New Islamic Architectures

The Wadi Hanifa Wetlands, one of the winners of the 2010 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

In a ceremony held last week at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Quatar, five projects received the 2010 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The Award is given for “excellence in architecture and other forms of intervention in the built environment of societies where Muslims have a significant presence.”

Since the award was established in 1977, it has consistently promoted projects that embrace social and environmental engagement in their methods and outcomes. In keeping with this premise, each award recognizes multiple stakeholders, such as city and community leaders, planners, builders, craftsmen and engineers.

The award’s unique focus on countries where Muslims live allow it to bring to light some truly innovative work being done in Asia and Africa. The projects awarded this year breathe new life into regions where the great and diverse traditions of Islamic architecture once flourished, defining more urgent goals, and bringing an acute sense of purpose.

Here is a round-up of the awardees, with excerpts from their jury citations:

Wadi Hanifa Wetlands, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Planners: Moriyama & Teshima Planners Limited and Buro Happold in a joint venture.
Client: High Commission for the Development of Arriyadh/Arriyadh Development Authority.

“The Wadi Hanifa Wetlands project eloquently demonstrates an alternative ecological way of urban development. It shows how a major natural phenomenon which, through the course of urbanisation,  ecame a litter-strewn and dangerous place – a scar on the face of the capital city – can be transformed by sensitive planning attentive to social values and imaginative infrastructure-driven landscape solutions.”

Revitalisation of the Hypercentre of Tunis, Tunis, Tunisia
Architect: Association de Sauvegarde de la Médina de Tunis (ASM).
Client: Municipality of Tunis

“Equally impressive is the process through which the ASM, a tiny, passionately committed organisation of modest means, transferred the technical knowledge gained in their earlier preservation of the old medina to the Hypercentre. The local community was consulted throughout to ensure that existing businesses would benefit from regeneration, and that the process would be sustainable. These goals were reflected in the innovative financing of the project, and in the training of local craftsmen to  undertake the restoration work.”

Madinat al-Zahra Museum, Cordoba, Spain.
Architect: Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos, Fuensanta Nieto, and Enrique Sobejano.
Client: Junta de Andalucía, Consejería de Cultura.

“The Madinat al-Zahra Museum is a unique celebration of the link between museology and archaeology. It harmoniously and humbly blends into the landscape, understanding itself as serving the heritage being revealed in the site to which it is organically connected. This humility only adds to the powerful message it represents, one that is of particular significance in and for our times.”

Ipekyol Textile Factory, Edirne, Turkey.
Architect: EAA – Emre Arolat Architects
Client: Ipekyol Giyim Sanayi

“At a time when the Muslim world is industrialising rapidly, and many countries, including Turkey, need to develop higher quality products to counter rising labour costs, the Ipekyol Textile Factory demonstrates how enlightened design can create a replicable blueprint of a cleaner, safer, more efficient workplace that can also achieve higher productivity and profitability.”

Bridge School, Xiashi, Fujian Province, China.
Architect: Li Xiaodong Atelier
Client: Xiashi Village

“By placing the school on the bridge, underneath which the waters flow, the architect is giving the most important lesson a child can learn: life is transient, not one second of it similar to the next. The  structure’s lightness and playfulness, and its naturalness, as though it had always existed in the  landscape, appeals to the children, who use it as a big toy. These qualities, and the sense of security the children feel, all come from the excellence of the architecture, from the project’s concept to its smallest physical details.”

Michael Sorkin wrote about the political agenda of the Aga Khan Awards for our December 1998 issue, and Ken Shulman returned to the topic in November 2003, examining the Awards in light of the new challenges faced by Islamic culture.

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