Breathing new life into the legacy of past civilisations calls for a creativity, imagination, tolerance, understanding, and wisdom well beyond the ordinary. The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (AKHCP), established in 1992, implements conservation, urban revitalization and area development projects in historically significant sites of the Islamic world undertaking the restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures and public spaces in ways that spur social, economic and cultural development. Its projects seek to mobilize local potential and resources in order to ensure their eventual self-sustainability through operational income, human resource development and institutional management capabilities. Through this integrated approach, the Programme seeks to demonstrate that strengthening cultural identity can go hand in hand with socio-economic progress.
Going beyond mere restoration of monuments, the Programme engages in activities related to adaptive re-use, contextual urban planning and the improvement of housing, infrastructure and public spaces. It carries out related socio-economic development initiatives directed at upgrading local living conditions and improving quality of life.
Investments in single project locations or regions are coordinated with other Aga Khan Development Network programmes so that they reinforce each other as they grow together into a critical mass for positive change. In all project locations, community participation and training of local professionals are essential components.
Many fine homes in the old quarter of Kabul were destroyed during inter-factional fighting between 1992 and 1994. The Wasay House, which is thought to date from the mid nineteenth century, is one of the few surviving homes to retain fine timber and plaster decoration that was characteristic of traditional homes in the densely-populated quarter of Asheqan wa Arefan. It is owned by a family who have lived in it for generations.
Historic photographs of the dwelling enabled the project team to ascertain the original decorative scheme, on which basis war-damaged parts of the internal moulded plaster decoration – including a series of recessed niches or chinikhana used for the display of porcelain – and timber screens within the main space on the first floor were restored.
The building, which was close to collapse when the works began, has served both as a demonstration of repair, conservation and infill techniques to other homeowners, as well as a test-bed for training of craftsmen and young professionals. Wasay house is one of 12 private homes in the old city of Kabul which have undergone full scale restoration carried out by the Aga Khan HIstoric Cities Programme (HCP) since 2003. It has been registered as a protected site with the Department of Historic Monuments and is presently used as a site office and information centre for HCPs rehabilitation programme in the old city.