Mawlana Hazar Imam has always emphasized maintaining good relations with other communities, and a workshop and film development series in the Central region were organized with this thought in mind in May 2021.

Under the theme “Building Bridges,” six events highlighted Muslim cultural heritage and its connection to organizations in Texas. This is a collaboration between the Aga Khan Council for the Central US, the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) Department of Art + Art History, the UTA College of Architecture, Planning, and Public Affairs, and Maverick Film Productions. The Building Bridges project seeks to bring awareness to aspects of Muslim cultural heritage and the connections that exist between these and the UTA community.

The collaboration hoped to “...make connections between what we’re looking at and what we have here in Texas, because that’s the whole point of building bridges,” said Douglas Klahr, a professor of architectural history at UTA and one of the partnership’s organizers. “We’re building a bridge between your life today in Texas...and what you’ll be studying from around the world.”

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UTA Associate Dean Douglas Klahr describes the goal of Building Bridges to the students.
UTA Associate Dean Douglas Klahr describes the goal of Building Bridges to the students.

The program focused on architecture, design, and urban life to make deep, real-life connections for the UTA community and people around the world. It highlighted the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s work in the Historic Cities Programme and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

Professor Klahr challenged the participants during the first session to share their documentary film pitches. They were required to fully develop these by the end of the series, after which they would be reviewed by a selection committee. Four of them, once chosen, will continue forward in a process to be properly produced and aired on Ismaili TV, later this year.

“Here’s a date on it, the material construction of it, but it doesn’t tell you why it was made, who it was made for, why it was relevant to those people.” Dr. Hussein Rashid, a panelist who studied Islam at Harvard University noted while discussing the social context of Muslim architecture in museums.

The five different dialogues from the panelists focused on architecture, its impact on society, and how it ties into Islamic history. The organizers provided thought-provoking questions for each day that the speakers elaborated on, giving insight from their own work and experience.

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Dr. Hussein Rashid talks about the importance of history.
Dr. Hussein Rashid talks about the importance of history.

“It’s very little about architecture, but it’s more about what spaces are doing for human societies,” remarked Khalil Pirani, a senior architect for over 25 years, who has moderated discussions on the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, referring to a park in Copenhagen that received the Award.

Khalil also expanded on the idea of the award being a process as well as a value system. This recurring theme of the significance of architecture as a means of expression was repeated by the speakers in many ways, using different pieces of architecture, personal experiences, and history to emphasize their points.

At the end of the day, this workshop helped embody something that Mawlana Hazar Imam has talked about time and time again: pluralism. Building Bridges helped stimulate the intellect, encouraged dialogue, celebrated cultural diversity, and fostered an appreciation for pluralism.