January 27, 2005
By Ann Geracimos

Awards giver takes prize

"All the good guys are here," remarked architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, gazing at a goodly number of his peers attending Tuesday's award dinner in the National Building Museum honoring His Highness Prince Karim Aga Kahn IV for fostering design excellence, urban and rural revitalization and historic preservation in countries where Muslims have a major presence.

"Good" in this context meant accomplished, and "guys" was an operative word because many of the most distinguished members of the architectural fraternity, including Robert A.M. Stern, David Childs, Robert Venturi, Charles Correa, David M. Schwarz and A. Eugene Kohn had come to honor the 49th hereditary imam, or spiritual leader, of 20 million Ismaili Muslims in Asia and Africa and the founder of the Aga Kahn Trust for Culture.

The trust is but one arm of a vast Aga Khan Development Network, a group of agencies promoting social and economic well-being in developing countries. (Architecture-related initiatives include a $500,000 Aga Khan Award for Architecture, presented every three years for outstanding projects addressing social needs in the Muslim world.) Offering tributes to a man more famous for giving awards (and money) than receiving them were World Bank President James Wolfensohn and Mr. Correa, who flew in from his home in Bombay, India, for the occasion to praise the honoree for helping prod Islamic architecture out of its "confused state" in the 1970s.

"He was tough about making us think where we wanted to go," Mr. Correa said after a film tribute depicting many of the stunning landmarks whose architects have received the Aga Khan Award.

The very personable billionaire jet-setter and racehorse owner, who was given his "Highness" title by Queen Elizabeth and also is known among friends as "K" or simply "HH," accepted this year's Vincent Scully Prize, given by the museum to recognize individuals for their contributions to all aspects of architecture, design, planning and preservation.

It is named for the 84-year-old influential Yale professor who was its first recipient and who still teaches at the University of Miami and Yale.

The $25,000 gift that accompanies a crystal obelisk was matched by an equal amount from its recipient, thus providing $50,000 in scholarships for architecture students from the Third World attending Harvard (the Aga Khan's alma mater), Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in a deft tribute to Mr. Scully Yale. Mr. Wolfensohn, who has known the Aga Khan since 1957, referred to him privately as "among the world's greatest figures in development" and the Development Network as the best of its kind.

In public remarks, he claimed to be "leader of the groupies of the Aga Kahn not so much for his work in the built environment ... but by his work in the human environment. ... He is a holy man, the leader of his faith, a man who represents the very best in Islam."

After praising "a multitude of individuals and organizations from all regions, faiths and occupations" who have worked with him on various projects over past decades, the guest of honor said he embarked upon his mission after coming to the realization that "architecture in the modern Islamic world seemed to have lost touch with the great achievements of its past."

It was then, he added, that he sought to "reshape and reposition knowledge and taste in the public psyche and to change the behavior of the vast range of actors who shape the built environment."

French Ambassador Jean David Levitte, Finnish Ambassador Jukka Valtasaari, newswoman Judy Woodruff, Calvin

and Jane Cafritz, Ann Nitze, Barbaralee Diamondstein-Spielvogel, Arnaud and Alexandra de Borchgrave and Marc and Jacqueline Leland were among the 350 guests who dined on vegetable terrine, roast lamb and chocolate pear mousse and enjoyed a performance by two accomplished Afghan musicians playing the rubab (lute) and the tabla (drums).