The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture is pleased to invite applications for Fellowships with stipends and self-supported Associateships to conduct advanced historical research in Islamic art and architecture at Harvard University. AKPIA Fellowship grants are intended principally for overseas scholars—preferable, but not exclusively, from Muslim countries—to support research in art and architectural history and archaeology. Our grants are not intended to sponsor travel or design, conservation, or urban development projects.
We welcome applications both from established scholars and from recent graduates. Research projects that are publishable in Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Cultures of the Islamic World, an annual publication of the Aga Khan Program, are preferred.
AKPIA Fellows and Associates have an affiliation with Harvard University's Department of History of Art and Architecture (HAA). Our AKPIA scholars are free to pursue their own research, audit Harvard seminars, and are given access to Harvard’s extensive library system as well as the University’s museums.
Oleg Grabar’s seminal work, "The Formation of Islamic Art," is perhaps the masterpiece among his innumerable publications and remains a classic. This sophisticated and inspired work grew from his early studies on the origins of Islamic art.
The Islamic art and architecture community mourned the loss of one of the field’s most influential and insightful scholars. Oleg Grabar, professor emeritus of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, and Aga Khan Professor, Emeritus, at Harvard University, passed away at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, on January 8, 2011, at the age of eighty-one. Professor Grabar, who taught in the Harvard Department of Fine Arts (now History of Art and Architecture) for twenty-one years (1969–1990), was instrumental in founding Harvard’s Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture. There are few, if any, Islamicists who have not profited from the scholarly contributions of this extraordinary man, who was larger-than-life. He was the first Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Art at Harvard (1980–1990), and subsequently joined the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he remained active in research and publication until his second retirement in 1998, and over the following thirteen years as well. Grabar’s continuing post-retirement intellectual productivity and capacity to inspire were officially recognized when he received the Chairman’s Award from the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in Doha in 2010.
Oleg Grabar was born in Strasbourg, France, in 1929. As the son of André Grabar, the eminent historian of Byzantine art, he was raised almost from the cradle to be an art historian. Thanks to that upbringing, he harbored a special fascination with the Byzantine and late antique heritage of the Mediterranean world. This fascination extended to his explorations of early Islamic art at the beginning of his career, with seventh- to eighth-century Umayyad architecture forming the core of his scholarship, even when it broadened later on to embrace a much wider spectrum.
Grabar’s early education in France was followed by an A.B. magna cum laude in Medieval History from Harvard University in 1950. He continued his higher education at Princeton University, where he began to develop a passion for Islamic art, obtaining his M.A. (1953) and Ph.D. (1955) in Oriental Languages and Literatures and the History of Art.
In 1969, Grabar joined the Harvard faculty as Professor of Fine Arts and was the first ever to teach Islamic art at the University. Always generous to students and colleagues, he was also a thoughtful faculty member of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. His wide-ranging and substantial knowledge of the Middle East—not only its art and architecture but also its peoples, cultures, and history—gave him a magisterial perspective on possibilities for lecturers, projects, and thematic emphases for Center programs. As a teacher, he would mesmerize students with his flamboyant, exciting, and always substantive lectures. His remarkable charisma derived largely from his contagious enthusiasm for challenging intellectual problems and for the subject matter and questions he was addressing at any given time.
Grabar wrote over 20 books and more than 120 articles. He was primarily a medievalist, but his publications covered a wide range of subjects, including early Islamic architecture, the architecture of Jerusalem under Islamic rule, Arabic and Persian painting, and Islamic ornament. Among his best-known books are The Formation of Islamic Art (1973), The Illustrations of the Maqamat (1984), The Art and Architecture of Islam 650–1250 (co-authored with Richard Ettinghausen, 1987), and The Shape of the Holy: Early Islamic Jerusalem (1996).
