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Architecture is Life

The Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2013

  • The publication “Architecture is Life” accompanies the 2013 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. 1 / 14  The publication “Architecture is Life” accompanies the 2013 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
  • It features the 20 projects that were shortlisted for the prize, ranging from low-tech projects like this preservation of a sacred and collective oasis sites in the Guelmim Region of Morocco... 2 / 14  It features the 20 projects that were shortlisted for the prize, ranging from low-tech projects like this preservation of a sacred and collective oasis sites in the Guelmim Region of Morocco...
  • ...to inner-city residential high-rise blocks, like “The Met” in Bangkok... 3 / 14  ...to inner-city residential high-rise blocks, like “The Met” in Bangkok...
  • ...or the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre in South Africa. 4 / 14  ...or the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre in South Africa.
  • One of the five winning projects of the 2013 Aga Khan Award was this Islamic Cemetery in Altach, Austria. (Photo: Adolf Bereuter) 5 / 14  One of the five winning projects of the 2013 Aga Khan Award was this Islamic Cemetery in Altach, Austria. (Photo: Adolf Bereuter)
  • It is one of the very few projects in Western countries that made it into the selection, though the Aga Khan Award focuses on projects that address “societies with a Muslim presence” which many of them, like Austria, are. (Photo: Adolf Bere 6 / 14  It is one of the very few projects in Western countries that made it into the selection, though the Aga Khan Award focuses on projects that address “societies with a Muslim presence” which many of them, like Austria, are. (Photo: Adolf Bere
  • The cemetery, designed by Bernardo Bader from Dornbirn, Austria, references traditional Islamic architecture in many ways, for instance with its wooden screens. (Photo: Bernardo Bader) 7 / 14  The cemetery, designed by Bernardo Bader from Dornbirn, Austria, references traditional Islamic architecture in many ways, for instance with its wooden screens. (Photo: Bernardo Bader)
  • Also a prize winner, the Birceit revitalization project in Palestine, directed by the NGO RIWAQ. (Photo before/after: RIWAQ) 8 / 14  Also a prize winner, the Birceit revitalization project in Palestine, directed by the NGO RIWAQ. (Photo before/after: RIWAQ)
  • The project takes into account buildings, public spaces, and infrastructure alike – it is dynamic and remains an ongoing one... (Photo: RIWAQ) 9 / 14  The project takes into account buildings, public spaces, and infrastructure alike – it is dynamic and remains an ongoing one... (Photo: RIWAQ)
  • ...much like the rehabilitation of the Tabriz Bazaar, Iran, with its 5,500 shops and remarkable brick structures. (Photo: Amir Anoushfar) 10 / 14  ...much like the rehabilitation of the Tabriz Bazaar, Iran, with its 5,500 shops and remarkable brick structures. (Photo: Amir Anoushfar)
  • “The project has contributed to the revival and transfer of lost building techniques and skills”, said the Award jury. (Photo: Amir Anoushfar) 11 / 14  “The project has contributed to the revival and transfer of lost building techniques and skills”, said the Award jury. (Photo: Amir Anoushfar)
  • Tabriz Bazaar: Detail of the brick vaults, some of them over 200 years old. It is considered one of the largest brick complexes in the world. (Photo: Amir Anoushfar) 12 / 14  Tabriz Bazaar: Detail of the brick vaults, some of them over 200 years old. It is considered one of the largest brick complexes in the world. (Photo: Amir Anoushfar)
  • While the Hassan II Bridge in Morocco clearly is an infrastructural project... (Photo: Marc Mimram) 13 / 14  While the Hassan II Bridge in Morocco clearly is an infrastructural project... (Photo: Marc Mimram)
  • ...the structure of the bridge remains low to the ground, creating many different urban spaces under and around it. (Photo: Marc Mimram) 14 / 14  ...the structure of the bridge remains low to the ground, creating many different urban spaces under and around it. (Photo: Marc Mimram)

The recently published book Architecture is Life. The Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2013, features the five winning and 20 shortlisted projects from this prize which recognises excellence in the built environment in “societies with a Muslim presence”. Florian Heilmeyer of uncube enthuses as to why it is so much more than the book of a prize.  

In many ways, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture is an exceptional prize in its field. Not only is it one of architecture’s oldest and most prestigious awards (which also comes with a remarkable prize money of a total of one million US dollars), it is also one of the very few that credits projects’ social impact more than their spectacular forms. Though the Award was established in 1977, earlier than the Pritzker Prize, in its ethics-over-aesthetics-attitude it feels much more up-to-date than the latter – and one automatically wonders, why the Pritzker is so much better known in the countries of the Global North.

This is perhaps because the Aga Khan Award focuses especially on “architecture and other forms of intervention in the built environment of societies with a Muslim presence” – which also means that Western architects have hardly ever been distinguished by winning it. Yet everything about this prize and its criteria seems right, for instance that it recognises not only buildings but many different types of projects “that affect today’s built environment”. Because it is about their impact, smaller projects are given equal consideration to large-scale buildings.

This book, Architecture Is Life, features not only the five prize-winners of the 12th cycle of this triennial award, but all 20 projects that made it onto the shortlist (out of 411 nominated). Each project is thoroughly described in images, drawings and text. The tasks range from housing projects to a football academy to a centre for cardiac surgery in Sudan, and from low-tech restoration projects to a high-tech high-rise building in Bangkok. This richness of variety doesn't create a lack of coherence as these projects are described by how and why they emerged – and what they’ve changed. Key qualities and aspects of their design are certainly presented, but it’s simply part of the story. These projects have other values and it is the remarkable merit of this publication that the reader can clearly understand and follow the thinking as to why these projects have been chosen and their significance.

Fortunately, this book manages to be so much more than just the record of a prize. The many accompanying essays by editor Mohsen Mostafavi, as well as David Adjaye, Toshiko Mori, Hashim Sarkis and Wang Shu, place the projects and the prize itself against the larger picture. Altogether, this is a manifesto for a better understanding of architecture and urbanism in their contexts – and for the impact that the built environment is able to have on and create with people.

– Florian Heilmeyer is an editor at uncube.


Architecture is Life. The Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2013
Editor: Mohsen Mostafavi
Essays from Mohsen Mostafavi, David Adjaye, Toshiko Mori, Wang Shu, Mohammad al-Asad, Hashim Sarkis, and others
Lars Müller Publishers, 2013
ISBN 978-3-03778-378-8

www.lars-mueller-publishers.com

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