Maria Cook
The Ottawa Citizen
Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Clarkson honours Aga Khan for a 'life of generosity'

Spiritual leader unveils Ottawa's 'diplomacy' centre

Recalling how Canada welcomed thousands of dispossessed Ismaili Muslims from Uganda in the 1970s, the Aga Khan expressed his gratitude yesterday by holding a foundation ceremony for a distinctive new building on Sussex Drive.

The new building, designed by world-renowned Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, will be the Aga Khan's first official representational building in the world. It will be known as the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat.

"The delegation will be a sanctuary for peaceful, quiet diplomacy," Prince Karim Aga Khan said. "It will be an enabling venue for fruitful public engagements, information services and educational programs."

About 400 people, including Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson, Conservative leader Stephen Harper and Mayor Bob Chiarelli, attended the event. It was held in a large tent at the future building site, between the embassy of Saudi Arabia and King Edward Avenue.

Yesterday, Madame Clarkson invested him as an honorary Companion of the Order of Canada for his "life of generosity, of thoughtful stewardship and of benevolent spiritual direction."

Deciding to locate in Ottawa signals a desire for closer relations with Canadian government and non-governmental agencies, said Firoz Rasul, president of the Aga Khan Council for Canada. "He believes Canada has a bigger role to play on the world stage."

The Aga Khan cited a 20-year relationship with the Canadian International Development Agency in Northern Pakistan, which has improved incomes and social services in one of the poorest areas on earth.

"Successful experience with democracy, civil society and pluralism are the national genius of Canada, of which much of the developing world is in dire need," he said.

Also in Ottawa, the Aga Khan is looking to build or renovate space for a new think-tank called the Global Centre for Pluralism.

The federal government has announced it will provide a $30-million endowment, supplemented by $10 million from the Aga Khan, to generate income for basic costs of the institution. The Aga Khan will pay for the building and underwrite program costs.

"He believes pluralism is one of the basic elements required for a successful democracy," said Mr. Rasul.

Construction on the Sussex Drive building is to start next spring and will take up to to 18 months. The two-storey building was inspired by natural rock crystal. Clad in white neoparies (a smooth opaque glass material), it will rest on a granite podium. It is conceived as a pavilion in a park, and aims to emanate a feeling of openness and transparency.

"Maki and Associates have my enthusiastic admiration for addressing with tact and empathy challenges of design which are difficult and subtle," said the Aga Khan. "They call for translating concepts that have a context in our faith and our history, yet stride boldly and confidently ahead, into modernity."

Features include a crystalline glass dome, an interior atrium and an exterior courtyard landscaped in four quarters, recalling a traditional Persian Islamic garden. Plazas, terraces and balconies form extensions to the interior spaces.

The architects are working in association with Moriyama & Teshima Architects of Toronto.

"Its crystal dome will be a vision of clarity, beauty and openness," said Madame Clarkson. "Its very architecture will suggest an understanding of how the world can develop.

"This transparency points us toward true insight, to an ability to bypass apparent oppositions -- intellect versus faith, spirit versus matter, West versus East -- to see instead what unites us and what strengthens us."

The building will house activities of the Aga Khan Development Network, a series of agencies, of which the Aga Khan Foundation Canada is part. The network spends about $230 million U.S. a year on international development, health, education and culture in developing countries. Prince Karim Aga Khan, a British citizen who divides his time between France and Switzerland, is the 49th hereditary spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community, which has 12 million members, including 75,000 in Canada.

In Toronto, the Aga Khan is building a museum housing an exceptional collection of Islamic art, and an Ismaili community centre and place of worship.

The Ottawa Citizen 2005