News Column

'Building for a Better Life' Exhibition Opens at UIA2014 Durban, South Africa

August 4, 2014



DURBAN, South Africa, Aug. 4 -- The Aga Khan Development Network issued the following news release:

The exhibition "Building for a Better Life" opened at the Union of International Architects' World Congress today. The exhibition includes a survey of programmes of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) that seek to have a positive impact on the built environment.

The exhibition includes the winners of the 2013 Aga Khan Award for Architecture, which encompass a bridge in Morocco and a hospital in the Sudan; several conservation programmes and public parks undertaken in the developing world by the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme; and a preview of two new projects in Toronto, Canada - the Aga Khan Museum, which was designed by UIA Gold Medal winner Fumihiko Maki, and the Ismaili Centre, designed by UIA Gold Medal winner Charles Correa, as well as the park between them, which was designed by Vladimir Djurovic.

Institutions of the AKDN have been working to improve the life of people throughout the world for over a century. In Africa, the first school was built in Zanzibar in 1905. A hospital built over half a century ago in Nairobi is now among the leading health facilities on the continent. Many of AKDN's current development activities have an impact on the built environment in Africa, from early childhood education programmes that involve the construction of schools to a large-scale hydroelectric plant in Uganda that provides half the country's electricity.

AKDN's cultural projects are part and parcel of this broad objective. In 1977, when the Aga Khan Award for Architecture was launched (along with related projects such as the Aga Khan programme for Islamic Architecture at Harvard and MIT), His Highness the Aga Khan wanted to create a prize that selected projects - from innovative mud and bamboo schools to state of the art "green" high-rises - that not only exhibited architectural excellence but also improved the overall quality of life. In the process, the Award has had a quiet but sustained influence on architectural debate - to the point that its ambitions have now become mainstream.

AKDN's cultural projects also work to revitalise historic cities. Through the creation of parks, restoration and conservation projects, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and its sister agencies have been working to improve the quality of life in many African cities.

In Cairo, for example, it has built a 35-hectare, 74-acre green lung for a city which had one of the lowest proportions of green space per inhabitant in the world. The transformation of the derelict Darassa site, a 30-hectare (74-acre) mound of rubble adjacent to the Historic City, required a monumental task of excavation, grading and replacement with appropriate fill. The US$ 30 million project, which has evolved well beyond the Park to include socio economic initiatives in the neighbouring Darb al-Ahmar district, provides a valuable new green space in a city that has little and now attracts nearly two million people per year.

In Zanzibar'sStone Town, it rehabilitated two major public spaces: Forodhani Park and Kelele Square. It also rehabilitated eleven buildings in Stone Town - many of them on the point of collapse -as part of a programme to demonstrate the building and restoration techniques needed to preserve this World Heritage Site.

Other African projects include the restoration the Great Mosque in Mopti, Mali, starting in 2004. The restoration expanded to include sanitation, street paving, healthcare and other measures in the neighbouring Komoguel district. In 2006, the Programme extended its work to Timbuktu, where it has restored the Djingarey Ber mosque, and to Djenne, where it restored the Great Mosque. The Programme also worked with the government to create the National Park of Mali on a 103-hectare site in Bamako, the nation's capital.

The exhibition also highlights some of the ongoing work in the developing world. In Toronto, for example, the Fumihiko Maki-designed Aga Khan Museum (due to open in autumn of 2014) shares a site with the Ismaili Centre Toronto, which was designed by Chares Correa, and the Aga Khan Park, which was designed by Vladimir Djurovic.

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