CLOSING REMARKS AT THE NINTH SEMINAR IN THE SERIES ARCHITECTURAL TRANSFORMATIONS IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD OF THE AGA KHAN AWARD FOR ARCHITECTURE - 1984-11-15
Your Excellency the First Deputy Prime Minister, Your Excellency the Governor of Cairo, Distinguished guests
The Award's ninth seminar has now ended after a series of memorable discussions and I would like to pay tribute to all those concerned in the Egyptian Government, and especially His Excellency the Prime Minister, His Excellency the Minister of Culture and His Excellency the Governor of Cairo, for the warmth of the hospitality we have received here in Cairo and for the efforts made towards the success of our meetings and our site visits. I must also thank all those local participants from a wide variety of organisations who have contributed so much to our deliberations by giving us first hand impressions of both achievements and problems of this great city. Additionally, we have benefited from the interesting pictorial exhibitions arranged by Cairo University's Graduate Programme for Architecture and its Regional Planning Institute and also by the Harvard University Graduate School for Design.
Amongst the strongest impressions I have had of this seminar, is of the very high level of the papers presented and the discussions that took place. Any seminar, such as those organised by the Aga Khan Award, which brings together people from so many different parts of the world, demands a great deal of organization, thought, planning and time. I feel, as I am sure do others, that this effort has been rewarded by some of the most creative and thought-provoking sessions we have held so far, and everyone connected with the Award must feel grateful for that.
I applaud the strength and competence of Egypt's participation and I rejoice at the frankness and sincerity with which everyone felt free to speak. Cairo has for centuries been an outstanding centre of learning and thought and the status which has traditionally been given to intellectual activity in Egypt has, in my view, been fully confirmed by this seminar.
Everything we have heard has emphasised the clear intellectual understanding which exists here of the dimensions of the difficulties and the shortness of the timescale within which solutions have to be found. I do not wish to speak on issues which others have already addressed with greater competence than I could. There are however some points which I feel deserve underlining.
From its inception the Award has refused to view architecture and its imprint on society as being the exclusive province of the architectural profession itself. We all know that a large number of other forces have an impact on our built environment. This is why we have thought it appropriate to invite participants to our seminars who represent other agents of change including those which finance development.
As a matter of policy I think it is wrong for government to be held exclusively responsible for the housing of either urban or rural populations. The private sector of the economy is responsible for a substantial part of the gross national product and I believe it should play its correct part in the provision of housing and other social services in the developing world just as it does in the industrialised world.
I therefore support the idea that institutions in the financial sector should be allowed to create as many housing finance development agencies as are viable in order to harness more private sector resources for the national good.
In this regard the example of recent decisions taken in Turkey was quoted. I would add to that an example of which I am aware in India where the track record of an urban housing finance institution has been so good that the creation of a specialised agency for the financing of rural housing is being envisaged. We all know the problems which Indian agriculture has had to face. If it is realistic to envisage institutional private sector financing for rural housing there, then three conclusions are obvious.
Firstly, there is more wealth in agricultural communities than is often recognised, whether its source is easily identifiable or not.
Secondly, if Indian agricultural areas appear able to justify a viable specialised housing finance agency, could the same not be true of Egypt?
Thirdly, anything which is done to improve the quality of life in rural areas, such as the provision of housing, must contribute to stemming the flow of people from the countryside to the cities.
I therefore urge a new and pragmatic approach to the sort of problems the seminar has discussed. We should bring to bear upon these problems all the imagination and creativity possible. We should also question, as was done at the seminar, whether norms and theories developed in the West are necessarily applicable here.
With the same tools of pragmatism and imagination, I feel that we should address another issue which has arisen in a number of our previous meetings. The Islamic world is developing desirable directions in which to encourage the growth of its built environment. But while concepts are becoming clearer, the means to achieve these concepts remain extremely unclear. Many parts of our world have inherited their administrative structure from colonial times whose purpose was, at least in part, to control and sometimes to arrest initiative. These procedures are undesirable and often obsolete and today can generate an environment which disables progress. As problems develop and require resolution, the disabling environment only compounds them.
I have the feeling that issues arising from the growth of Cairo, like so many other issues we have discussed in previous seminars, could be at least partially resolved if the environment were enabling. For example, one subject which frequently arose in the past few days' discussions was that of administration, particularly of the feedback and flow of information between different authorities and between them and the many experts involved in the field of planning.
New administrative machinery cannot be introduced successfully overnight. But might not useful lessons be learnt from an experiment in introducing new methodology to one or two key areas, for instance the effect public intervention can have in guiding and stimulating individual building endeavours into directions which will support an overall plan, rather than hinder it?
By developing the Islamic world's resource base, such as its manpower, by streamlining its administrative procedures and by fully utilising its financial potential, we will create an enabling rather than a disabling environment and provide the platform for the growth we all desire. We will also have a much greater opportunity of leaving upon this environment the imprint we choose, rather than letting the diverse forces of fortune determine the outcome.
Let me conclude by wishing you all Allah's blessing, safe journeys, happiness and health.