Atlantic Cities

The Best New Architecture in the Muslim World

The Best New Architecture in the Muslim World
AKAA

When you think of great architecture of the Muslim world, your mind probably turns to the iconic curves and patterns of ancient buildings, from the Alhambra to the Dome of the Rock to the Taj Mahal.

While traditions of form and function persist, it's hard to box in the various contenders on the shortlist for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the triennial prize for outstanding design in societies with significant Muslim populations. The 20 finalists include preservation projects in Morocco, Yemen and Indonesia; apartments in Iran and Sri Lanka; schools in Herat, Kigali and Damascus, and much more. With its focus on Africa and Asia — only one of the twenty projects is located elsewhere — the shortlist is a breath of fresh air in the Euro-centric design world.

Below is a map of the winning projects shortlisted by a jury of architects and scholars for the Aga Khan Award. In the eleven cycles since its 1977 debut, the $1 million prize has been awarded to 105 projects, including the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Paris's Institut du Monde Arabe, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, and dozens of other new buildings and preservation projects.


View Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2013 Shortlist in a larger map

Here are some of our favorites:

Reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared Refugee Camp, Tripoli, Lebanon
United Nations Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA), Nahr el-Bared Reconstruction Commission for Civil Action and Studies (NRBC)

This camp, which dates from 1948 and houses some 27,000 Palestinian refugees, was completely destroyed during the 2007 war when it was the site of a siege and several battles between Islamic militants and the Lebanese army.

Here's what it looked like afterwards:

AKAA / UNRWA

The reconstruction aimed to recreate the physical and social fabric of the camp, while increasing the amount of light and ventilation. By endowing each building an independent structural system and emphasizing vertical construction, architects were able to triple the amount of non-built space.  Here's what it looks like now:

AKAA  / Ismael Sheikh Hassan

AKAA  / Abdelnaser Ayi

Islamic Cemetery, Altach, Austria
Bernado Bader Architects, Dombirn, Austria

This airy 8,000-square-meter complex is designed for Vorarlberg, Austria, where nearly a tenth of the population is Muslim. It includes five grave enclosures, assembly and prayer rooms, and its open spaces are decorated with latticework of oak and metal mesh.

AKAA / Adolf Bereuter

AKAA / Adolf Bereuter

AKAA / Marc Lins

Maria Grazia Cutuli Primary School, Herat, Afghanistan
2A+P/A, IaN+, Mario Cutili, Rome, Italy

This elementary school in rural Afghanistan was built in honor of Italian journalist Maria Grazia Cutuli, who was ambushed and killed by Taliban gunmen in 2001. The school, with its collection of separate buildings spaced around the compound, is meant to emulate the organic design of a small village, with shades of blue to recall the lapis lazuli designs of Afghan pottery.

AKAA / Maria Grazia Cutuli Foundation

AKAA / Nazes Afroz

AKAA / Nazes Afroz

Rehabilitation of Tabriz Bazaar, Tabriz, Iran
ICHTO East Azerbaijan Office, Tabriz, Iran

The historic center of Tabriz was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2010, and has been the focus of a two-decade preservation effort, aimed at coordinating architectural renovation with the needs of tenants and owners. The center city includes over three miles of covered bazaars.

AKAA / Amir Anoushfar

AKAA / Amir Anoushfar

Salam Center for Cardiac Surgery, Khartoum, North Sudan
Studio Tamassociati, Venice, Italy

This open complex consists of a state-of-the-art hospital with 63 beds and a separate residential hall with room for about half the center's 300 staff. With plenty of natural light and ventilation, the center's public space is designed to feel pleasant but secure.

AKAA / Raul Pantaleo

AKAA / Marcello Bonfanti

Kantana Film and Animation Institute, Nakhon Pathom, Thailand
Bangkok Project Studio / Boonserm Premthada, Bangkok, Thailand

This college contains five different sections, divided by undulating walls of handmade brick 25 feet high and punctuated with irregular windows. Between them runs a concrete passageway shaded by an "inserted forest" of trees.

AKAA / Dominic Sansoni

AKAA / Dominic Sansoni

AKAA / Dominic Sansoni

Thula Fort Restoration, Thula, Yemen
Abdullah Al-Hadrami, Sana'a, Yemen

Thula, a medieval desert town near Sana'a, features an unusually well-preserved network of streets, palaces, souks, and stairways. But with development encroaching, the Thula community, with the help of the Social Fund for Development, has embarked on a series of preservation efforts, repairing walls, gates, towers and even the ancient water system, which remains in use. Thula is on the UNESCO "Tentative list."

AKAA / Cemal Emden

AKAA / Cemal Emden

AKAA / Cemal Emden

Apartment No. 1, Mahallat, Iran
AbCT -- Architecture by Collective Terrain, Tehran, Iran

Mahallat, located about 200 miles south of Tehran, is a stone-cutting town, but about half that stone is discarded as scrap. This project puts those scraps to good use in both exterior and interior walls of a nearby apartment building that contains eight three-bedroom apartments and two ground-level retail spaces.

AKAA  / Omid Khodapanahi

AKAA  / Omid Khodapanahi

Mpungubwe Interpretation Centre, Limpopo, South Africa
Peter Rich Architects, Johannesburg, South Africa

This building, designed for the World Heritage site at Mapungubwe Hill, houses exhibition and classroom space in ten vaulted spaces inspired by the ancient motifs found on nearby artifacts.

AKAA / Obie Oberholzer

AKAA / Obie Oberholzer

AKAA / Robert Rich

Top image: Museum of Handcraft Paper, Gaoligong, Yunnan Province, China. Trace Architecture Office, Beijing, China. Copyright AKAA. All images courtesy of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at The Atlantic Cities. He lives in New York. All posts »

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