Three African buildings were among 19 projects from across the globe that competed for the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
The three projects — in Burkina Faso, Morocco and Tunisia — carried the continent’s hopes as they face challenges from 16 other architectural works for the award, which is in its eleventh cycle.
Burkina Faso’s flag is flown by the CBF Women’s Health Centre set in a poor neighbourhood of Ouagadougou, the capital.
Tunisia’s building seeks to revitalise the country’s architectural heritage, while in Morocco, the sensitive rehabilitation of the Al-Qaraouiyine Mosque by the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs has drawn acclaim.
Others competitors include buildings in Albania, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sri Lanka and Turkey.
Out of 401 projects presented for the 2010 award, the winners — selected by an independent jury from the short list of 19 projects prepared in May this year — were announced in Doha, Qatar.
The glittering ceremony was presided over by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, and the Aga Khan.
Experts will debate the issues raised by this year’s winning projects.
When starting the award scheme, the Aga Khan said he wanted to emphasise the selection of architecture that not only provided for people’s physical, social and economic needs, but that also stimulated and responded to their cultural and spiritual expectations.
The award, given every three years since 1977, recognises all types of building projects that affect today’s environment; from modest, small-scale projects to sizable complexes.
It not only rewards architects, but also identifies councils, builders, clients, master craftsmen and engineers who played important roles in realising a project.
The award’s mandate is different from that of many other architecture prizes: it selects projects — from innovative mud and bamboo schools to state of the art “green” buildings — that not only exhibit architectural excellence, but also improve the overall quality of life.
Since its launch 33 years ago, 105 projects have received the award and more than 7,500 buildings have been documented.
In his book Under the Eaves of Architecture – The Aga Khan: Builder and Patron, American art historian and economist Philip Jodidio writes of the award: “It is intended to recognise examples of architectural excellence that encompass contemporary design, social housing, community improvement and development, restoration, reuse, and area conservation, as well as landscaping and environmental issues.”
Governed by a steering committee chaired by the Aga Khan, previous winners have included a primary school in Burkina Faso designed by local architect Diébédo Francis Kéré, the Grameen Bank Housing Programme in Bangladesh, the Institut du Monde Arabe à Paris, designed by Jean Nouvel, Ken Yeang’s ground-breaking bioclimatic office building in Malaysia and Han Tümertekin’s B2 House in Turkey.
Other past award winners have included Lord Norman Foster, Cesar Pelli and Ricardo Legorreta.
The award scheme is featured in a three-part documentary series, Architects on the Frontline, that begun running on BBC World television last Saturday.
The Aga Khan Award for Architecture is one of the arms of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the others being the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, the Music Initiative in Central Asia, and the Education and Culture Programme.
The Trust focuses on the physical, social, cultural and economic revitalisation of Muslim communities.
Its other branches are the Aga Khan Programme for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In Zanzibar, the Trust worked with the government to restore Forodhani Park as part of a comprehensive programme rehabilitating the seafront in Stone Town.
Forodhani Park, together with Kelele Square — whose extension was undertaken by the Trust — were improved to help restore and secure Zanzibar’s major urban open space while improving the quality of civic life for local residents.
The Historic Cities Programme has run projects in Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Mali, Pakistan, Syria and Tajikistan.
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture and its arms work to promote pluralism and tolerance as an antidote to what the Ismailia leader has called the “clash of ignorance”.
The Aga Khan said: “It is my hope that one day pluralism will become accepted as the norm within communities and among the nations of the earth. I know of no better road to lasting peace than tolerance for the differences of faith, culture and origin.”