The Bait Ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is a perfect square that sits on a high plinth, which prevents floodwater from entering the structure, allows people to sit and talk, and creates a separation between the sacred site and the busy street. Photo: Aga Khan Trust for Culture/Rajesh Vora
A sacred space that plays inventively with tradition; a pedestrian bridge that emphasises use over form; a project that is at once landscape and building; a bold, contemporary insertion into a traditional setting; a diminutive library operating at a much larger micro-urban scale, and an urban park that provides new forms of public space.
These are brief descriptions provided by the jury of the six projects that received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2016.
The US$1mil (RM4.4mil) prize is awarded every three years to honour architectural projects that address the needs of societies in which Muslims have a significant presence. That requirement makes this unlike most architecture awards, as it “seeks projects across a vast range of contexts, cultures and conditions”.
What this means is that, historically, the award has celebrated works that incorporate both tradition and modernity. The jury of the 2014-2016 cycle acknowledge this, noting that these often opposing forces are “perhaps most keenly felt in societies undergoing rapid transformation, where the aspirations of the future confront the lessons of the past in complex and testing ways”.
Continuity has historically been one of the cornerstones of Islamic societies throughout the world, the jury adds, but the enormous shifts over the past 50 years, whether as a result of war, migration or advances in communication, present new challenges and opportunities for architects and those involved in shaping the built environment.
The jury for the 13th cycle embraced “the notion of plurality, exploring not just projects in diverse contexts but the boundaries of the discipline itself, recognising that new knowledge sometimes emerges in the lines between categories”.
How does one push an edge that is continuously shifting? If a woman may never enter a space that she herself has conceived and executed, then can that project be considered “cutting-edge”? Or if a building blurs the divide between landscape, dwelling and ecology, can it be considered to push the boundaries of all three?
Rather than respect the conventional segregation of architecture into works of different scale and scope, the jury sought to paint a more nuanced and perhaps even pixelated portrait of a world – and a discipline – in a state of flux.