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Monday September 30, 2013 MYT 7:00:00 AM
Monday September 30, 2013 MYT 11:12:34 AM
by leong siok hui
Vaults of wonder: Detail of brick vaults at Tabriz Bazaar, Iran, one of the five winners of the 2013 Aga Khan Award. The historic bazaar was one of the most important commercial hubs on the Silk Road from the 13th to 18 century. — Photo from Aga Khan Development Network
These community projects stand out for their beauty, for the way in which they marry old and new, for how they tread lightly on the earth.
IN Morocco, a beautifully constructed bridge shapes an urban hub that links two cities, connects the people, and showcases local craftsmanship.
Amidst Austria’s alpine setting, a gorgeously tranquil cemetery provides a sense of belonging to the Muslim immigrant population in their adopted country after 40 years.
On the banks of the Nile River in Sudan, a cardiac surgery centre built on a low budget that still manages to mesh form and function offers free treatments to over 50,000 patients a year.
These projects are three of the five winners of the 2013 Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA) announced on Sept 6 in Lisbon, Portugal.
A triennial award, the AKAA was established by his highness the Aga Khan in 1977 to single out and embolden building concepts that address the needs and aspirations of communities with a significant Muslim presence.
The award recognises “architectural excellence in the fields of contemporary design, social housing, community improvement and development, historic preservation, reuse and area conservation, landscape design and improvement of the environment.”
Unlike other architecture prizes, the award’s mandate selects inspiring projects that can range from thatched-roof bamboo houses to cutting-edge “green” high-rises that exhibit good design and enhance the lives of people.
The US$1mil (RM3.2mil) prize, which will be divided among the five winners, go to the architect, builders, master craftsmen, engineers and municipalities who have played crucial roles in the realisation of a project.
Since its launch 36 years ago, 110 projects have received the award and nearly 8,000 building projects have been documented.
In the 2010-2013 cycle, 411 nominations from across the globe were considered, out of which 20 projects were shortlisted and five winners selected by an independent master jury appointed by the steering committee.
The nine members of the master jury for 2013 AKAA includes Kuala Lumpur-based architect Kamil Merican, the principal designer and CEO of Group Design Partnership (GDP); Pritzker laureate Wang Shu of Amateur Architecture Studio in Hangzhou, China; and Britain-based architect David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates.
The final selection was based on three criteria: a holistic participatory approach, the quality of design, and its socio-economic-environmental impact.
According to the award’s master jury statement, the prevailing themes that defined this cycle’s awards are: “restoration, as the revitalisation and adaptation of tradition; integration, as a way to unify fragmented environments, urban and rural; the pursuit of excellence in design in low-budget settings; and the embrace of the solemn dignity of death as a way to affirm life and the living.”
“The master jury, which includes some of the most prominent architects of our time, made interesting choices for the 20 shortlisted projects this year,” says director of the award Farrokh Derakhshani in an e-mail interview.
“For example, they chose schools in Afghanistan and Syria, but they also chose a hospital in Sudan, a high-rise in Bangkok and the reconstruction of a refugee camp in Lebanon.
“In many ways, the choices reflect a central preoccupation of the award: the impact of buildings and public spaces on the quality of life,” he says.
“Now this seems fairly mainstream, but we must remember that the Aga Khan Award has been talking about ‘human scale’ and ‘sustainability’ since 1977.
“In their final choice the jury emphasised once more how architecture had a positive change in the life of those using the five winning schemes.”
Penang-based conservation architect Laurence Loh was selected as a technical reviewer for the 2013 AKAA.
Technical reviewers are architectural professionals who specialise in various disciplines, including housing, urban planning, landscape design, and restoration.
A reviewer’s task is to examine on-site each of the shortlisted projects, verify project data, and seek additional information, such as user reactions.
To ensure objectivity, reviewers report on projects located outside their native countries.
Loh is hardly a stranger to the AKAA: his project to restore the Lunas Rubber Smokehouse in Kedah was shortlisted for the 2010 AKAA. He is best known for conservation projects like Penang’s Cheong Fatt Sze mansion and Suffolk House, and Stadium Merdeka, all of which snagged accolades at the Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards.
Loh travelled to India to review a shortlisted project called “The Rehabilitation of the Naguar Fort in Jodhpur”.
“I had to travel to the site (regardless of the distance and complexity of travel arrangements) armed with succinct written instructions and key questions.
“After the visit, I had to produce a 5,000-word report that covered every conceivable aspect of the project,” says Loh in an e-mail interview.
“The reviewer’s job is also to look behind the scenes, understand and report on real conditions as opposed to what has been described by the applicant, usually an architect.
“The reviewer has to be objective, honest and unbiased in his assessment, which can be challenging due to the limited time spent on the site.”
Loh then presented his findings to the judges in Geneva and addressed the critical and incisive questions.
“This stage is very important as mine is the only eyewitness account, as the judges generally would not have visited the site/project,” Loh adds.
The project type, nature, and ideological and technical positions are examined against the criteria set by the steering committee. Whether the project makes the final list also depends on the judges’ predilections and agendas.
So, can these projects be applied in the Malaysian context?
“The projects’ philosophical and technical content and the values they represented are relevant to Malaysia.
“They address the changing global demography and trends where the rate of urbanisation would be every country’s concern, especially where the backbone of the traditional economy is rural and agricultural,” Loh explains.
“By 2020, 75% of the world’s population will be located in urban areas. Malaysia is equally vulnerable. Policies will have to be put in place now to reverse or slow down the process.”
And the issues of regeneration of places and communities, reuse of existing built resources and conservation, moving away from single buildings with limited programmes to larger settings which encompass heritage, cultural diversity, inclusiveness and society, are all pertinent to Malaysia, according to Loh.
Architect Chan Mun Inn attended the award ceremony in Lisbon at the invitation of Fay Cheah, the AKAA regional coordinator for South-East Asia.
Chan had the opportunity to observe the roundtable discussion at which the steering committee members, the master jury and technical reviewers shared their insights on the selection process and the award-winning projects.
“The whole experience was overwhelming,” says Chan, a partner at Selangor-based Design Collective Architects (DCA).
“It opened my eyes to how culture, religion and architecture can play a progressive role in the development of a community, and a world that did not only revolve around our own personal work.”
Loh sums it up: “The five winners collectively represent current concerns about how the world picture is unfolding and what possible directions planning and place-making should take in the foreseeable future.
“And at the heart of the awards is the criterion that good architecture changes the lives of the people it serves for the better,” he concludes.
Bazaar bounces back
Heritage preserved for modern use
One bridge to connect them all
Fostering a sense of belonging
Care, free for all
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Lifestyle, Lifestyle, 2013 Aga Khan Award for Architecture; Laurence Loh; Chan Mun Inn
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