Grabar’s seminal work, The Formation of Islamic Art, is perhaps the masterpiece among his innumerable publications and remains a classic. This sophisticated and inspired work grew from his early studies on the origins of Islamic art. In one obituary, it was judged “more a work of cultural than art history,” springing as it does “from a deeper familiarity with the thought-world of early medieval Islam than any of today’s Islamic art historians possess,” and revealing that he was “more interested in ideas and context than in the close-focus study of surface detail or indeed the objects themselves as works of art.” Grabar prided himself precisely on this methodological approach. He succinctly distinguished his approach from that of Professor Ettinghausen—the other contemporary luminary in the field, whom he admired and collaborated with in the preparation of their highly influential survey of Islamic art and architecture—in the advice he gave to one prospective graduate student: “If you wish to start with ideas and then choose relevant objects, come here to Harvard; but you should go to the Institute of Fine Arts if you prefer to move from objects to ideas.”
The global reach of Grabar’s scholarly achievements had an impact not only on his own field but far beyond as well. He had a very special talent for making Islamic art and architecture seductive to non-specialists, thereby vastly broadening the recognition of the field. He boldly posed sweeping questions about the nature, meaning, and dynamics of Islamic art at a time when very little was known about this subject. In addition to cultivating world-class advanced scholarship and research in the field of Islamic art, he asked questions that often challenged Euro-American perspectives more generally.
Grabar’s creative approaches made the field appear wide open to hugely exciting questions of cultural and social history and aesthetics, captivating the minds of generations of scholars and amateurs alike. His mental agility and nondogmatic flexibility made him an extraordinarily inspiring mentor. He would encourage graduate students to work on entirely unexplored subjects because he was deeply concerned about shaping the parameters of a field whose rapid expansion both pleased and worried him.
Grabar literally trained scores of students, many of whom went on to become leading scholars, educators, and curators around the world, particularly in the United States. He brought passion and vision to his work, and his expansive personality, generosity of spirit, collegiality, conviviality, and humor were truly infectious. Grabar’s resounding impact on expanding the scope of the Islamic field far beyond its former spatial and temporal limits will be his lasting legacy.
Oleg Grabar is greatly missed and the field will not be the same without him.
Gülru Necipoğlu, Chair
Network of African Architecture Schools Launched at Aga Khan Award for Architecture Conference
A network of African architecture schools was launched last week in Accra, Ghana, at a conference organized by ArchiAfrika in collaboration with the Aga Khan Award for Architecture and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.
"The ArchiAfrika Educational Network aims at developing excellence among the next generation professionals in the African built environment. The parties agreed that strategies to address the challenges in the African built environment should be developed from within the continent, in a cross disciplinary and cross cultural dialogue, including the excelling contemporary architects of Africa in the activities."
Through its web platform, ArchiAfrika has been actively promoting contemporary African architecture, and the formation of the network is another step forward in the growth of dialogue about architecture and urban development in Africa.
For more information, see ArchiAfrika's press release.
Image: Participants to the ArchiAfrika Educational Network Conference held on June 3rd, 2012, in Accra, Ghana. Courtesy of ArchiAfrika.
Contributed by ArchNet Administrator
In the last 50 years, architecture in the Islamic World has become both a branding instrument and a visual marker of the cultural shift in Islamic identity. Nasser Rabbat, Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, examines the re-emergence of Islamic architecture and the controversy surrounding its definition.
Sustaining Tradition or Embracing Change? Prisse d’Avennes and the Strategies of Visualizing Islamic Architecture of Cairo in French Books (1860-80)"
2016-2017 Harvard AKPIA Associate
Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University
Come for an overview of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture and its history, as well as alternative ways to evaluate the social impact of architectural projects and the symbolic dimensions of the most recent award recipients.
The panel will give insight into the jury process, award criteria, and why this cycle’s projects were recognized. They will also highlight those features of the recognized projects that the jury found the most effective in fulfilling the Award’s vision.
In Conversation with Oleg Grabar consists of three videos that, together, represent one of the last recordings made with the scholar, who received the Chairman's Award of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2010 in recognition of his lifetime contribution to the field of Islamic art and architecture. In the videos, he talks with three of his former students: Renata Holod, Glenn Lowry and Mohammad al-Asad. The discussion is moderated by Farrokh Derakhshani, Director of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
Fortieth anniversary of the first awards of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture
Posted by Nimira Dewji
Mawlana Hazar Imam presented the first awards of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture on October 23, 1980 at the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore, Pakistan.
