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Symposium transcript after the Vincent Scully Prize awarded to H.H. The Aga Khan 2005-01-26

Wednesday, 2005, January 26
vincent scully.jpg
Aga Khan IV (H.H. Prince Karim)

Chase W. Rynd - Executive Director, National Building Museum
Vincent Scully - Sterling Professor Emeritus, Yale University
Robert Ivy - Editor-in-Chief, Architectural Record
His Highness The Aga Khan
Charles Correa - Architect, Bombay, India
Martin Filler - Architecture Critic

CHASE RYND: Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good evening. My name is
Chase Rynd and I’m the director of the National Building Museum. It is my distinct pleasure
to welcome all of you to the Museum and to this very special program this evening. I am also
greatly honored to welcome the distinguished individuals who are on tonight’s program.
I will now invite them up to the stage by their name to take their seats. Each of them will
receive a more complete introduction later in the program. Allow me to invite Robert Ivy,
Editor-in-Chief of Architectural Record. Charles Correa, an internationally acclaimed architect
from Bombay, India. Martin Filler, an architecture critic based in New York City. And our
honored guest, His Highness The Aga Kahn. Tonight we will celebrate and explore the many
contributions of His Highness The Aga Kahn, to promote design excellence, urban revitalization
and historic preservation in countries where Muslims have a significant presence.
In recognition of his sustained and successful efforts to improve the built environment in the
Islamic world, the Museum organized a gala ceremony last night to present His Highness with our
highest award, the Vincent Scully Prize. Established in 1999, this prize is named after the illustrious
and influential Yale University Professor, Vincent Scully. The prize recognizes exemplary practice,
scholarship or criticism in architecture, landscape design, historic preservation, planning or urban
design. Previous recipients are Vincent Scully himself, Jane Jacobs, Andres Duany and Elizabeth
Plater-Zyberk, and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.

As you will learn over the next hour and a half, His Highness The Aga Kahn also richly deserves
this prize. The Museum is deeply honored that he has accepted it. And now I am delighted to
inform you that Professor Scully is here with us this evening. He now will pay a brief tribute to
His Highness. Vincent.

VINCENT SCULLY: Thank you very much. Your Highness, ladies and gentlemen. I met His
Highness The Aga Khan for the first time last night and though I’ve known his work and admired
it for a long time, it was only last night that I came to realize what a kind and gentle man he is.

So this is an especially happy occasion for me. His Highness The Aga Khan honors this prize by accepting it and further ennobles the cause of architecture which he has already served so well.
Architecture itself is a mediating art. It mediates between humankind and nature’s implacable
laws, and it shapes the communities in which we live together.
The awards so generously conceived and supported by The Aga Khan do much the same thing.

They encourage architecture and city building at their best to mediate between the cultures of
east and west, bringing the most beautiful buildings and the most humane urbanism of contemporary
Islam forcibly to western consciousness and admiration.

They, and everything they stand for, shine as bright lights in a darkening world. They embody
the hope of well-intentioned people everywhere for civilization itself, for mutual understanding,
decent brotherhood and peace. For this, the Aga Khan deserves our profoundest gratitude.
And we take this occasion to thank him and to assure him that we share his faith in architecture’s
grand and healing role. Thank you.

RYND: Thank you, Professor Scully, for those insightful observations about the contributions
made by His Highness to improving the built environment. And coming from the person for
whom the prize is named, they carry very special meaning. This year the National Building
Museum is celebrating its 25th anniversary. And what better way to start our celebration than
to have His Highness with us tonight. According to the act of Congress that established the
Museum in 1980 as a private, non-profit institution, our mission is to present exhibitions and
education programs interpreting all aspects of the world that we build for ourselves. Today
we are recognized as America’s premier cultural institution examining architecture, planning,
engineering and construction.

And now a word of explanation about tonight’s program. First, there will be a short video that
focuses on The Aga Khan Award for Architecture. And speaking of this award, the world’s largest
such prize, I should inform you that our Museum Shop, which is located right over there, has
specially obtained advanced copies of an informative book about the current Aga Kahn Award
winners and stories about His Highness’ views on architecture. And you may obtain copies of
this book after the program. Following the video, His Highness and then Charles Correa will
give brief remarks. They will then engage in an extended dialogue with Martin Filler and Robert
Ivy. The Museum is extremely grateful to Mr. Correa, Mr. Filler and Mr. Ivy for agreeing to
participate in this program.

And we have very special thanks, especially, to Charles Correa who has come all the way from
Bombay, India, just for this program. Robert Ivy has graciously agreed to moderate tonight’s
program. He is an architect in his own right, as well as a highly respected writer and editor. As I
already mentioned, he is Editor-in-Chief of Architectural Record. In early 2002 he published an
extended interview with His Highness in Architectural Record. Since he assumed leadership of this accepting it and further ennobles the cause of architecture which he has already served so well.

Architecture itself is a mediating art. It mediates between humankind and nature’s implacable
laws, and it shapes the communities in which we live together.

The awards so generously conceived and supported by The Aga Khan do much the same thing.
They encourage architecture and city building at their best to mediate between the cultures of
east and west, bringing the most beautiful buildings and the most humane urbanism of contemporary
Islam forcibly to western consciousness and admiration.

They, and everything they stand for, shine as bright lights in a darkening world. They embody
the hope of well-intentioned people everywhere for civilization itself, for mutual understanding,
decent brotherhood and peace. For this, the Aga Khan deserves our profoundest gratitude.
And we take this occasion to thank him and to assure him that we share his faith in architecture’s
grand and healing role. Thank you.

ROBERT IVY: Good evening. Mr. Rynd, Your Highness, fellow panelists and guests tonight,
what a splendid occasion and what a splendid space we find ourselves in. We’re gathered in, I think,
an unusual occasion, to celebrate a man whom we collectively admire, His Highness The Aga Kahn.
And congratulations, Your Highness, on your recent honor, the Scully Prize. And what a wonderful
moment to have Mr. Scully here with us. Tonight, for all of our admiration, however, we share a
unique opportunity to engage His Highness in a frank discussion building on the work that he has
done over these years and examining that work and the programs that surround it.
While his own religious community is Islamic, residing on four continents, what relevance
might the programs that he has established have for our own countries, cultures, for our own
communities? What meaning can we draw from it? I have had the privilege, as Mr. Rynd
mentioned, of interviewing His Highness at his headquarters at Aiglemont outside Paris.
And I can tell you that you’re in for a treat because he is frank and open and intelligent in a way
that I think will astound you. A component of this evening is exploratory and some is didactic.
All of us can learn more about the specific programs that have led the Aga Kahn to this moment
and this evening.

