A group of young students from the Middle East Jamat had the chance to visit a series of architectural works and explore how the study of architecture can help to better understand the beliefs, values, technology, and history of various civilizations.

At the presentation ceremony for the 14th cycle of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture on 13 September 2019, Mawlana Hazar Imam said, “The simple answer lies in my conviction that architecture — more than any other art form — has a profound impact on the quality of human life. As it has often been said, we shape our built environment and then our buildings shape us.”

Living in the UAE means having many prestigious architectural sites in your own backyard, which is not only a blessing but an opportunity; a window just waiting to be explored.

In late 2019, youth in the UAE Jamat were given the opportunity to explore two sites in Sharjah, UAE: Al Mureijah Art Spaces, which was nominated for the Award, and Wasit Wetland Centre, which is one of the 2019 Award winners. Additionally, youth from Bahrain had the opportunity to visit the Revitalisation of Muharraq, also a 2019 Award winner. Through this visit, the participants were able to experience the beauty of merging architecture and nature. 

After visiting the Wasit Wetlands, one of the young participants commented: “This site shows a relation between man and nature. It strengthens the understanding of this peaceful and unconditional relationship.”

While preparing for this truly unique and remarkable experience, participants also gained an understanding of the role of architecture and architectural conservation, as reflected in the efforts of the Award, which was initiated by Mawlana Hazar Imam in 1977. The aim is to identify and reward architectural concepts which address the needs and aspirations of Muslim societies in the areas of contemporary design, social housing, community development, restoration and conservation, landscape design, and environmental improvement.  

Participants expressed that such experiential excursions gave them a platform to acquaint themselves with the projects of the Award, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme. Another participant commented that this helped them to “…understand how architecture is a symbol of ethical values and how important it is for youth to be ambassadors and create awareness of these spaces that can benefit the community.” 

Parents were equally excited about their childrens’ increased awareness of the AKDN organisational structure and the existence of many other relevant institutional facets within.

“We have always wanted to learn about the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, and today the youth have given us a reason to visit these spaces and learn more about them. Our youth have encouraged us to visit and familiarise ourselves with the value, rationale and appreciation for architecture, and the importance of preserving cultural heritage,” said one parent.

“Preserving cultural identity can be done in the simplest ways such as aligning with the heritage of our community and familiarising ourselves with these different projects to witness their impact on the quality of lives of the people living around them.”