AKAA Aga Khan award architecture
Mawlana Hazar Imam presents the Aga Khan Award for Architecture to representatives of the Kampung Improvement Programme based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo: AKDN / Christopher Little
AKAA Aga Khan award architecture
Ranjit Sabikhi (left) Indian architect and Ramesh Khosla (right), Canadian designer, posing with Mawlana Hazar Imam after receiving the Aga Khan Award for Architecture for their design of the Sheraton Mughal Hotel at Agra, India. Photo: AKDN / Christopher Little
Established in 1977 by Mawlana Hazar Imam, the Award is presented every three years, governed by a steering committee chaired by Hazar Imam. A new committee is formed for each cycle that determines the eligibility criteria for project submissions, provides thematic direction in response to emerging priorities and issues, and develops plans for the future of the Award. The steering committee is responsible for the appointment of an independent master jury for each cycle, and for the Award’s programme of international seminars, lectures, exhibitions, and publications. The master jury selects the projects that will receive the Award (AKDN).
aga khan award architecture logo
Designed by Karl Schlamminger, the logo of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture comprises the word ‘Allah’ repeated 8 times in square Kufic script. Source: (Ilm magazine, Vol 6 No 3)
“Within life’s span, there are days of special happiness, days of pride and days of humility. This is such a day for me. It represents the culmination of a vigorous effort, hope, and deep conviction that a significant change can be achieved in the environment in which Muslims live….
First, let me recall that it was here in Pakistan that the idea of this Award was made public, some four years ago. It is in part for this reason that the first recipients of the Award are gathered here to be recognised for their achievements. It is also in Pakistan that this event takes place because, located roughly in the geographical centre of Islam, Pakistan possesses some of the wonders of classical Islamic architecture, like the gardens which surrounds us, some of the most genuine vernacular tradition….
In the contemporary world, the Awards have recognised that other part, perhaps now much more important than in the past, the part of the common man creating for himself and his neighbours a setting for life and for health, preserving and utilising what nature has created, developing ways to maintain his identity rather than accepting the elephantine massiveness of so much of today’s world…
It is the expression of that social concern for thousands of separate communities within the whole Ummah which is so uniquely a central part of the Muslim message. We have recognised an architecture for men, women, and children, not yet an architecture for history books and tourists. Through architecture we are recognising the quality of life within the Muslim world today. And, by recognising a housing project developed by a whole community or a medical centre, we are preserving for all times the memory of this quality of life.
… The issue is: what architecture are we recognising? Is it the planning and design of master architects? Is it the architecture of the craftsmen, artisans, and specialists of all sorts who put a building together? Is it the architecture of users? Is it the architecture of certain lands with their peculiar physical characteristics? Is it the architecture of a faith which transcends national, geographic, social, or technological limits?…
The implication is that we are recognising as unique a creative and generative process in which the imagination of one architect or the expectation of Muslim patrons and users interact constantly. Within this continuum no single moment or decision can be isolated like the element of a chemical compound, because its creative life itself, it is the elusive process of human existence which is the winner, not merely a monument.
…the Award process itself is designed to be one of the means for this collective search. A partial failure can be as important as a unique success. It is in this spirit of common search for solutions to thousands of problems that these Awards will play their part. It is a spirit which is well proclaimed in the Muslim message, for the intention of man (the niyah) is a fundamental part of his action…
From the travails and labours of thousands, humble masons or expensive experts, there have emerged those works made by us and for us which we can present as being, all together, as an aggregate, as a group, the statement of our hopes and of our expectations as much as of our achievements…
Let me close, therefore, by reminding you of Attar’s great poem, the Conference of the Birds, Mantiqat at-Tayr. The birds, you will recall, in huge quantities went in search of the Simurgh, the ideal and perfect king. After my tribulations, thirty of them do reach the end of the journey and come to the gate of the Supreme Majesty. The Chamberlain tests them and then opens the door and they sit on the masnad, the seat of the Majesty and Glory. And, as an inner glow came into them, they realised that it is they together who were the Simurgh and that the Simurgh was the thirty birds…. Is this not what these Awards mean?….”