He was awarded the Scully Prize not only because of his own awards program, which we will
learn about, but also because of an inter-related network of programs and initiatives that affect
the Muslim world, including an educational component, a historic cities program, economic
development and more.

We hope to learn more about all of these, but let us say that they put what contemporary
governments might do to shame. To achieve these goals, the Museum has assembled a thoughtful,
small gathering on stage, and it will engage in a discussion. We’re going to attempt to make this, the
grandest public space in Washington, as intimate as possible and have a frank and open conversation.
Even though we’re all admirers, we will not quite gush because he wouldn’t want us to; we’ll
steer our discussions toward realty and the realities of the world. So to begin, we’ll learn more
about The Aga Kahn Award for Architecture and the programs that it engages, which is now
fully described in a video that we’ll see.

AGA KHAN VIDEO: The Aga Khan Awards for Architecture was founded in 1977 to focus
attention on the architectural achievements of Islamic societies. The award seeks out excellence
and heightens awareness of the rich and varied Islamic architectural tradition. It celebrates
a broad range of achievements from social housing and community improvement to reuse,
conservation and contemporary design.

The award is part of The Aga Khan Trust for Culture but focuses on the physical, social, cultural
and economic revitalization of communities in the Muslim world. To qualify, projects must be
designed for or used by Muslim communities. They must also have been completed within the
past 12 years and have been in use for a minimum of one year prior to entry.
Up to $500,000, the world’s largest architectural prize, is awarded to projects selected by an
independent Master Jury appointed for each tri-annual cycle. The nine member jury is chosen
by the Awards Steering Committee, chaired by The Aga Kahn. The Steering Committee also set
the criteria and thematic direction of each award cycle.

Because of the broad range of issues and locations involved, professionals from all backgrounds
and religions are appointed to the jury. It chooses a short list from several hundred submissions.
On-site reviewers then visit these projects, returning to present their findings at a final meeting.
This is when the winning projects are selected. The first cycle of the awards in 1980 established themes
of social responsibility and sustainability. Controversy followed when an award was made to a self-help
community planning program, the Kampung Improvement Program in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Prior to this, spontaneous building was largely considered to be outside of the realm of architecture.
But with the first award the architectural community was encouraged to reappraise its definition of
architecture. As well as social schemes, excellence in private housing has also been recognized.
The Salinger residence in Malaysia is hand-built using traditional skills, yet has a strikingly
modern presence. The awards have a long-standing tradition of rewarding conservation. Many
cities have a wonderful heritage that has disintegrated. With the right approach and skills, entire
towns can be brought back to life.

Awards were made in 1995 for the conservation of Old Sana’a, Yemen, and for the conservation
of Mostar Old Town in Bosnia-Herzegovnia in 1986. Juries have recognized the social and
cultural importance of historic monuments and awarded projects that restored such buildings.
The restoration of the 14th Century Tomb of Shah Rukn-i-Alam in Pakistan is one of many projects
that have seen the rediscovery of long-lost crafts and skills. Contemporary pressures on the built
environment mean many old structures can no longer be used for their original purpose.
The awards have, therefore, encouraged imaginative, adaptive reuse of buildings. This building
in Katau was once a ruined palace but is now a national museum. The question of how to
regenerate urban areas has been an important consideration for the awards. Solutions include the
Great Mosque of Riyadh, an old city center redevelopment in Saudi Arabia that won an award in
1995 for reinterpreting styles of the past to create a meaningful dialogue with the present.
Other approaches include innovative landscaping schemes like Bagh-e-Ferdowski Park on the
outskirts of Tehran. The Aga Kahn Awards have promoted examples of architecture where the
construction technology has seemed wholly appropriate. The Haij Terminal in Riyadh was
designed to house the million or more pilgrims who make their way to Mecca every year.

This prompted the design of the largest roof in the world. The 1983 Jury called the design
“brilliant and imaginative.” Throughout its 25 year history the award has celebrated outstanding
excellence in contemporary architecture. Examples include Vidan Bhavan, the striking state
assembly building in Bhopal, India, designed by architect Charles Correa and awarded in 1998,
and the National Assembly Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, designed by Louis Kahn.
Awarded in 1989 the building is now widely regarded as a masterpiece. Despite these many
areas of recognition, the award is still searching for exemplary solutions to certain building types.
These include affordable mass housing, hospitals, work environments and industrial spaces.
As the search for excellence continues, the jury of the ninth cycle of the Aga Kahn Award for
Architecture has selected a diverse range of building types from different parts of the world. In the 24
year tradition of the awards, the jury has chosen seven agenda-setting projects that provide yet more
inspiring and thought-provoking solutions to the compelling questions in architecture today.
IVY: And now it is my pleasure to present His Highness The Aga Kahn.

THE AGA KHAN: Honored guests, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to begin my comments
this evening by thanking the National Building Museum for the occasion of this seminar.
I would also like to thank Professor Scully particularly warmly for having used this occasion
to pay compliments to the work that I have done in the past years.
I have taken an example from your book. People have often asked me why I created this award
for architecture. And I think the video has shown you some of the examples of the issues that
have faced people in the developing world, and particularly the Islamic world, as their physical
environment changes.

I was concerned that much of the building that was taking place in the Islamic world had lost
its sense of direction. There was a hiatus in cultural continuity. There was lack of clarity and
precision in the educational institutions that were forming the young architects of the future.
I profoundly believed that architecture is not just about building; it is a means of improving
people’s quality of life. At its best, it should mirror the plurality of cultural traditions and the
diverse needs of communities, both urban and rural. At the same time, it must employ modern
technologies to help fulfill desirable aspirations for the future.

In Islam, the Holy Koran says that man is God’s noblest creation to whom he has entrusted the
stewardship of all that is on earth. Each generation must leave for its successors a wholesome and
sustainable social and physical environment.

For these reasons, I began in 1977 working with leading architects, philosophers, artists, teachers,
historians and thinkers from all religious faiths to examine issues in the built environment and establish an award for architecture.

