instituted?

The award has several premises. There was a lot of thoughtless urbanisation after the Second World War. The need to promote architecture which was relevant and had cultural continuity was felt. In cultural continuity, faith is important but it is not the only thing. There are many other factors. For instance, we gave an award to a leperís hospital which is a Christian organisation. We believe in plurality and coexistence. The meticulous process of nomination, decision-making and the actual award has been very effective. We want to change the mindset of clients. The award money goes to all those involved with the project. All other players that share the environment are important. And this award addresses the pioneering people in architecture.

Could you elaborate on the word plurality?

Plurality takes place in various forms. Race, colour are born qualities. On top of it there is education, economic empowerment. There are various grades of access to resources. It is to recognise these forces in society and bring them together for better coexistence. If we deny plurality, we would talk only of a privileged group. The award can put these forces together and send the message across. An award is not a matter of caste and creed and it can bring equality.

Architecture in the Muslim world is both enriched by the past and in some ways burdened by it. A bit like being the child of a famous parent.

The past cannot be repeated. By copying it, it proves that one cannot do better. By repeating the past, by designing the same thing is not the solution. Modernity cannot be denied. How do we merge the two? That is continuity. We canít ask people to live in mud houses. We have to come up with new solutions. The award tries to connect the two. The monuments of the past are important but the monuments of today are also important and they have to be recognised.

In the context of world events, has this award cycle been different from past cycles?

Every cycle is different. Three years is a substantial period. Every time we compose a new master jury. There is a new cast of characters and new ideas. We try and involve young people. Every time new priorities are outlined. This time at the risk of oversimplifying, I would say the award highlights experimentation.

How has Islamic architecture changed?

It is a difficult question. Islam has spread all over. In the desert climatic conditions, you see monolithic structures. In Malaysia, itís more tropical and celebratory. When modernity came it was so aggressive and Islam was no exception. There is a collection of thoughtless skyscrapers. The award wants to confront this. The Islamic countries repeated the architectural mistakes of the West. Housing is different in different places. We have identified many interesting projects in Riyadh, Kuwait, where people are thinking in a different way.

What would you say is the impact of the award in shaping the design sensibilities in the Islamic world?

It has set new standards. Many architects now openly ask for projects from the clients pledging the award. Every faith has certain aspects of life and culture that defines life. Islam is no exception from any other culture. Architecturally Muslim continuity is what we are talking about.

The award presentation ceremony has come to India for the first time. How is the venue decided upon?

When we give the awards we want to put the message of the award through the country where it is hosted. In order to strengthen the award we use major historical Islamic venues. We are hosting three ceremonies as the heritage in India is so strong. It is basically a celebration of history of which India is a custodian. The political leadership also welcomed us which is important. Personally this has been my dream for 20 years.

What is your opinion of modern Indian architecture?

It is stunningly good. I am not talking about 90 per cent of it. Charles Correa is a school of architecture on his own. B V Doshi, Raj Rewal, to name a few, are the other big names in Indian modern architecture. Indiaís attitude towards modernity is responsible for this blossoming of talent. India had the confidence to ask the best architects from Nehruís time to come to India to develop urban spaces. In Turkey, we had the same agenda as India but Turkey never had the confidence of bringing the best of the world to design its urban spaces. Corbusier never built on the scale of Chandigarh anywhere else in the world. The French did not trust him. This has given confidence to the younger generations. India is an open society.