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Engaging with architecture
by Muhammad Yusuf November 09, 2017
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The Young Architect and Design Program (YADP), a new education initiative under the mentorship of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, has opened a dedicated space for learning and cultural engagement called d. Academy, in partnership with Alserkal Avenue, Dubai. The initiative is located in Warehouse 44, Alserkal Avenue.

‘’The objective of the programme is to positively influence and guide young minds towards the issues and challenges of the future built environment, particularly the issues of development and urbanisation”, said Nazneen Shafi, Executive Director, Engage ME, which has worked on the project. “Alserkal Avenue was the ideal partner for us, to be located in an environment that supports culture in all its forms”. The programme aims to promote architecture and design in the UAE around the themes of learning, exchange and collaboration.

The d. Academy, according to her, was inspired by words of the Aga Khan, founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. On being conferred the President’s Medal, the highest honour by The Architectural League of New York, he said that ‘’in thinking about the way societies live in the developing world, in the industrialised world, I came to a very simple conclusion: what is the art form that has the most important impact on every society, in every part of the world? And the answer was quite simply, architecture”.

Vilma Jurkute, Director, Alserkal Avenue said: “In a rapidly evolving city like Dubai, ventures like d. Academy are crucial to facilitating discourse around the value of architecture, both in historical and modern terms and helping to educate the next generation”.

The focus of d. Academy is to help the exchange of ideas and provide a better understanding of architecture, planning practices, historic preservation and landscape architecture. With a year-long calendar of exhibitions, workshops, lecture series and seminars, the YADP will run under the stewardship of Engage ME, a Toronto- and Dubai-based education and culture body.

The inaugural exhibition at d. Academy, which took place October end, showcased The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (HCP), which, through its projects, seeks to improve the quality of life through culture, activating it as a springboard for economic and social development. HCP projects will be, it hopes, “laboratories for ideas that can shape the future in ways that are meaningful, beneficial, and impactful”.

Shiraz Allibhai, Deputy Director, The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), which oversees HCP, said that “a vibrant and competent civil society is the cornerstone of a healthy and prosperous nation. The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme is therefore proud to collaborate with the Young Architect and Design Program to showcase how breathing new life into the legacy of past civilisations calls for creativity, imagination, tolerance, understanding, and wisdom well beyond the ordinary”.

The notion of culture as an asset rather than a luxury is still a contested issue in many poorer parts of the world. As a result, a significant part of the world’s cultural heritage – much of it in Muslim majority regions – is at risk, as other needs are considered priorities.

Taking this into consideration, the HCP initiative raises these questions: how can culture provide employment, raise incomes, affect wellbeing, improve health, enhance urban spaces, reinforce a respect for diversity, and restore pride and hope? It answers them by showing how  the creation of parks and gardens, conservation, improvement of the urban fabric and revitalisation of cultural heritage – in many cases the only asset at the disposal of the community – can provide a springboard for social development.

HCP projects have, as experience has shown, actually demonstrated a positive impact well beyond conservation. They have promoted good governance, growth of civil society, rise in incomes and economic opportunities, greater respect for human rights and better stewardship of the environment - even in the poorest and most remote areas of the globe.

The Aga Khan Award for Architecture founded by the Aga Khan in 1977 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, it 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.

AKTC focuses on the physical, social, cultural and economic revitalisation of communities in the developing world. It includes the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, the Aga Khan Music Initiative, the on-line resource and the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its museums unit coordinates the development of museum projects, including the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, Canada.

Engage ME focuses on building initiatives and managing projects related to education and cultural engagement. Its mission is “to create and collaborate in the learning process with cultural programmes and resources which contribute towards cultural understanding and exchange”. It works with governments, nonprofit institutions, private and public corporations and foundations, and believes in the crosspollination of communities and ideas.

HCP promotes the conservation and re-use of buildings and public spaces in historic cities of the Muslim World. It works with project stakeholders, including the community, provides planning assistance to government and local conservation bodies, offers technical expertise and funding, undertakes feasibility studies, and shapes proposals for submission to local investors and international agencies.

It also participates in urban conservation and development efforts, focusing on building clusters, public spaces between and around buildings, a district or a historic town, with the aim to maintain the socio-economic and cultural fabric of the place.

Institutions such as the Getty Grant Program, World Monuments Fund, the Ford Foundation, Swiss, Swedish and Norwegian bilateral aid organisations and the World Bank, have sponsored or co-funded HCP activities.

HCP has been involved in revitalisation projects in Afghanistan, Northern Areas of Pakistan, Zanzibar, Samarkhand, Cairo, Mostar, Mali and Syria. Posters, pictures and panel texts on the walls at d.Academy shows some of the successfully completed projects.

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