The task was extremely difficult and some thought impossible. We sought to reshape and
reposition knowledge and taste, and to change the behavior of those who have an impact on the
built environment. That meant not just architects and their clients, but governments, planners,
granting organizations, village organizations, educational institutions and builders large and
small in urban and in rural areas.

If we could achieve this, there was a real chance we could launch a process that would become
self-sustaining to help bring about the truly profound change that we sought. That led us on a
long journey of inquiry and action based upon the premise which, strangely enough, was never
put formally in writing.

We were interested in architectural achievement not just in design, but how good design could
help improve the daily lives of the users and beneficiaries. It was from this service perspective
that the award parameters grew. One example was the definition of architecture.

The users were largely in developing countries. So we pushed our definition far beyond the so-called
architected buildings and into self-built environments, many of them in rural areas, most of them
poor. It was from this notion of service to people that we were led to search for best practices.

We sought example of best practice for vastly different local situations, from the ultra-poor in rural
environments to the ultra-rich cities and towns of oil-producing states. The solutions we found
ranged from restoration of historic buildings to the new high-tech buildings of modern societies.
The criteria for best practice varied to reflect conditions. Poor communities, for example, do
not have the resources to replace buildings every few decades. So we looked to best practice that
emphasized efficient and creative refurbishing, old to new construction design for a much longer
economic service life than in industrialized countries.

As the inquiry process became more widely known in the communities where we were focused, they
responded to us with two basic requests. First, teach us how to do things differently. And second,
show us examples of best practices in real world situations. In response a number of programs were
spawned to teach these best practices such as the Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard and
MIT and the on-line ArchNet resource which supports global dialogue and research.

We were challenged with findings ways of making these best practices available to broad
segments of the population in order to have a continuous and positive impact. In the developed
world that would mean reaching the middle classes. In the developing world it meant making
these best practices accessible to the poor.

We have had some success in this regard through our Historic City Support Program which we
launched to develop best practice models in the real world. That program has been applied in
some of the poorest settlements, many of them in rural areas. We have shown how human and material resources can be applied to deteriorated and underused cultural assets.

The result has been new economic activity and a better quality of life. So I am pleased that 28
years later we have had some success in achieving our original goals. We are gratified that so
many others are now engaged in the cause. We have created a momentum that has become a
self-sustaining and unstoppable force for change in the human habitat of the Muslim world.

And I am most pleased the principles we have established are having an impact in much of the
developed world as well. But there is still much to be done. Quality housing remains the most
essential need for societies everywhere, both in rural and urban environments.
Industrial facilities and work places are not at a level of excellence that makes them exceptional.

Rapidly expanding urban centers throughout the world lack public parks and open urban spaces.
Problems of transport, congestion and pollution have too few solutions emerging.
The growth of slums, the consequence of the relentless forces of urbanization has not stopped or
even slowed down. And although many fine examples of rural projects have been represented in
past award cycles, still there are not enough. I am also concerned that there’s too little attention
being paid to design for communities to protect residents from the effects of earthquakes, many
of them in remote, rural areas. Two million people died as a result of earthquakes in the last
century and 100,000,000 were severely affected. There are vast populations that live in seismicsensitive,
high mountain areas where we must focus attention. And the massive devastation of
the Indian Ocean tsunami has taught us a terrible lesson that the destructive power of earthquakes
can reach far beyond the initial disturbance.

It will no doubt lead to new thinking and new approaches toward seaside construction. So we are
by no means at the end of our task. To quote Churchill, “We may be at the end of the beginning.”
I hope next quarter-century of the award will contain as much innovation and surprise as the first.

To the extent that it does, it will be thanks to the many hundreds of capable individuals who
have given so generously and continue to give of their time, their knowledge and their talent.
To all of them, I’m enormously grateful. Thank you.

IVY: Thank you, Your Highness. We’ll now hear from an architect who is seated on the panel
and who happened to speak last night. His name is Charles Correa. And as a measure of his
interest in this program and of The Aga Kahn’s work, he flew from India to join us in these
proceedings over these days.

He is an Indian architect who is internationally known. He’s a planner. He’s an activist. I first
heard Charles, as many architects have, in public forums in a darkened room somewhere in the
United States. I have no idea when that occurred or where, but I remember being mesmerized
by a man who sat there with uncommon common sense.

He seemed to be able to take problems that existed in everyday life in India and translate them into
poetic structures. Not a small accomplishment. And he continues to do that today, not only in
housing for which he became extremely well known, low-cost shelter for the Third World became
something he wrote and articulated about in 1985 in a book called The New Landscape.
He’s been awarded most major prizes, including The Aga Kahn Award for Architecture in 1988,
the Praemium Imperiale, the International Union of Architects Gold Medal and RIBA’s Gold
Medal. Ladies and gentlemen, a man of uncommon common sense and poetry, Charles Correa.

CHARLES CORREA Thank you, Robert. Good evening, friends and The Aga Kahn. I think
at the outset I want to try to establish something. It’s this: that the award, The Aga Kahn Award
for Architecture, is not something in another box very far away from the world in which we live,
that’s safe for me in India.

It’s very, very easy to relate to the issues. One of the issues which we were talking about,
which His Highness just spoke about, is architecture as design, architecture as development,
architecture as identity. Architecture is not neutral. It’s not even politically neutral.
You know, you quote Churchill. Churchill said something else. I hate to quote Churchill, but I
must say this. He said… I don’t know how we are quoting Churchill but anyway… Maybe it’s
the room that makes us quote Churchill. Anyway, he said, “We build our buildings and then our
buildings build us.” That’s a profound statement. We have to be careful of what we build because
it’s going to affect the people who live in it. Now that’s something I can relate to in India. It
becomes, really, the central concern I would think of the awards. I think it’s something which
you in America can relate to.

Aren’t you concerned about what’s happening to your environment? If I jump back to an
architect like Frank Lloyd Wright whom, of course, Professor Scully has written much about,
it’s amazing what Wright did. He faced exactly the same issue. How do you invent the way
Americans are going to live for a whole century?

Whenever I go to Chicago, I go to Oak Park and if ever I saw a brave new world, it’s Oak Park.
It’s a whole century ahead of a young country and young self-made millionaires and Wright
showed them the way. That’s what this award is about. He built buildings which built Americans
differently than they were built by Stanford White who made them like Europeans. No, he made
them Americans the way Whitman made American poetry. It’s not such an unusual challenge.
It’s not just an exotic challenge which the Islamic world, poor things, face; it’s a challenge which
we all face. And that’s what I think is important about this award.