Mawlana Hazar Imam
Lahore, Pakistan, October 23, 1980
Shalimar (“Abode of Love”) Gardens
Shalimar Gardens, Lahore. Photo: Famous Wonders
The Shalimar Gardens were commissioned by Prince Khurram in 1620, and further extended by him in 1634 after he succeeded his father to the Mughal throne as Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1658). Originally the Gardens were known as the Bagh-i Faiz Bakhsh (“Besotwer of of Plenty”) and Bagh-i Farah Bakhsh (“Joy Imparting”), the the names of the gardens forming the Shalimar. Beginning in 1654, the gardens came to be referred to as Shalimar Bagh (Vaughan, Islam Art and Architecture p 478).
Philippa Vaughan, “Architecture of the Great Mughals,” in Islam: Art and Architecture Edited by Markus Hattstein and Peter Delius, Konemann, 2000
Shalimar Gardens, Archnet
“To many Westerners, the Taj Mahal in all its splendour typifies Islamic architecture. Yet the overwhelming majority of Muslims live on the very margin of human existence, far from such grandeur,” says Architecture and Community, a book that was published on the occasion of first ceremony of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, in Lahore, Pakistan, on the 23 of October 1980. Today, a film on that ceremony is being published, celebrating again the 15 recipients who merged “Islam's rich cultural heritage with modern technology to help solve the problems of individual survival in the contemporary world”. The recipients included:
Agricultural Training Centre, Nianing, Senegal
Ali Qapu, Chehl Sotoun & Hasht Behesht, Isfahan, Iran
Conservation of Sidi Bou Saïd, Tunis, Tunisia
Courtyard Houses, Agadir, Morocco
Ertegün House, Bodrum, Turkey
Halawa House, Agamy, Egypt
Intercontinental Hotel & Conference Centre, Makkah, Saudi Arabia
Kampung Improvement Programme, Jakarta, Indonesia
Medical Centre, Mopti, Mali
Mughal Sheraton Hotel, Agra, India
National Museum, Doha, Qatar
Pondok Pesantren Pabelan, Muntilan, Indonesia
Rüstem Pasa Caravanserai, Edirne, Turkey
Turkish Historical Society, Ankara, Turkey
Water Towers, Kuwait City, Kuwait
On Wednesday, January 26, 2005, the National Building Museum held a public program titled "Design in the Islamic World and Its Impact Beyond" as part of the fifth Vincent Scully Prize programming honoring His Highness the Aga Khan. Charles Correa, the internationally distinguished architect from Bombay, India and His Highness The Aga Khan participated in the program, and Robert Ivy, editor-in-chief of Architectural Record served as moderator.
How revitalization of cultural heritage can be used to improve quality of life and act as a springboard for social development
About this event
The Boston Society for Architecture (BSA) and Aga Khan Council Northeast USA are proud to present:
The Aga Khan Award for Architecture: Living Heritage
The Aga Khan Award for Architecture was established by His Highness the Aga Khan in 1977 to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of communities in which Muslims have a significant presence. The Award recognizes examples of architectural excellence in the fields of contemporary design, social housing, community improvement and development, historic preservation, reuse, and area conservation, as well as landscape design and improvement of the environment.
For architecture to maintain its relevance in relation to today’s challenges, it is imperative that the profession repositions itself in relation to today’s human, societal and environmental challenges. Living heritage is one of the three dominant themes that emerged and which define the winners of the 2017-2019 Aga Khan Award for Architecture Cycle.
"Living Heritage" is the fourth and final webinar in the Architecture in Dialogue series and will discuss how the revitalization of cultural heritage can be used to improve quality of life and act as a springboard for social development around the world.
Dr. Ulrike Al-Khamis, Director and CEO, Aga Khan Museum
Azra Akšamija, Associate Professor, MIT Architecture, Founder and Director, Future Heritage Lab at MIT, 2013 Aga Khan Award for Architecture Winner
About Architecture in Dialogue:
Architecture in Dialogue is an exhibition highlighting the six winners and shortlisted works from the 2017-2019 cycle of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The projects on display were selected from hundreds of entries and competed for prizes totaling $1 million. Now in its 14th cycle, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture is a program of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), a philanthropic organization that supports a wide range of activities aimed at the preservation and promotion of the material and spiritual heritage of Muslim societies. Established by His Highness the Aga Khan in 1977, the triennial Award is regarded as one of the most important honors in the field and granted to projects—from slum upgrading to high rise “green” buildings—that not only celebrate architectural excellence but also improve the overall quality of life of their surrounding communities.
