The Future of the Award

Since its first cycle, ending with the Award ceremony in Lahore in 1980, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture has travelled a long way. The distance it has covered is best illustrated by the difference in the projects permeated in 1980 and those permeated at the end of the fifth cycle in 1992. The projects permeated in 1980 were for the most part individual buildings of architectural excellence. Many of them were the work of foreign architects working in Muslim societies. The projects that were awarded in 1992 were entirely the work of local architects and were of immense relevance to the social, economic and environmental concerns and conditions in Muslim societies.

The transition described above in the last fifteen years has been made possible by the Award process. The Award Steering Committee, chaired by His Highness and guided and supported by the Award staff, is changed every cycle. Its members consist of internationally renowned architects, critics, social scientists, development professionals and academicians of various relevant disciplines. The majority of the members of the Committee are Muslims and many of them have had close links with the grass-root situation in the Islamic World. Due to the nature of its composition the Committee is able to keep its “fingers on the pulse” of Muslim societies and the causes and dynamics of the issues confronting them. Seminars, workshops and conferences have been arranged in the Islamic World around these issues on subjects as diverse as “Regionalism in Architecture”, “The Rural Habitat” and “The Expanding Metropolis”. Such seminars have not only given the Award a better understanding of the problems of the built environment in Muslim societies, but they have also promoted new ideas and concepts and established links with numerous individuals and groups. The Award is also able to place the trends and directions in Islamic society in the larger global perceptive due to the presence of leading international architects and thinkers from non-Muslim societies, both in the Steering Committee and in the Master Jury. Thus, the Award increasingly relates the process with the end product; social relevance with technical soundness; and relates architecture to the larger context of what creates and sustains the built environment.

Major changes are taking place in the Islamic World today which are having a big impact on the built environment. These changes are the result of the recent economic liberalisation and privatisation policies of Islamic governments and the coming of age of a second generation of city dwellers who now form a majority of the population in most major Muslim cities. In the coming years the Award will have to cater to the repercussions of these changes.

On the social housing front, new priorities are emerging. For low income communities upgrading and regularisation is still important. However, the settlements regularised in the seventies and eighties (which were then low-rise areas) are becoming medium-rise congested slums in which all open areas and amenity spaces have been encroached upon. Projects that deal with protecting the environment of these settlements have now become a priority.

Liberalisation and privatisation have created a real estate boom in most cities. This has led to the displacement of entire communities from settlements where they have lived for many decades as their land has been taken over for development of commercial complexes, housing for the elite and in many cases for tourism. This is increasingly creating a new generation of displaced persons living in new squatter settlements outside the city. The real estate boom has also limited housing options for lower-middle income groups because of the exorbitant cost of land. As the lower-middle income groups are increasing faster than any other group in most cities, their housing needs are now a priority and new and innovative strategies are required to address them. Given the cost of land, and in many cases its unavailability, the old strategies cannot deliver.

The displacement of the poor and the real estate boom are consuming valuable agricultural land and water resources at an alarming rate and polluting water sources. An ecological disaster is in the offing in many cities. The architectural profession needs to understand these issues and to relate its work to these larger environmental concerns. Projects and strategies that do this need to be supported.

Most cities are also in the process of building mass transit projects, bye-passes and power plants. Wholesale markets are being shifted on to the bye-passes from the city centre and new areas for storage and warehousing are being created. A large volume of architecture related to these projects has to be or is being built. In addition, environmental issues and issues related to urban space, conservation and disastrous land-use changes, have emerged as a result of many of these projects.

Given the history of the Award; its out-reach and network; and the enormous understanding that it has acquired regarding the actors and factors that create the built environment in Islamic societies, there is no doubt that it will be able to respond to the above challenges. However, the most important role that the Award can play in helping to create a better built environment is one, by supporting the development of architectural education so that it can be made appropriate to the social and economic problems of Islamic societies; and two, by promoting the understanding and subsequent integration of populist solutions and processes in the larger formal planning process.

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