And that’s why I think I can relate to it and I think any architect or any human being relates
to it. Now how did the award get involved in these questions. And I think here there are two
things. First of all, I think right from the beginning, for some reason, Your Highness, you
insisted that it should be not for a lifetime’s work but for individual buildings.

And yesterday we discussed this a bit. That was a profound decision. And it’s what makes it different from all the other major awards which are given in a more, what should I say, more
generic. You can just say, “This is a very wonderful architect and he deserves this gold medal.”
No, in this award you have to look at the building. You have to know why you are giving it
this award. You have to ask questions about it. What are the issues exactly? So in asking those
questions, it’s exactly what Frank Lloyd Wright, what Louis Sullivan and all went through.

You question what you build. You question why you think it is valuable. And I think this is
why this award continues to grow in stature and will continue to grow. And I think now
although it doesn’t really address built structures in the west so much, I don’t think any
building in the Western hemisphere has been awarded.

Except in Paris there was the Monde Arabe. There have been buildings. But in spite of that, I
think it has tremendous relevance to these issues because of the parallel it has. Now anyway, in
trying to find these issues the award then had to learn what people who lived in these parts of
the world were concerned about.

And there have been a whole series of seminars started which took on a life of their own. And,
again, I think what is unusual about this award (and it’s very much thanks to His Highness) is that
whenever you’re thinking about something, a possibility opens up like a door at the other end of the
room and you don’t know if you’ve got the courage to walk through that door because you know
you’re gonna find yourself like Alice in Wonderland in another room with another door.
You know? And that’s how I think this grew. Because there was the courage and the integrity to
know that if we have to go there, we go there. So through these seminars, which were remarkable
(it started in the late ‘70s and the ‘80s and still goes on) a whole lot of people in different parts
of the world, starting with the Islamic world but now it’s spread elsewhere, would meet and
discuss what they thought concerned them.

And these were all people who were doers. They were architects but there were lots of other
people who were social workers, social scientists. And the issues which came up as His Highness
just said were quite staggering. People were concerned not only with architecture and the
metaphysics of building, but also with issues of urbanization, issues of squatter housing.
These are very big issues. And the award had to decide, “Is it going to go into that room, into
that area.” Because when you go into these fields, you will find that the problem of housing is
huge and intense, but the solutions—the perfect solutions—do not yet exist.

What exists is what I think Louis Kahn used to call “The First Axe.” For someone who
understood, an axe is not just a stick with a sharp edge, you have to have a stone and a lever
arm. So the award realized that we have to look at… How do I put it? It’s like you can reward
the finest fruit at the top of the tree, but you can also realize the importance of new roots which
one day will bear fruit. Now that’s very remarkable for an award. And that’s how the award could
proceed into all the squatter settlement/resettlement programs, etc.

And it’s very unusual for a major award to stick its neck out, I mean, to go where no award has
dared to go kind of thing. And none of them do it. They play it very safe. But we realize that,
again, with the encouragement and energy of His Highness, we went into these areas.
And when I say, “we,” I meant the whole series of Steering Committees and Master Juries which
have involved, as he said, hundreds of people right across our profession. And I think to that
extent it has changed our profession. It has had a big influence.
And so I was going to say that really, in a way, the whole experience of what I participated in
was really a journey into darkness. You had to have the enormous faith that it was going to work.
And I’m so happy and proud for His Highness’ sake that it has worked. That in less than three
decades all this has been accomplished in the field of the built environment and also, yesterday
as we heard from Wolfensohn, in the field of human development. Thank you.
IVY: And now we transform this collegiate stage in front of all of you into a more intimate
setting in which we are going to engage in conversation. And I think to add to this conversation
we have another member of our panel. Martin Filler. You know, facts are everywhere today.
Data’s cheap. Opinions are a dime a dozen. But an informed opinion is worth any price.
And Martin Filler provides the world with informed opinions. He is an architecture critic par
excellence who will tell us what he thinks. He has done that for the New Republic, for House and
Garden for 20 years. And he’s also contributed to the New York Review of Books regularly. You
may have been to a museum show that he has guest curated, seen a film he has made, or heard
one of his lectures. He’s one of three living Americans in the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences as an architecture critic. Martin, welcome.


IVY: Your Highness, Charles. We have things not to solve but to explore here this evening.
And, Your Highness, I must begin with you. Rarely would we have a chance to chat in public
like this. You eloquently described many of your programs and your hopes, but we find ourselves
in a period, I think, internationally, where government is retreating from the social sphere.
In this country that is true. We’ve seen it in Russia as well. Large countries, small countries.

And there’s been a return to sort of the individual—the rational individual—as someone who
can manage their own affairs and their own lives.

You represent a large religious community scattered throughout the world. And I’m interested
in your perspective on how architecture can work, how your programs can interact through a
program that is non-governmental. What is the interrelationship, if you will, of this large and vast network of programs that you have and government today?

THE AGA KHAN: I’m not sure that there’s an interrelationship with a government as a government.
I think the interrelationship is with the entities of civil society. And I think it’s the
entities of civil society which are going to be the carriers of change in the years ahead.
In fact, this program is attempting to invest in the carriers of civil society. It’s in education, it’s
in community organizations, it’s in financing agencies, it’s affecting the pillars of civil society, I
think, which will become the anchors of change.
IVY: So rather than relying on your own abilities, you are transforming communities and aspects
within communities worldwide? And those changes are then broadening out?
THE AGA KHAN: Yes. We are trying to assist organizations of civil society to set new
standards, to look at cultural history, to look at proper use of resources, to look at what people
are looking for from their buildings, because you made the point yourself that the ultimate
validation of a building is the way in which it is used and appreciated by its users.
IVY: Uh huh. Vince Scully mentioned that we’re in a perilous moment in the world. We’ve had
natural disaster, political turmoil, we find ourselves at war. It’s a moment that’s fraught with great
danger in a sense and a very serious one. And yet we’re looking at architecture, we’re examining
architecture, we’ve just emerged from the emergency in India. Well, just informationally, is your
organization engaged? These are communities that you serve. In what ways and how?

THE AGA KHAN: We’re engaged in a number of situations. We’re engaged in post-conflict
situations such as in Afghanistan; we’re engaged in situations where directed economies are
becoming liberalized economies; we’re engaged in a new development capacity, particularly in
areas such as micro-credit.