Boston Society for Architecture (BSA)
Aga Khan Council Northeast USA
With support from
Boston Society of Landscape Architects (BSLA)
MIT Department of Architecture
View the virtual exhibition of 2019 Aga Khan Award for Architecture winners here.
View recordings of previous webinars in the Architecture in Dialogue series here.
Minaret of Jam, one of Afghanistan’s greatest architectural treasures, in danger of collapsing after floods and neglect
Sun, December 26, 2021, 4:20 AM
Minaret of Jam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating from the 12th century - Jane Sweeney
A remote 800-year-old minaret which is one of Afghanistan's greatest archaeological treasures is in danger of falling down because of flood damage.
The Minaret of Jam stands taller than Nelson's Column and is on a list of United Nations world heritage sites, but is now in an “alarmingly precarious” condition, a survey has found.
Archaeologists fear the condition of the 213ft (65m) tower will worsen over the winter as moisture and ice get into the brickwork and add to the damage.
A local Taliban official earlier this month warned that the three-storey tower was in danger of collapse if action was not taken.
The loss of the minaret in Ghor province would be a “devastating, devastating tragedy”, said Rory Stewart, a former secretary of state for overseas development.
Mr Stewart, who walked past the minaret while trekking through the country in 2002 soon after the Taliban were ousted, said the tower was one of the most important monuments in Central Asia.
He said: “You come down this tiny, narrow deserted gorge, having crossed a 14,000 foot pass and suddenly you find this thing exploding in the middle of this valley.
“It's the most beautiful, haunting, extraordinary tribute to this lost civilisation. It would be one of the great, great most devastating cultural losses that we could experience for the last 50 or 60 years to lose something like that.”
The brick-built late 12th century minaret sits in a hard-to-reach valley at the confluence of the Hari Rud and Jam Rud rivers. Its three cylindrical levels rise from an octagonal base, and the whole tower is covered in elaborate decoration interspersed with text from the Quran.
Historians believe it sits at the site of Firozkoh, or Turquoise Mountain, a city which was destroyed by a son of Ghenghis Khan and the minaret is thought to be the only remains of the settlement.
Minaret Jam - Universal Images Group Editorial
Archaeologists have for years warned that the minaret is in poor condition, but a recent survey by the AGA KHAN Development Network said flooding in 2019 had shifted debris to the base of the tower.
“With the onset of winter, the damp bricks and wet mortar at the base of the monument will be exposed to the frost cycle resulting in further damage to the masonry structure of the unstable and leaning minaret,” the network said.
“Depending on the depth of the penetration of frost into the masonry structure, it can be reasonably expected that both the bricks and the mortar will decay extensively causing further reduction in the load-bearing capacity of the 65-metre-high monument.”
Sediment deposited by the floods has also raised the level of the riverbed, meaning subsequent floodwaters will be brought closer to the base of the monument.
“This will result in a larger section of the unstable minaret being submersed under floodwater risking the complete collapse of the monument,” the review found.
The local Taliban governor earlier this month also said he was alarmed about the condition of the tower.
“It does not belong to Ghor alone. It belongs to the entire world,” Mawlawi Ahmad Shah Din Dost told state television. He said he had inspected the minaret and signs of damage were clearly visible.
“The minaret may collapse if the Information and Culture [Ministry] of the Islamic Emirate or international charity organizations fail to pay attention," he said.
The minaret has been listed among world heritage properties in danger since 2002 by the UN's cultural arm. Torrential flood waters surged alarmingly close to the base of the minaret in 2019 and Unesco was the same year given £1.4m ($1.9m) to save the minaret by the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas. It now remains unclear how Unesco will work with the Taliban after they swept to power to re-establish their Islamic Emirate in August 2021.
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