Yesterday evening, the Architectural League of New York accorded Mawlana Hazar Imam its highest and most important honour.

New York, 19 May 2017 — The President’s Medal, which is awarded annually, was presented to Hazar Imam in recognition of the vast impact he has made on the world through the medium of architecture. In particular, the occasion highlighted the values of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, which Mawlana Hazar Imam established 40 years ago.
“His Highness has demonstrated the capacity for architecture to be encompassing and inclusive, through his probing search to conceive anew the nature of cultural identity and continuity, his openness to innovation and experimentation, and his unwavering commitment to pluralism as a foundational principle of human community,” reads the award citation. Mawlana Hazar Imam, it continues, “has set a magnificent example of stewardship and hope.”
The Architectural League of New York was established in 1881 to provide a space for architects to grow creatively and intellectually. Over the past 136 years the League has been at the forefront of the most critical debates in architecture, design and urbanism. Members of the League have played an important role in shaping and influencing the built environment in the United States.
The President of the Architectural League, Billie Tsien, who served on the Steering Committee for the 2004–07 cycle of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, said that over the past 40 years the Aga Khan Award has been “a bridge connecting the world to the beauty and power of the work done to serve Muslim populations.”
“As architects, we usually dwell in the world of space defined by walls,” Tsien said that “but tonight, on this occasion, and in the midst of this very divisive time, we turn away from the concept of the wall and instead choose to celebrate the concept of the bridge.”
There are many similarities between the ethos of the Architectural League and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, noted humanities scholar Homi K. Bhabha, a former Master Jury member of the Aga Khan Award: “What gives this occasion a remarkable resonance is the profound symmetry of vision and sympathy shared by the Architectural League and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture — openness, pluralism, opportunity and justice.”
Architect Diébédo Francis Kéré, who is a 2004 laureate of the Aga Khan Award for his primary school in Gando, Burkina Faso, said that the Award changed his life. He went from “an unknown boy to a known man,” he said, and his village is now on the map. The AKAA is something profound, he continued, because it recognises that beauty exists and is possible in many different cultures. It has found a way to value contributions of the global south and north. In our “interconnected and increasingly polarised world, this is an immense achievement.”
Amanda M. Burden, a renowned city planner who is herself an Architectural League President's Medalist, said that the significance of the Aga Khan Award is profound “not only for its potential to expand the notion of what architecture can achieve and for whom, but for the possibility it promises for change in process — more inclusive, more respectful, more thoughtful.”
She said that the Award exposed her “to possibilities that had not occurred to [her], and how to change the definition of success.” Burden plans to apply these lessons in the city planning and urban development work she does with mayors around the world as Principal at Bloomberg Associates.
Upon accepting the award, Mawlana Hazar Imam remarked that this is a “very important evening in my life because it is a recognition of an art form, which I believe needs global recognition, global attention, needs the best brains that we can mobilise to improve the human habitat for the decades and decades ahead.”
Princess Zahra, Prince Hussain and Prince Aly Muhammad accompanied Hazar Imam at the award banquet. The black tie gathering of the country’s leading architectural minds was a celebration of the achievements of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Since 1977, the Award has reviewed and documented nearly 9,000 projects. Of those, 116 have been named winners. They hail from all corners of the world — Malaysia to Denmark, Dhaka to New York — each connecting in some way with Muslim communities in their vicinity.
The Architectural League has a long history of encouraging and honoring excellence in architecture, urbanism, art, and design. Recent recipients of the President’s Medal include Michael R. Bloomberg, Henry N. Cobb, Richard Serra, Renzo Piano, and Amanda Burden.