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Speech by His Highness The Aga Khan at the Hadrian Award Ceremony 1996-10-25

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Event - 1996-10-25
Friday, 1996, October 25

The Plaza Hotel

Hazar Imam with David Rockefeller at the 1996 Hadrian Awards Presentation  1996-10-25
Aga Khan IV (H.H. Prince Karim)

The Plaza Hotel, New York
October 25, 1996

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,

This is a very special time for Me. I am honoured to have been selected as this year's Hadrian Award winner by the World Monuments Fund, and therefore to be associated with its admirable work and its previous distinguished winners. I express My warm thanks to David Rockefeller for his generous introductory words. He, his family, and his philanthropic organisations have been close to My family, Our work, and Me, for many years. I admire them for their consistent and exemplary commitment to world issues, and their vigorous engagement with inter-cultural dialogue, a dialogue which is more important now than ever.

I am most grateful to Mrs. Buckley and Michel David-Weill for serving as the co-Chairpersons of this event. One of the world's leading patrons and collectors of art, Michel David-Weill is to be emulated for his enormously generous, but also discreet, support for the cultural heritage of humankind. I am grateful to Mrs. Buckley for giving her time and energy in organising this event. I pay tribute to Dr. Marilyn Perry and Ms. Bonnie Burnham for their inspiring dedication to the World Monuments Fund.

I am honoured by the kind words of Secretary Vance, a man of many accomplishments, and above all, a dedicated peacemaker. Our troubled world is in great need of peacemakers.

While preparing these brief comments, I felt I should do some homework on Emperor Hadrian, after whom this award is named. In doing so, I came across an article by the late Charles Moore which perhaps better illustrates Hadrian's significance to the World Monuments Fund than does his biography. Not only was Charles Moore one of the greatest architects and educators of his time, but between 1982 and 1983 he was a member of the Master Jury of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, and then served on its Steering Committee for three years, from 1989 to 1992. Writing about Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli, Charles Moore begins: "Ancient Romans are forever trotted out as worthy of our attention because they were, for ancients, so incredibly American - Hadrian, to be sure, is something of an enigma - but the size of his undertakings, the avidity of his search for culture, and the gold-plated quality of his success at finding it are nothing short of Texan."

This statement led Me to wonder what Hadrian, or his villa, might possibly have to do with Islamic architecture and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. As I read on, however, the World Monuments Fund's wisdom in naming the award after Hadrian became apparent. Indeed, it would be difficult to find another name so versatile, another historical figure so artistically eclectic and open-minded as he. In his article, Moore describes Hadrian's Villa and its predominant themes in terms surprisingly evocative of many of the distinguishing principles of Islamic architecture. He says: "Hadrian - collected art from Egypt and the East - and at Tivoli created representations of celebrated buildings and localities which had impressed him on his extensive travels." Behind the layout and design of the Hadrian Villa - is the search for order in geometry, circles and squares, and a riot of combinations of the two are the ordering devices which bring unity and continuity to the vast establishment; - to animate the spaces - would have been a rush and splash of flowing water which was everywhere. It is - almost impossible even to surmise what special delights each fountain offered. Did some of them bubble, or jet up - or splash in pretty rivulets, and did some quietly moisten mosaics, or lie still and mysterious, in deep pools? -There would have been alternate pools of light and shade, so that moving from one area to another would begin to be an ordered experience in time. The sight and sound of the water, and its flow, must have contributed even more to - bringing some coherence into the passage from space to space." And he goes on, "much of the excitement of the spaces, in fact, came from slight changes of level between them." Moore concludes that the Tivoli hill is, "devoted to the primacy of form and a serious game of space, a game based on the subtlest permutations of the possibilities inherent in a circle and a square, and transforming with a circle and a square the objects and impressions of a whole world."

It is to Me utterly striking how many of the unique architectural qualities so eloquently illustrated by Charles Moore could, if quoted out of context, have referred to a whole host of the Islamic world's most magnificent monuments. In effect, Hadrian's Villa comprises much of the iconography of the most important Islamic buildings around the world, and which has been shared by some 1,400 years of Islamic architectural heritage.

But like Hadrian's Villa, Islamic architecture as an art has not escaped the wear of time. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture's goal is stop this decay, to renovate not just the Baltit Fort in Hunza, or the Old Stone Town in Zanzibar, or to recreate a new park in an historic area of Cairo, but to impact, as much as possible, the entire rich and diverse Islamic architectural world. For it is not only significant, but crucial to our global cultural wealth. In this the Aga Khan Trust for Culture shares the World Monuments Fund's Mandate: "The conservation of monuments or works of art whose loss or destruction would impoverish mankind."

In the Tivoli Villa, Hadrian not only recognized but legitimized the notion of cultural pluralism in the built environment. In accepting the Hadrian Award today, I pay tribute and express My warm gratitude to the World Monuments Fund. Their decision to honour Me with this award draws attention to, and support for, the endeavours of the Islamic world to revivify its own cultural heritage.

I hope My efforts for cultural rehabilitation in Islamic societies through architecture will, due to the very diversity of their world, address such a wild spectrum of issues, covering such a large number of peoples and places, that the lessons learnt will in many cases be both universal and replicable for other societies and their inherited cultures.

Source: World Monuments Fund

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