The Aga Khan Trust for Culture is the cultural agency of the Aga Khan Development Network.
The notion of culture as an asset rather than a drain on resources was still a new one in many parts of the world when the precursor of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, was established in 1977. Culture was still considered a luxury in an era of unmet social and economic needs. The sad result was that both tangible and intangible cultures were succumbing to decay or decline.
The Award sought to address this decline by emphasising the selection of architecture that not only provided for people's physical, social and economic needs, but that also stimulated and responded to their cultural and spiritual expectations. Particular attention was given to exemplary projects that were likely to inspire similar efforts elsewhere. When the Aga Khan Trust for Culture was created in 1988 -- incorporating the Award -- its mission expanded to include new programmes and projects throughout the Muslim world. Its aim is to leverage the unique transformative power of culture to improve the socio-economic conditions prevailing in many Muslim populations -- communities that often have a rich cultural heritage but that live in poverty. Reflecting the complexity of development, the Trust is also designed to work in concert with the other agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network.
Twenty years later, the Trust has shown how culture can be a catalyst for development even in the poorest and most remote areas of the globe. From Afghanistan to Zanzibar, from India to Mali, the Trust's support to historic communities demonstrates how conservation and revitalisation of the cultural heritage -- in many cases the only asset at the disposal of the community -- can provide a springboard for social development. We have also seen how such projects can have a positive impact well beyond conservation, promoting good governance, the growth of civil society, a rise in incomes and economic opportunities, greater respect for human rights and better stewardship of the environment. Indeed, we have seen architectural models recognised by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture have a profound impact when they are replicated.
We have also seen how the preservation and promotion of other forms of heritage, such as traditional music, play an important role in supporting and validating traditional culture in the face of a homogenising world. This is important because culture remains a source of personal pride. It still has the power to inspire and unify an entire nation. And it can reveal that nation, at its best, to the outside world.
For all these reasons, the Trust works to preserve the cultural heritage of the Muslim world -- not as a bulwark against the contemporary world, but rather to ensure that the rich heritage of these cultures endures. At the same time, the Trust's education programmes promote pluralism and tolerance as an antidote to what I call the "clash of ignorance." It is my hope that one day pluralism will become accepted as the norm within communities and among the nations of the earth. I know of no better road to lasting peace than tolerance for the differences of faith, culture and origin. Within this context, the Trust has been constantly refi ning its programmes with an eye towards sustainability and replication. Its experience with development, which is now considerable, is intended to be shared through joint ventures and public-private partnerships, as well as with researchers, urban planners, municipalities, development organisations, government departments and international institutions. It is my hope that these models will inform collaborative ventures among the private and public sector, national and international organisations and civil society.
Done well, these collaborations can have a catalytic effect on the revitalisation of communities -- raising incomes, restoring pride, improving the quality of life and, most importantly, restoring hope. The evidence shows that culture is clearly not an add-on or a luxury, but an integral part of overall development in both the developing and developed worlds.
The Aga Khan Garden is a gift to the University of Alberta from
His Highness the Aga Khan, celebrating over 40 years of partnership between the
Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and the University of Alberta. Construction
on the Garden, which was recently completed, marked both the 150th anniversary
of Canadian confederation and the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee – 60 years since
he became Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community.
The Aga Khan
Garden brings to life the principle of pluralism, of which His Highness has
been a life-long advocate. In the 4.8-hectare Mughal-inspired space,
traditional Islamic landscape design takes on strikingly contemporary features.
Garden elements from some of the world’s best Muslim
architecture, including the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb in India, are
interspersed with distinctively Canadian features, from Alberta’s wild rose
beds to Canadian-quarried stonework.
Speaking at the
ceremony, Premier of Alberta Honorable Rachel Notley called the Garden "an
oasis and a sign of Alberta’s welcome to the world," she said that
"we stand with you to build a fair and more inclusive world". In his
remarks at the inauguration ceremony, His Highness spoke of his happiness in
seeing the Garden come to fruition, and of the place, throughout history, of
the Islamic garden in reminding us of the notion of good stewardship of the
earth and "our responsibility to honor, to protect, and to share the gifts
of the natural world". In considering the role that such green spaces may
play, His Highness spoke of the Garden as a social space, "a place for
learning, for sharing, for romance, for diplomacy, for reflection on the
destiny of the human race".
Designed by the renowned
landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz in collaboration with the Aga
Khan Trust for Culture (an agency of the AKDN), the Garden provides a stunning
example of Islamic landscape architecture that explores the beauty and
boundaries of vegetation, light, water, geometry, symmetry, adaptation and
human scale. The serenity of nature is highlighted in each of the design
elements including secluded forest paths, granite and limestone terraces, still
pools that reflect the prairie sky and a waterfall that tumbles over textured
The design of the
Aga Khan Garden, Alberta, is inspired by Mughal garden tradition and is laid
out in three parts: woodland valley, central court and pond framed by an
orchard. From a natural rise at its south-west end, it unfolds in rectangular
terraces down to the Calla Pond. On the highest point of the rise stands a
pavilion that enjoys a sweeping vista of the Aga Khan Garden. From this plaza,
water emerges from a fountain and runs through a stone-lined channel from one
terrace level to the next. It fills a square basin in the chahar-bagh on the
lower level, and then falls gently into Calla Pond.
At that moment, the Aga Khan Garden transitions from a highly
structured rectilinear scheme to a looser, curving, more apparently naturalistic
design of the bustan, a fruit orchard that extends around the Calla Pond. The Garden contains more than 25,000 trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and
wetland plants, selected for fragrance, beauty and the ability to thrive in
Alberta’s climate. Twelve water features and fountains are sprinkled around the
Garden, which took 18 months to construct.
Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture
Aga Khan Garden
Design (2014-2016), construction (2016-2018), inauguration (proposed 2018)