So we’re engaged in a number of areas which are impacting the quality of life and the way
change occurs. And we’re looking at countries in the developing world which are exploring new
forms of government. But exploring new forms of government alone could be a perilous exercise.
And that’s why there is such necessity to build human capacity, to underwrite the processes of
change. And that’s what I mean by civil societies.

IVY: With the awards themselves, let’s broaden this to the group now and talk about The Aga
Khan Award for Architecture. I think we’re all admirers of the program. That is a given. But is it
possible to characterize these projects collectively?

And I throw this to the group. Charles, Martin, as well as Your Highness, is it possible to
characterize these as a group? They seem remarkably disparate in scale, scope, type. Charles,
what’s your opinion of them as a…

CORREA: I would think that’s actually a virtue because it is a pluralistic world we live in.
Architecture addresses many things – technology; it addresses history. But it addresses
aspirations. You know? And people have different aspirations and I think you get a great variety
of architectural projects, of planning, of housing. And I think that’s very good that we don’t have
a kind of approved style. I mean, obviously, you wouldn’t want to do that.

IVY: In thinking about that, I think as a journalist, there’s this group that is quite varied in its
scale and scope. Martin, from your perspective as a journalist writing about and thinking about
these projects, I’d be interested in your perspective on them as a group. What strikes you about
the program or the group of projects?

FILLER: Well, I think it’s the very diversity of the awards that I find so encouraging. Alfred Barr,
the Founding Director of the Museum of Modern Art once said, “That if 10 percent of the works he
picked for the permanent collection of the museum stood the test of time, he was ahead of the game.”

And I must say, looking back over almost three decades of The Aga Kahn Architectural Award,
the percentage is vastly superior to that. Inevitably, any critic will look at any year’s prizes and
say, “Well, how could they have given it to that and not to this one.” Quite frankly, in the last
cycle there were some of us who felt we could really not see perhaps the justification for the
Petronas Towers.

But this particularly has to do with Islamic architecture. Be that as it may, even if one looks at a very
well-known cultural award such as the Nobel Prize in Literature, you look over a century of awards
and you think more in terms of who is missing from that list than who was included in it.
The other thing that I think is so extraordinary about the awards, and I think it parallels The

Aga Khan’s own very strong personal belief of avoiding a cult of personality around himself, in
that this is an award not going to star international architects, but to projects honoring, in many
cases, patrons, the architects of course, and the communities who represent them.

And I think this is running counter to a cultural phenomenon of out of control international celebrity.
I’ve written very caustically about my opinions about the Pritzker Prize, by far the most celebrated of
the architectural awards, which to me seems to be confirming the obvious in many cases.

And it’s quite interesting to me that in the late 1970s, just about at the point The Aga Khan
board was being founded, the Pritzker gave its very first award to the man who they said we must give it to because we must establish credibility for this award. Unless we give it to this man,
no one will believe we’re serious.

And it turned out to be Philip Johnson. And I think looking back now that seems rather
shocking given the subsequent history of architecture. So I think in a way it might be easier
for lazy journalists to publicize star or celebrity architects. The dumbing down of architectural
discourse, the sound byte, the quick news image feeds into that.
It’s not easy to summarize the accomplishments of this award. But once one has a few hundred
words extra in your column, I think it’s quite easy to explain it.

IVY: Well, it is an interesting thought because every project has a story. And they’re not chosen
simply for their formal characteristics, which most awards programs recognize, which often
are based on rather superficial or quick takes by a jury. There’s this tri-annual, three-year, very
careful appraisal. But it seems that everyone has a story. And I’m interested, Your Highness, in
your own interaction with the juries and how actively you are engaged. I’ve heard you talk about
this but I think they’d like to know how much or little do you know about what is going on as
these stories are unfolding over a three year period.

THE AGA KHAN: Well, let me get back, first of all, to why the award has got such a variety of
projects which it looks at. When the award was founded, the question was asked, “What are the
processes of change and who is being affected by the processes of change?” And the decision was
taken, I think, correctly, to say that the award wanted to cover the widest spectrum of processes
of change in the developing world.

And the processes of change are not restricted to the wealthy. They’re not restricted to architectbuilt
buildings. They’re not restricted to urban environments. The majority of the population
in many of these countries is rural. Therefore, we took the decision that if the award wanted to
impact the processes of change, then it had to have the opportunity and the ability to make
decisions on all these different levels of activity.

And this was a decision that was taken after considerable discussion. And I hope and believe
time will show that it has been correct. With regard to my own involvement, yes, I’m involved
but the jury is totally independent. The relationship between the Steering Committee and the
jury is a very interesting one because the Steering Committee has a three year mandate. The jury
comes in every three years and looks at what’s happening. And this interrelationship between
the continuum of involvement of the Steering Committee and the one-time analysis of the jury
keeps the award very much up to date and on its feet. So in a sense, I’m involved with the
Steering Committee. I’m involved with obviously knowing who the jury members are. But
I’m told about their decisions at the same time as everybody else. For good or less good.

IVY: For good or ill. This year there were seven winners and just to reprise for the group they
included the Grand Library at Alexandria in Egypt (which is a bold, new building, very contemporary,
very strong, powerful, formal and also theoretical); a primary school in Gando which was
a modest school that I think sort of caught people’s imaginations with its own formal story and
its human story; a sandbag shelter prototype building that could be built in a number of locales;
restoration of a mosque; revitalization of the old city of Jerusalem; a very powerful house for two
brothers in Turkey; and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
This is a diverse group. You say pluralistic, this defines that in architectural terms, let us say.
Charles, among those—is there a particular project among those that you think summarizes
ideas that you have, understandings that you’ve seen over the years about this program?

CORREA: Well, luckily, I wasn’t on the jury this year so I don’t have to justify what they did.
But I’d like to ask you a question, Robert. You know what? The point that I was trying to make
was that what’s important about this award is how relevant it is to so many societies around the
world, including this one right here, and I’d you to comment on that if I may ask you, and
Martin too.
I mean, supposing we had the equivalent in America. I think just now that you said… I forgot
exactly what you said.
Now I forgot what I was saying. Anyway… [Ha, ha, ha, ha]

IVY: The relevance for our society.

