The Aga Khan Award for Architecture is given every three years to projects that set new standards of excellence in architecture, planning practices, historic preservation and landscape architecture. Through its efforts, the Award seeks to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of societies across the world, in which Muslims have a significant presence.
The selection process emphasizes architecture that not only provides for people’s physical, social and economic needs, but that also stimulates and responds to their cultural expectations. Particular attention is given to building schemes that use local resources and appropriate technology in innovative ways, and to projects likely to inspire similar efforts elsewhere.
The Award is governed by a steering committee chaired by His Highness the Aga Khan. A new committee is constituted each cycle to establish the eligibility criteria for project submissions, provide thematic direction in response to emerging priorities and issues, and to develop plans for the future of the Award. The steering committee is responsible for the selection and appointment of the master jury for each Award cycle, and for the Award’s programme of international seminars, lectures, exhibitions and publications.
The twelfth triennial cycle of the Award runs from 2011-2013. The current prize fund totals US$ 500,000 and is presented to projects selected by an independent master jury. The Award has completed eleven cycles of activity since 1977, and documentation has been compiled on over 8,000 building projects throughout the world. To date, the master juries have selected 105 projects to receive the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The award recipients for the 2010 cycle were the Bridge School in China, Ipekyol Textile Factory in Turkey, Madinat al Zahra Museum in Spain, Revitalisation of the Recent Heritage of Tunis , Tunisia and Wadi Hanifa Wetlands in Saudi Arabia.
The Madinat al Zahra Museum in Cordoba, Spain is one of these interesting projects that draws the attention to its design solutions. It sets an example of the integrations of a contemporary building in a historical site. Well integrated and inspired by the old city ruins, the project reinterprets the spatial feelings of the old city of Al-Zahra. The museum was designed by the Madrid based architecture firm Nieto Sobejano.
The tenth-century palace city of Madinat al-Zahra, a recipient of the 2010 Award for Architecture, is widely considered to be one of the most significant early Islamic archaeological sites in the world, and the most extensive in Western Europe. Excavations at the site are still ongoing. The museum was conceived as a place to interpret the site and display the archaeological findings, as well as to serve as a training and research centre and the headquarters of the archaeological team.
A refined and subtle design by the architectural firm Nieto Sobejano, the museum complex blends seamlessly into the site and the surrounding farmland – a series of rectangles composed of walls, patios and plantings which, taken together, seem more like a landscape than a building. The architects took the ground plans of three excavated buildings as a starting point, as though the museum had been waiting to be revealed from the ground. Visitors are guided through a sequence of covered spaces and voids. The main public functions are arranged in a cloister around a broad patio, a form found at the archaeological site and in the old town of Cordoba. Two more courtyards define the research centre and the external exhibition area respectively. A restricted pallet of materials and simple details, with walls of poured concrete, interior walls clad in iroko wood, and limestone paving for the courtyards, are intended to evoke the rough retaining walls and temporary structures of an archaeological site.