Aga Khan roots for intercultural dialogue through architecture

Wednesday March 18 2020

The Aga Khan speaks at the Aga Khan Award for Architecture ceremony in Kazan, Russia, on September 13, 2019. PHOTO | AKDN | AKBAR HAKIM


The world is big enough for multiple cultures to coexist peacefully and architecture is uniquely placed to enable this, the Aga Khan has said.

Speaking in Kazan, Russia, Friday, the Imam of Shia Ismailis celebrated six unique projects that were recently declared winners of the 14th cycle of the much-acclaimed Aga Khan Award for Architecture.


The projects in Senegal, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Palestine, Russia and Bahrain emerged winners after a three-year judging process for their unique ways in embracing and conserving the environment even as they solved human problems.

From Senegal was a building at Alioune Diop University that creatively adapts to Africa’s heat and sunlight, while an amphibious building, Arcadia Education Project in Bangladesh, won for allowing a school to operate in a swamp in all seasons.

The Aga Khan, in his keynote address, noted that the venue of this year’s awards was particularly important in emphasising the role architecture must play in promoting pluralism in the world.

“On my visits in Kazan, and in Bolgar, I have seen how committed people can honour the power both of cultural identity and cultural pluralism. It is striking to see how churches and mosques, for example, have been built and preserved right next to one another as powerful symbols of a profound intercultural dialogue.

“I would hope that we all can help point the rest of the world to the powerful pluralistic model of places like Kazan and Bolgar,” he said.

The Imam said pluralism means more than merely tolerating a diversity of influences and ideas. It also means welcoming the learning opportunities that diversity provides, finding ways to honour unique ideas in individual traditions and values that connect humankind.

He said architecture, more than any other art form, has a profound impact on the quality of human life.


“As it has often been said, we shape our built environment — and then our buildings shape us.”

The Aga Khan Award for Architecture has processed more than 9,000 nominated projects in four decades.

This year’s six winners will share $1 million (Sh103 million), with half of the amount being committed to strategic replication of the projects.

The other four winners of this year’s award are a museum that projects Palestinian heritage with a stated aim to ‘foster a culture of dialogue and tolerance’; public spaces development programme in Tatarstan, Russia; the revitalisation of Muharraq — the pearling industry that is historically crucial to Bahrain’s economy; and Wasit Wetland Centre in UAE.