CORREA: The relevance for your society. And you have different income groups, you’ve got
different lifestyles. And some of them have wonderful ideas but they get lost in the shuffle
because of all the media, the superstar thing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had someone
here in this country, in this society, or we had someone in India…

And there are people here. There are the MacArthur Awards which I suppose do draw a big
net and find the best people. It seems to me that we all need this. We all need to understand
the nature of change, the vital role of architecture as an agent of change, as a catalyst because it
touches on all these things.

It’s much more than just the brick, than the mortar we see. It’s the passion and it’s all the
implication, the culture, etc. I would think that’s what I find interesting about the award. It’s
not something that’s happening in a kind of Disneyland which is exotic and worth watching
and commenting on.

It’s something which you can passionately connect with where we live.

IVY: I think that part of the attraction for me personally… You asked… You’re turning the
tables here on the moderator and that’s okay. But is that, yes, I knew, for instance, about several
of these projects. In fact, they had been published in the pages of our magazine.
We had written extensively about the Library of Alexandria and the Petronas Towers, for
instance. However, I had never seen the primary school in Gando, nor met the architect who
had designed that school. And I happen to be from the poorest State of the United States by
birth, Mississippi, which faces, if not analogous situations, very strong challenges there. And I
saw what this individual faced and I was moved by it, but also informed and encouraged in the
sense that real architecture could change someone’s life in a small town. That’s a basic and
fundamental story. The challenge there, I think, is the tree falling in the forest. And that is
The Aga Khan Awards, now through their… How many years is this, Your Highness? Is this…

THE AGA KHAN: Twenty-eight.

IVY: …have built up a reputation that does attract media attention. But the communication
of the ideas is part of the challenge. It isn’t merely that the award is excellent; it’s how are those
ideas conveyed and how are they perceived. Martin?

FILLER:Well, the other thing that I think is important to stress about The Aga Kahn Awards
is that they do not look at architecture as an isolated aesthetic phenomenon. Not only are the
awards given very diversely to contemporary design, to urban planning, to historic preservation,
but they’re part of the larger Aga Kahn Network in which architecture, as it correctly should for
all of those who believe in the sociological approach to architecture of Lewis Mumford, is part
of an economic, political and social fabric of society.

And I think one of the things that makes so much contemporary architecture so shallow is that
it is focused so thinly on style. And, yes, there has been a breakdown of the great architectural
patrons of the past. The state is no longer doing that except perhaps in France.

But, you know, the great patrons of the Renaissance, of the period of new classicism do not exist
in the same way, to say nothing with what you were mentioning about the retreat of the state
worldwide through social issues.

So I think by seeing and promoting the idea of architecture as something integrated into larger social
developments, that you can’t have architecture without education, you can’t have education without
healthcare, you can’t have healthcare without architecture. It becomes a unified sense of architecture
and, therefore, the works that emerge from that point of view, I think, are more resonant.

Yes, we want beauty, we want things that are attractive and are aesthetically pleasing, but not to
have that as the final goal of architecture.

IVY: Your Highness, in a previous conversation you mentioned your initial foray into the world
of design and the design process, and that it led you (and I think still leads you, in fact, as an
observer) into inquiry. You seem to be always asking questions yourself.
What are the questions you are asking today? What are the questions we should be asking today?
What are the relevant questions that continue to confront you and that you confront others with?

THE AGA KHAN: Right. I think from the awards point of view the inquiry processes have
not been able to cover all categories of building. And that, in itself, is a source of concern.

Let’s keep in mind that the economies of these countries are changing. As they change, more
and more development—physical development—will occur under private initiative, corporation
initiative, single initiative.

And I am concerned that those processes of change should be analyzed and validated so that
workplaces become places of quality. That’s not the case at the present time. So industrial
buildings, commercial buildings are categories, types of buildings which we, I think, need to
do a lot more work on.

Public space. There’s enormous pressure in these cities on public space. And, yet, it seems to
me that by tradition the Islamic world has premiated public space. It’s been an area of real
importance. And I would like to see more of that occurring. So I think that in looking to the
future there are two areas of concern.

One is a critical mass of knowledge of good buildings in rural environments, for example,
so that we can say 10, 15, 20 years from now we understand the processes have changed in the
rural environment and we have enough information to share with rural communities so that we
can help them improve those processes of change.

And then, of course, there’s the economic issue of industry, commercial buildings and housing,
frankly. Housing in-fill is a major problem in our part of the world.

IVY: I want to take those up separately and distinctly, perhaps, in a moment. Let’s just take the
issue of housing, for instance. Charles, you face in India, for instance, a burgeoning population
that will soon be the world’s largest. What is the role of architecture and how is it addressing
sort of this immense growth that is occurring right under your nose?

CORREA: You know, it’s a huge problem. I don’t think it’s an architectural one necessarily though.
Architects are absolutely part of the solution. I mean, we have to bring such skills as we have of
organizing space and layouts, what have you. But the reason we have such a terrible shortage of
housing in the Third World is that with the distress migration from the villages—and this goes for
Rio de Janeiro, for Brazil, it goes for Indonesia, for India, etc., although we knew that the
population—the urban populations—would grow, we did not increase the supply of urban land.
So people became squatters. And so the solution goes way beyond designing a house for someone.
In fact, I always feel it’s kind of insulting, you know, like if there’s a famine in India and then
I run around writing cookbooks telling people, “This is how you…,” you know, it implies
they’re starving because they don’t know how to cook. They’re starving because it’s a game on
which I’m on the winning side and they’re on the losing side.

And that’s true of housing too. So it seems to me that if you really want to do something about
housing, and that’s what we’re trying to do even in Bombay, you’ve got to increase the supply
of urban land on a scale commensurate. And we’re trying to do that with a big land in the center
of the city which is being changed.

Now when I say “urban land,” it’s land which has jobs or access to public transport. People are
coming to the cities not for housing. They’ve got houses. But they’re coming for jobs. And where
those jobs are located, how you generate them, how you tie them back in a city like Bombay,
which I think you saw, it’s a long linear thing.

You’ve got a railway system which goes up; they’re really going up north. But people started
to live around the railway stations. And that’s how Bombay still works. People can jump on a
train and go up and down. It’s like Bogotá. Now if you subsidize the train, you are indirectly
subsidizing housing. You understand? You make the housing affordable. So it’s things like that
that open up land. So architects are part of this. We should all help with the solution, but the
real thing is this business at least of opening up the structures of our cities.
We’ve been very lazy about that. You know, here in this country this sentence of “Go west,
young man” is the most politically profound statement of all because it really says, “Don’t hang
around this place. Use space as a resource.” And we haven’t done that enough. That’s why you
get squatters in these cities, in Rio de Janeiro.

