The Architectural League of New York awarded its President’s Medal to His Highness the Aga Khan on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, on May 18, at the Metropolitan Club.
The President’s Medal is The Architectural League’s highest honor and is bestowed, at the discretion of the League’s President and Board of Directors, on individuals to recognize an extraordinary body of work in architecture, urbanism, art, or design, according to a press release.
Aga Khan was honored, in the words of the Medal’s citation “for the extraordinary work of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture and the recognition, scholarship, and investment it has catalyzed and supported, which has raised the quality of urban and rural environments around the world.” It continues: “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. By acknowledging not only the complexity and imperfection of the world we have created, but also its potential, His Highness the Aga Khan has set a magnificent example of stewardship and hope.”
The Medal was presented to Aga Khan at a dinner at the Metropolitan Club by League President Billie Tsien. Humanities scholar Homi K. Bhabha, city planner Amanda M. Burden, and architect Diébédo Francis Kéré celebrated the recipient with remarks.
Homi K. Bhabha remarked that: “Pluralistic inquiry is the living link between the good society and public space; and architecture is the arc of this ancient and intimate connection.” He continued: “The aspiration of the Aga Khan Award, as I understand it, is to build structures and systems that enable dialogue, collaboration, and affiliation amongst communities—national, regional and diasporic—who live side by side.”
In her presentation of the Medal, Billie Tsien said: “The Aga Khan Award has been a bridge connecting the world to the beauty and power of work done to serve Muslim populations.” She continued: “This award helps to elevate the quality of architecture, planning and landscape design by shedding light on exemplary work. And most importantly it affirms the power of architecture to create and to sustain a humane and beautiful world for all people. All people, all cultures, all faiths look to beauty as a profound source of both solace and joy.”
In accepting the medal, Aga Khan remarked, “in thinking about the way societies live in the developing world, in the industrialized world, I came to a very simple conclusion: what is the art form that has the most important impact on every society, in every part of the world? And the answer is quite simply, architecture. It’s a very important evening in my life because it’s a recognition of an art form that which I believe needs global recognition, needs global attention, needs the best brains that we can mobilize, to improve the human habitat for decades and decades ahead. Thank you for this wonderful award,” he concluded.
The dinner’s 330 guests included family of Aga Khan: Princess Zahra Aga Khan, Prince Hussain Aga Khan, and Prince Aly Muhammad Aga Khan.
Guests included Henry N. Cobb, Peter Eisenman, Robert A.M. Stern, Rafael Viñoly, Amale Andraos, Annabelle Selldorf, Craig Dykers, Mohsen Mostafavi, and Tod Williams. Other attendees included sociologist Richard Sennett, photographer Iwan Baan, and critic and historian Kenneth Frampton. Renata Holod, Hasan-Uddin Khan, and Farrokh Derakhshani, the previous and current directors of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture also attended.
Recent recipients of The Architectural League’s President’s Medal include Michael R. Bloomberg, Henry N. Cobb, Richard Serra, Renzo Piano, Amanda Burden, Massimo and Lella Vignelli, Hugh Hardy, Richard Meier, Ada Louise Huxtable, Robert A.M. Stern, Kenneth Frampton, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.
Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam (Spiritual Leader) of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, became Imam in 1957 at the age of 20. The Aga Khan provides spiritual guidance to a community of 15 million living in some 25 countries, mainly in South and Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East, as well as in North America.