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.
The Stone Town of Zanzibar, the historic core of the capital city of the island of Zanzibar, located thirty-eight kilometres off the coast of East Africa, has been a regional cosmopolitan crossroads for centuries, reflected in its unique fusion of Swahili, Islamic, Hindu and European culture arising through trade and travel. Its principal waterfront cornice displays the front line of a dense array of arresting coral stone/lime structures which are both individualistic in character and yet highly integrated into a larger urban morphology of historic importance.
Although certain institutions of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) trace their history in Zanzibar to the turn of the twentieth century, the first involvement of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in Zanzibar dates to 1988, when the Aga Khan Award for Architecture organized an international seminar on the island. This event raised the Trust’s interest in the rehabilitation of the old Stone Town, which led to an agreement of protocol of collaboration in the Stone Town between AKTC and the Government of Zanzibar.
AKTC’s sustained involvement in Zanzibar over several years made it possible to develop a coherent, long-range strategy and set of initiatives aimed at the revitalization of the town’s historic core, from the definition of general policies to the implementation of specific building projects and area plans.
The 1994 ‘Conservation Plan’ identified a number of schemes for Zanzibar’s open spaces in order to ensure their protection, upgrading and rehabilitation. In particular, the work carried out by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) targeted three areas: Kelele Square, Forodhani Park and the Mizingani Seafront. Kelele Square was completed in 1997, following the adaptive reuse of the ex-Telecom Building into the Zanzibar Serena Inn, which defines part of the square.
For Kelele Square, AKTC has developed and implemented a detailed beautification project, as this open green space was intimately linked to the conversion of the former telecommunications building into a hotel and might have suffered from this change, if not handled in a sensitive manner. All of the existing trees were preserved, and landscaping details were developed which could be replicated in other places in Zanzibar.