Aga Khan Awards announced: a pixelated world?

The winners of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture have been announced. The prize, which is given every three years, was established by Aga Khan IV to reward architectural concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of Islamic societies in the fields of contemporary design, social housing, community development and improvement, restoration, reuse and area conservation, landscape design and improvement of the environment.

Uniquely among architectural awards, it recognises projects, teams, and stakeholders in addition to buildings and people – “a vast range of contexts, cultures and conditions,” as the Master Jury Statement put it. From a design point of view, the award is also significant because (as the jury says) “throughout its history, it has also celebrated works that straddle the sometimes uneasy divide between tradition and modernity” – a key issue in Islamic architecture.

The jury seems to have pushed the definitions for this thirteenth cycle of the award, testing the boundaries of the discipline and “recognising that new knowledge sometimes emerges in the lines between categories … For established practitioners, this posed a particular dilemma: how to identify merit in projects whose very terms force us to question the limits of our understanding. “

So rather than the conventional segregation of architecture into works of different scale and scope, the jury sought a more nuanced (“and perhaps even pixelated”) portrait of a world in a state of flux. “In such a context, a universal language of architecture no longer seems appropriate: what remains are creative and often modest site-specific responses that generate new vocabularies of their own.”

In other words, the award recipients – selected from 348 projects nominated in 69 countries – shouldn’t be regarded as grand statements about architecture and design, more about how they should serve their immediate community or functional requirements.

The jury concludes that the six awards accurately reflect the wide range of entries. Here are the winners:

 


Bait Ur Rouf Mosque

Dhaka, Bangladesh Architect: Marina Tabassum

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Built in brick using traditional methods on an awkward city centre site, this mosque echoes the glorious legacy of mosque architecture in Bengal during the Sultanate period while maintaining a contemporary expression. “A sacred space that plays inventively with tradition,” said the jury, which commended its use of natural light – the column-free prayer hall has four ‘light courts’ plus random circular roof openings that create an ornate pattern of light on the floor.

Friendship Centre

Gaibandha, BangladeshArchitects: Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury/URBANA

This rural training centre was created to train staff of an NGO working with people inhabiting nearby riverine islands. Offices, a library, meeting rooms, and prayer and tearooms are housed in pavilion-like buildings surrounded by courts and pools. The construction – naturally ventilated structures in local hand-made brick with green roofs – was inspired by the monastic aesthetic of the ruins of Mahasthangahr, the earliest urban archaeological site yet found in Bangladesh. “Simplicity is the intent, monastic is the feel.”
This rural training centre was created to train staff of an NGO working with people inhabiting nearby riverine islands. Offices, a library, meeting rooms, and prayer and tearooms are housed in pavilion-like buildings surrounded by courts and pools. The construction – naturally ventilated structures in local hand-made brick with green roofs – was inspired by the monastic aesthetic of the ruins of Mahasthangahr, the earliest urban archaeological site yet found in Bangladesh. “Simplicity is the intent, monastic is the feel.”

Cha’er Hutong Children’s Library and Art Centre

Beijing Architects: ZAO/standardarchitecture / Zhang Ke

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This children’s library was selected for its embodiment of contemporary life in the traditional courtyard residences of Beijing’s Hutongs. “A diminutive library operating at a much larger micro-urban scale,” said the jury; in redesigning, renovating and reusing the informal add-on structures da-za-yuan (big-messy-courtyard) once occupied by over a dozen families, this project recognises a critical element of Hutong life that has often been neglected.

Superkilen

Copenhagen Architects: BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group, Topotek 1 and Superflex

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The design for a public space promoting integration across lines of ethnicity, religion and culture in Denmark’s most ethnically diverse neighbourhood was approached as a giant exhibition of global urban best practice. Rather than a public outreach process geared towards the lowest common denominator or a politically correct post rationalisation of preconceived ideas intended to circumvent any potential public resistance, BIG proposed public participation as the driving force of the design. An extensive public consultation process garnered suggestions for objects representing over 60 nationalities to be placed in the 750m-long scheme. There are three main zones: a red square for sports, a green park as a grassy children’s playground, a black area as a food market and picnic place.

Tabiat Pedestrian Bridge

Tehran Architects Diba Tensile Architecture / Leila Araghian, Alireza Behzadi

All right reserved to Barzin Baharlouie
A multi-level bridge spanning a busy motorway has created a dynamic new urban space by privileging use over form. A complex steel structure featuring a dynamic 3D truss with two continuous deck levels sitting on three tree shape columns, it was an imaginative leap from the basic brief of connecting two parks without blocking the view to the Alborz Mountains. The result is a space where people congregate, eat and linger rather than just pass through. (Photo: Barzin Baharlouie.)

Issam Fares Institute

Beirut Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects

A new building for the American University of Beirut’s campus, radical in composition but respectful of its traditional context, floats above an exterior courtyard in the form of a 21m-long cantilever that preserves the existing landscape. The building is also defined by the routes and connections within the university; the building emerges from the geometries of intersecting routes as a series of interlocking platforms and spaces for research and discourse.
A new building for the American University of Beirut’s campus, radical in composition but respectful of its traditional context, floats above an exterior courtyard in the form of a 21m-long cantilever that preserves the existing landscape. The building is also defined by the routes and connections within the university; the building emerges from the geometries of intersecting routes as a series of interlocking platforms and spaces for research and discourse.

 

2016 Aga Khan Architecture Award Master Jury members:

Suad Amiry Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation, Ramallah
Emre Arolat EAA-Emre Arolat Architecture, Istanbul
Akeel Bilgrami Sydney Morgenbesser Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University, New York
Luis Fernàndez-Galiano Editor, Architectura Viva, Madrid
Hameed Haroon CEO Herald Publications, Karachi
Lesley Lokko Graduate School of Architecture, University of Johannesburg
Mohsen Mostafavi Graduate School of Design, Harvard University
Dominique Perrault Dominique Perrault Architecture, Paris
Hossein Rezai Director, Web Structures, Singapore

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