Aga Khan award winners redefine excellence in architecture

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Bahrain: Revitalization of Muharraq
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Bangladesh: Arcadia Education Project
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UAE: Wasit Wetland Centre
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Senegal: Alioune Diop University Teaching and Research Unit
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Russian Federation: Public Spaces Development Program
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Updated 04 September 2019

Aga Khan award winners redefine excellence in architecture

  • Projects focus on 'communities in which Muslims have a significant presence'
  • Each winning project will be awarded a share of a $1 million prize money

ABU DHABI: A floating bamboo school-cum-hostel for single women, a wasteland transformed into a wetland and a culture museum built in the heart of one of the world’s longest-running conflicts are among the winners of a triennial award for architecture serving Muslims.
The Aga Khan Award for Architecture was established in 1977 by Aga Khan, the Muslim spiritual leader, to celebrate projects that “successfully address the needs and aspirations of communities in which Muslims have a significant presence.”
The six frontrunners of the 2019 edition were announced this week with projects from two Gulf Cooperation Council countries — the UAE and Bahrain — in addition to Bangladesh, Palestine, Senegal and Russia being handpicked as winners. They were selected from a shortlist of 20 buildings from 16 countries.
It is the first time that the UAE and Bahrain have won recognition. Russia has also been recognized for the first time for a project which, to date, has improved 328 public spaces in the Republic of Tatarstan.
The 2019 jury said it “sought to select projects that question the conventional practice of the profession and set in place inspirational pathways through which architects can take on societal problems.”

Revitalization of Muharraq

The project, which highlights the World Heritage Site’s pearling history, was first initiated as a series of restoration projects. The project evolved into a comprehensive programme that aimed to rebalance the city’s demographic makeup by creating public spaces, providing community and cultural venues and improving the environment. The judges said the restoration of existing buildings and the introduction of contemporary sites provided a vessel for curated cultural activities, with the “Pearl Route” — which guides visitors through the area’s heritage — noted as a particular highlight.
The judges noted that the Revitalisation of Muharraq “responds creatively to the challenges of neglected urban cultural heritage and social life. Drawing on Bahrain’s heritage of a pearl economy, it has reawakened a local sense of pride while infusing new cultural life in a deteriorated urban area.”

Arcadia Education Project

Located in South Kanarchor, the Arcadia Education Project — a modular structure incorporating space for a preschool, a hostel, a nursery and a vocational training centre — takes a novel approach to a riverine site that is flooded for up to 5 months every year. Rather than disrupting the ecosystem to create a mound for building, the architect devised the solution of an amphibious structure that could sit on the ground or float on the water, depending on seasonal conditions.
“At a time of rising sea levels, this modest bamboo school illustrates how to build an affordable and viable solution with locally available materials,” the judges noted. “The approach to building the three-classroom preschool was to design a structure that rises with the river’s water level and adapts to the surroundings — without altering the natural condition of the site and allowing for uninterrupted, year-long use of the building.
“The paradigm of the architect using his professional knowledge — yet thinking outside the box by adapting traditional methods — is remarkable, especially as the construction is modest and direct, without fetishizing craft.”

Palestinian Museum

The zigzagging Palestinian Museum in Birzeit — inspired by the surrounding agricultural terraces — is one of the four new structures to have won a prize this year. The project crowns a terraced hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and is the recipient of the LEED Gold certification because of its sustainable construction.
The judges said the museum stands as “the powerful embodiment of a cultural identity under duress at the intersection of land and architecture, nature and people. The building’s very existence — built despite a condition of occupation and siege — can be understood as nothing less than an act of hope for current and future generations.”

Russian Federation
Public Spaces Development Programme

The Public Spaces Development Programme in Kazan is the revival of over 300 public spaces in Tatarstan and seeks to counter the trend toward private ownership by refocusing priorities on quality public spaces.
The judges said the programme was “impressive in its ambition to improve the quality of public space throughout Tatarstan. It is important to understand the role of the public in such projects. They reinforce the sense of community, the identity of the villages, towns and cities and the role it plays in the development of civil society.”
They added: “It is evident that the long-term success and sustainability of the project lies not only in its larger vision and political leadership, but also in the realization process, which has emphasised engagement and dialogue, the involvement and encouragement of young architects and designers and the participation of the community.”

