High Highness the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, awarded six prizes to the winners of the 14th cycle of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA) which took place in Kazan, the capital city of Tataristan in the Russian Federation.
For the first time in the history of the award - which was launched in 1977 - a project from the UAE has been honored designed by Dubai-based X Architects. The Wasit Wetland Centre in Sharjah is a wild-life park which has transformed a wasteland into a wetland and functions as a catalyst for biodiversity and environmental education. The building is mainly buried beneath ground level, allowing the landscape to remain unspoiled.
The award has a three-year cycle and aims to identify and 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, as well as landscape design and improvement of the environment.
During the award ceremony held at Kazan's Musa Jalil State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, the Aga Khan commented on the important of architecture as a tool for improving the quality of human life.
"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," he said.
"This close relationship of architecture to the quality of human experience has a particularly profound resonance in the developing world. I believe that we all have a responsibility to improve the quality of life whenever and wherever that opportunity arises. Our commitment to influencing the quality of architecture - intellectually and materially - grows directly out of our commitment to improving the quality of human life."
The Aga Khan also addressed the danger of a loss of heritage and identity through the modernisation of architecture, where "the architectural practice in Muslim societies had recently been forgetting its own history".
This can be advanced through an open dialogue between the past and the future, he said. "This means more than simply copying the past - or merely tackling some ancient arch or minaret or calligraphy onto a building," he stated.
He further explained the potential of the architectural world to inspire and enrich intercultural dialogue in the face of the various challenges we are faced with today including social, technological, economic and political polarisation.
"The rich architectural dialogue we seek to foster should include a renewed respect for the rich diversity of Islamic cultures themselves," he said. "In addition, we should also be working to foster a rich dialogue with non-Islamic cultures - including diverse religious traditions. Architecture can lead the way in this effort - as we listen to one another and learn from one another across old divides."
Other winners of this year's award include a project that focuses on the revitalisation of Muharraq in Bahrain and the Public Spaces Development Programme in Russia - both countries have won for the first time in the history of the awards; in addition to the Arcadia Education project in Bangladesh, the Alioune Diop University Teaching and Research Unit in Senegal and the Palestinian Museum in Birzeit.