Connectivity between people, adapting to new contexts and responding to climate challenges stand out as notable themes among the winners of the 13th cycle of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The six recipient projects were announced in Abu Dhabi today, along with the venue of the award ceremony.

Abu Dhabi, 3 October 2016 — The winners of the 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture were announced today at a press conference held in the United Arab Emirates. Blurring conventional boundaries, the six recipient projects from five countries offer creative responses to contemporary issues.

The Award will be presented at a ceremony to be held in November at the Al Jahili fort in Al-Ain. The venue was announced by His Excellency Awaidha Murshed Al Marar, Chairman of Department of Municipal Affairs and Transport and a member of the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi.

In this 13th cycle of the Award, the Master Jury “embraced the notion of plurality, exploring not just projects in diverse contexts but the boundaries of the discipline itself, recognising that new knowledge sometimes emerges in the lines between categories,” according to their written statement.

Connectivity between people, adapting to new contexts and responding to climate challenges are notable themes among the winning projects.

The three-level Tabiat Pedestrian Bridge in Tehran is a three-dimensional truss that curves its way between two green spaces across a busy highway. Respectful of its natural surroundings, the bridge’s columns mimic the arboreal form and at one end the structure opens up to permit trees to grow through it. But the bridge itself is also a place of gathering and respite, offering restaurants and seating areas that make it a popular destination rather than simply a connecting structure.

“The apparent reinterpretation of the original brief, which called for a straightforward connection between two parks, has transformed a ‘bridge’ into a ‘destination’,” says the Master Jury. “Inviting people to congregate, interact and appreciate the vista in every direction, the bridge has become a promenade and one of the most successful public spaces in modern Tehran.”

In Copenhagen, the Superkilen park wedges itself into a socially challenged neighbourhood that is predominantly Muslim and increasingly diverse. Drawing on themes of gardens and amusement parks, the whimsical green space incorporates pedestrian and cycle paths that connect the neighbourhood with important traffic arteries. Public lighting enhances security, and the inclusion of 108 objects from 62 countries — such as a fountain from Morocco, chess tables from Sofia and basketball hoops from Mogadishu — offers newly arrived families connections with places from their pasts.

“Living with people who differ – racially, ethnically, religiously or economically – is the most urgent challenge facing contemporary civil society,” reads the Jury citation. The architects did not regard diversity as a problem, “but rather as a tool in a fluid, creative process that allowed the park to become both a powerful marker of identity and a subtle cultural mediator for the residents of this historically challenged neighbourhood.”

In the flood-prone flatlands of rural Bangladesh, permanent structures are normally built 2.4 metres above the ground — at significant cost. The Friendship Centre training facility in Gaibandha didn’t have that kind of budget; instead the architects surrounded it with an earthen embankment. This presented challenges — such as an absence of horizontal light — but also opportunities.

“An attention to detail, to the human scale, is expressed in the simplicity of the well-designed furniture, in the creation of a series of small pavilions and reflecting pools, and in the landscaping elements,” reads the Jury citation. “All help to create a friendly atmosphere, supporting the building’s function of empowering a marginalised rural community living on a precarious floodplain.”

Rainwater is collected in tanks and absorbed by green covered earthen rooftops that also act as insulators. Mindful of the seismic zone in which it is situated, the builders sensibly reinforced the structure with concrete.

The other winning projects are the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh; the Hutong Children’s Library and Art Centre in Beijing, China; and the Issam Fares Institute in Beirut, Lebanon. Profiles and photographs of all the projects can be found at the Aga Khan Development Network website.

Mawlana Hazar Imam established the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1977 to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully addressed the needs and aspirations of communities in which Muslims have a significant presence. Over the past 39 years, prizes have been given to 116 projects across the world, from France to China.

A monograph for the 2016 Award will be published by Lars Müller Publishers in November. Titled Architecture and Plurality, it includes essays on issues raised by the Master Jury’s selections of the shortlist and the winning projects.