IVY: But this gets to one of those fundamental questions about housing and gets back to the
program in a sense because housing, we know, confronts the contemporary civilization at the
economic, the social, as well as the areas that directly affect architecture planning and so forth.
The program engages a number of those things that you’ve described, for instance, job creation,
I would assume, through Historic Cities Program. Could you comment on that, how you see
this interplay affecting ultimately something as discreet as architecture?

THE AGA KHAN: Well, I would start by saying that I still think there’s a significant
disequilibrium between quality of life in rural environments in many of these countries and
the perceived quality of life of urban environments. And unless there’s a better equilibrium
which is built into the development processes, we’re not gonna see urbanization slow.
And I don’t think it can be stopped, but I think it can be slowed by better balancing between
the two environments. The second thing is that the Historic Cities traditionally have been transit
spaces for newly urbanized populations. And, therefore, they are very often the very poor coming
from the countryside going through historic spaces that are degraded by the process of changing
hands every two, three, four years.

And I think what we found is that if you invest in those cultural spaces, you can actually
turn them into economic generators. And when you turn them into economic generators,
you stabilize the population that is in them and you stabilize the value of the cultural asset.
Now that does sometimes mean you have to reutilize the cultural asset for different purposes and
that’s sometimes sensitive. But certainly in areas like Cairo and, I think, Kabul, we are finding
that we can, through investment in these cultural environments bring a totally new economic
context to, in the case of Cairo, 200,000 people.

So these cultural liabilities become cultural assets and economic assets if you invest in them.
The most well-known of these, I think, was Musta—and Musta was the case study situation which
taught everybody else that you actually can convert these cultural liabilities into cultural assets.
Now it’s quantifiable. That’s what’s interesting about it. It’s not that you can’t measure the
improvements in longevity, access to education, disposable incomes and all those issues.

IVY: Martin, this is not the way we normally talk about architecture.

FILLER: More is the pity.

FILLER: No. I was very pleased this summer to have attended the rededication of the Musta
Bridge in which The Aga Kahn Foundation, along with World Bank and World Heritage, helped
restore the famous 16th Century bridge, the marvel of pre-modern span masonry engineering.
Now what interested me as a journalist to go there, because the very oversimplified story is
the bridge symbolizes the Muslim and Christian in this war-torn section. And it was almost
a cartoon-like oversimplification thing. When you go there you see still that the terrible social
divisions that exist there. That this is not a quick and easy fix. That it’s going to take, you know,
many, many years of concerted economic development. And the mere fact that there was such a
mass migration of the populations there during the war to all parts of the world (to Scandinavia to Texas and the United States a large Musta community)—people who will probably never
return there. Who will replace those people? What will be the industries that will replace the
light industries that were the major source of employment, that were destroyed? These are many
things that tend not to get covered in the general press coverage.

I mean, when we’re talking about the oversimplification of architectural criticism, you just look at
the kind of newspaper coverage of the aftermath of the war and Musta itself. What was wonderful,
though, was to see the painstaking quality with which the restoration around the bridge took place.

What The Aga Kahn Foundation did wasn’t just to do the bridge which, in fact, I think, was
largely an effort of World Bank, which, by the way, departed from its traditional format of doing
dams and other kinds of infrastructure and deemed this, thanks to Jim Wolfensohn, a special
case. It was restoration but it was also a bridge, so they could get it in under the rubric. But to
see what was being done in the areas around the bridge where the historic structures, which will
become restaurants, shops, all employers to help revitalize tourism. Coaches that come now on
day trips from the Dalmatian Coast with tourists now will be encouraged to stay overnight to
pour some more money back into the local economy.

And this isn’t a solution for revitalizing the entire town but it’s the fact that The Aga Kahn
Foundation is looking at the whole context, and, by the way, restoring those historic, if not
architecturally masterful buildings in the immediate environment, with the care and precision
that they would a masterpiece of Islamic architecture.

IVY: All that gets to another point that you raised earlier and that is the level of contemporary
debate and discussion; in fact, the other awards programs, tend to focus on relatively simplistic
ideas. Style, for instance, which seems to be the word in coinage right now.
There’s even been a book written called The Substance of Style in which style has its own value
and its own validity. Yet, these awards clearly, as you’ve demonstrated, engage something deeper.
Charles, what is the relevance of a word like “style” in a, say, East Asia or in Asia?
What place does that rather ephemeral sounding word have in a place where needs are great and
the populations are changing?

CORREA: No, I think to design or to create something elegant is a reward in itself. I mean,
just because people are poor, they don’t have to lead ugly lives. In fact, the irony is that some
of the poorest societies in the world produce the most beautiful handicrafts, as you know.
Mexico right next to you, Nepal, India, other places. I don’t think they live with ugly things.
I think in spite of that, you know, they do very well. So I think there is style there. I think what
I was saying about housing, I’d just like to return to that, is that I was talking about squatters.

When it comes to housing for people who can afford, let’s say, a three or four story building,
which means (I’m not talking about a huge building), that’s really the middle class. And I’m very
happy to see that all over the Third World, including the Islamic world, there’s a lot of effort
made by architects to deal with housing.

And that’s gone out of some of the best. Certainly gone out of America—North America. And that’s
a great shame, I think, Robert. The whole modern movement, as you know, was fueled by the issue
of housing. Everybody, whether it was the futurist, what have you… And it gave the energy now.
So, first of all, there was an idealism. Now today the most important buildings are museums and
airports. These are two buildings which are totally culture free. They are green field buildings.
They’re unconnected with society. Housing is something developers do despite that.
That’s very sad. When you design housing… It seems to me when you design a—and I’m not
against museums and airports,I think it’s wonderful—but we must recognize it’s like producing a
beautiful world. It exists in isolation. Housing is connecting worlds because housing means syntax.

It’s a completely different process. It’s the ability to connect things. And, therefore, it informs the
rest of your work. In your office if you’re doing some housing, it’s gonna change the way you
design that museum. And the other way around too.

So I think it’s very sad that practices of architecture which have this big range have have
gradually become very much about this one special object, it seems to me. And that has a huge
implication in this part of the world.