Alioune Diop University Teaching and Research Unit

IDOM’s prize-winning Alioune Diop University Teaching and Research Unit is a lecture building in Bambey, Senegal, where a scarcity of resources led to the use of bioclimatic strategies, includes a large double-roof canopy and latticework that avoids solar radiation but allows air to flow through it. By employing familiar construction techniques and following sustainability principles, it succeeded in keeping costs and maintenance demands to a minimum, while still making a bold architectural statement.
“As buildings have a direct impact on climate change and the environment, theunit represents a commendable example of how fundamental principles of sustainability and energy efficiency are translated into a well-integrated and elegant design that also has a low impact on its surroundings,” the judges said.

Wasit Wetland Centre

The Wasit Wetland Centre — part of a larger project to rehabilitate an ancient chain of wetlands along the UAE’s coast — is a design that saw the transformation of an almost 20-acre rubbish dump in the emirate of Sharjah into a wetland that is now a nature reserve for 350 bird species.
The judges said the centre “stands out as a remarkable, indeed unique, collaborative project combining architectural excellence with a deep commitment to ecological imperatives,” while also achieving “highly commendable educational and recreational purposes. The project sets a powerful precedent that encourages low-impact and environmentally conscious development in a region known for its propensity to go in the opposite direction.”


UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

Updated 15 September 2019

UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

  • Johnson said he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what
  • “The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the Mail

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has compared himself to The Incredible Hulk in a newspaper interview emphasizing his determination to take Britain out of the European Union next month.
Johnson faces considerable legal and political hurdles but told the Mail on Sunday he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what.
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the widely read tabloid, invoking the comic book and film character known for formidable but destructive strength.
Johnson remains defiant even though Parliament has passed a law requiring him to seek an extension to the deadline if no deal is reached by mid-October. He has also lost his working majority in Parliament and been told by Scotland’s highest court that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal.
Johnson portrays himself as more convinced than ever that Britain will break with the EU at the end of October.
He will have a lunchtime meeting in Luxembourg on Monday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to try to modify the Irish backstop that has been a main sticking point, but EU leaders did not seem impressed by Johnson’s invocation of the Hulk.
The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said the comments showed a lack of maturity.
“Even to Trumpian standards the Hulk comparison is infantile,” he tweeted. “Is the EU supposed to be scared by this? The British public impressed?“
Juncker, who has downplayed hopes of a breakthrough at Monday’s meeting, also expressed alarm that many people in Britain seem to feel a British departure without a deal with the EU would be a positive thing.
“It would be terrible chaos,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio. “And we would need years to put things back in order. Anyone who loves his country, and I assume that there are still patriots in Britain, would not want to wish his country such a fate.”
The Oct. 31 deadline looms large because Johnson has not said he will seek another extension if no deal is reached, despite legislation passed by Parliament shortly before it was suspended.
Britain’s Supreme Court this week will rule on whether Johnson overstepped the law when he shut the legislature for a crucial five-week period.
The Liberal Democrats, who have been enjoying a revival, voted overwhelmingly at their party conference Sunday to end the Brexit process entirely if they come to power.
Party leader Jo Swinson said Article 50, which triggered Brexit, would be revoked if she becomes prime minister.
The party gained an important member Saturday with the defection of Sam Gyimah, a former Conservative minister. He is the sixth legislator to switch allegiance and join the Liberal Democrats this year.
Johnson also continues to take flak from former Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the 2016 referendum on Brexit.
Cameron said in an interview published Sunday that Johnson didn’t really believe in Brexit when he broke ranks and led the campaign to take Britain out of the EU. Cameron had been expecting Johnson’s help during the hard-fought campaign.
Cameron says of Johnson: “The conclusion I am left with is that he risked an outcome he didn’t believe in because it would help his political career.”
Cameron is giving interviews to gain publicity for his upcoming memoirs.