But not in India and not in most of the Muslim world, not in China, where in schools of
architecture they teach a lot of courses about housing. But it’s really what I would call middleclass
housing. It’s housing which people can afford, really walk-up apartments and stuff like that.

IVY: So housing is an area that’s ripe for the awards focus?

THE AGA KHAN: Yes. Very much so.

IVY: And other areas that you want to see covered or premiated through this process?

THE AGA KHAN: Housing certainly, workplaces…

THE AGA KHAN: Industrial buildings. I think commercial buildings, office buildings are an
area that we will need to be looking at also.

CORREA: I understand. I wonder if I could add one, and that is something which we might
call “urban coherence” or “urban form.” What I find dismaying about India and about much of
the world is that our cities are getting uglier and uglier. And people adapt to that. They don’t
seem to notice. You know? And that’s really scary because people are learning to live with very
ugly things. Buildings are built meaninglessly. And we have to build up some sort of, how to say,
coherent way of relating those words of language. Yes.

IVY: And speaking of language, there are a number of words that form a sort of lexicon that
surround this program that I’ve plucked here and there from a number of the publications and
the conversations that we’ve had. Pluralism is one. Context is another.
The disparity of urban and rural cultures is another. Your Highness, what about this word
“pluralism?” That seems to mean a great deal to you and something that you care very much
about and that you discuss. Could you talk to us about what that particular word means to
you in the context of architecture?

THE AGA KHAN: Yes. Yes. Well, I think the nature of the Muslim world is pluralist. It’s
pluralist in terms of its civilization, it’s pluralist in terms of its language—languages, it’s pluralist
in terms of its physical environment. And it seems to me that the cultures that have developed
in the history of the Islamic world are cultures that deserve to be respected and not washed aside
by some normalizing process.

And, therefore, keeping value to historical continuity is an issue which the award, I think,
has felt was important. And, therefore, this notion of pluralism is really a notion of respect for
cultural identities in a pluralist form. That’s the notion of pluralism in this environment.

IVY: And it’s played out in the very diversity of the choices that we saw on the screen tonight
and that have been celebrated in the awards themselves. Another word is context. That seems to
be a word that arises. It’s been, obviously, in coinage, in favor for a decade. But here, context…
What does context mean to you today?

FILLER: Well, it’s interesting to me that at the time the award was founded in the late 1970s,
it was this sort of high water mark of this idea of contextualism that was rising up in reaction
against the governing of the international style which was imposing a very bland universal approach to architecture in all kinds of places, without regard for local building traditions and,
even worse, local environmental conditions where I think a real complaint could be made.

And there are fashions… We’re talking about styles in architecture, but there are fashions in
architecture as well. And the pendulum has swung in recent years away from the idea of contextualism
which often could get very literal in terms of vernacular, and the worst kind of toy town
dramatic architecture. Now swinging completely away from that towards the dominance of
theory in the architecture schools and in architectural practice which, in general, I would
characterize as an imposition of certain intellectual constructs that completely ignore the artifact,
that completely ignore the object and the visual aspects of the art form.
I would hate to see some of the very important affirmations of context that the award defined
in its early years, certainly with awards such as the Masters Awards particularly to Hassan Fathy
and to the Jeffrey Bawa. And to move in another direction, I know there’s always the fear we
want the award to keep up with the times.

We want it to reflect current developments. We want to encourage younger architects to
submit and to make their work available to us. But I think that idea of context, especially in
the Islamic world where there are very, very sound reasons for the way building forms emerged,
very practical, very environmentally intelligent and sustainable ecologically, that would be
disastrous if they were lost if the pendulum goes too far in the opposite direction.

IVY: Let me bring one final question to the group because the hour is drawing on. And this is
a word that is much reviled in contemporary discussion, and the word is “beauty.” It’s one that’s
whispered among lovers perhaps. But I think it has formed a component of Islamic architecture.
I’m interested in the group’s perspective of that word. You said it’s an important part of the life
of regular people. So, what is its place in contemporary society, this word?

CORREA: Well, that I don’t but let’s say in the architect’s life it’s very, very important. It’s what
motivates you to design. But in that process you realize that there are other issues involved of
development, etc. But you certainly would like to do something which is very—which is very
elegant, very beautiful. And there’re so many examples of it. I think Hussein Fatti’s work is a
great example where just using mud he made things of absolutely ephemeral beauty, just the
most beautiful things.

IVY: Your Highness, what works of Islamic architecture move you? What do you love?

THE AGA KHAN: That’s a difficult question to answer. But there are many buildings and many public spaces which I find very, very powerful. Today, the absence of public spaces in the
Islamic world is something of major concern to me. And, Charles, you were talking about city

I think we are, generally speaking, in the Islamic world still very weak on landscape architecture
and planning. We will need to do a lot more there. A number of architectural schools actually
are linked to schools of engineering. And that, in itself, tends to bring a form of architecture
which may not necessarily be what we would be looking for.

I’m not criticizing that, but I’m saying what used to be a great strength in Islamic design seems to
have disappeared. And one of the issues that we’re trying to develop now is to restore value to these
traditional forms, and keep in mind that these materials in these forms are not without meaning.
In many, many cases they’re symbols, symbols of interpretation of the faith, symbols of viewing
of the future and so on and so forth. So I think it’s very important that this notion of beauty
should be respected and developed. Now taste changes so I think we have to be careful not to try
to take the sense of taste of the past and stick it on an airport or stick it on a modern building.
I mean, I think we have to live in our time and live in the future also. And that’s why the award
has been very careful and, in fact, the Master Juries have watched this, never to ignore modern
building. In all the award cycles that I can recollect there has always been a modern building
which has been premiated, dealing with modern issues.

IVY: Well, with that final remark I think the panel has concluded its work for the evening.
Thank you both, thank you, Your Highness. And, Mr. Rynd, the evening goes back to you.

RYND: Your Highness, thank you again for honoring us with your presence and your wisdom.
It’s been a wonderful evening for all of us. Mr. Filler, Mr. Correa, Mr. Ivy, thank you for such an
engaging dialogue. It was really quite wonderful. Thank you so much.

And thank all of you for joining us here this evening for this extraordinary program. Now this
does conclude our evening’s program, but I would ask you for your cooperation, and please
remain seated while His Highness departs the National Building Museum. Thank you for being
here. Have a wonderful evening. Good night.

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