Stone domes, brilliant blue tiles, dark timbers, sturdy arches, intricate ornament. Architecture is the glory of Islam. Today, the architectural treasures of the Near East are threatened by wars, civil disorders and neglect. Perhaps, most of all, Islamic architecture is threatened by too much money.
Today, the oil-rich caliphs aspire to glass buildings, steel structures, massive concrete globs just like the West. At the same time, the price of oil has made such high-energy structures no longer practical for the West. The West is beginning to recognize the practicality as well as the pleasure of such ancient Islamic devices as wood exterior shutters, courtyards, and masonry masses to control the climate.
With Islam threatened by a steamroller of so-called progress, the Aga Khan has issued a call to reexamine the old Islamic traditions and see how today's buildings can be constructed to fit within them. Recently 15 winning projects from 12-countries shared the first $500,000 Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the largest architectural awards program in the world. Here and on Page 2 are some of them.
WHEN THE Aga Khan IV was married, pearls instead of rice were strewn in front of the bridal couple. Once his people measured their regard for his grandfather by matching his weight in diamonds. He has important houses, marvelous horses, a beautiful wife, three agreeable children, 20 million Ismaili followers in 25 lands, and a vast business empire with some 250,000 employes across the world.
He traces his descent from Ali, nephew and son-in-law of Mohammed. In 1866 a British judge in the High Court of Bombay attested to this heritage.
His name is Karim, but he is called the Aga Khan (which means "honorable leader") and "his highness," yet his kingdom is one of the spirit, its orders kept safe by pious practices instead of police. He is believed to possess nour ("light"), the ability to interpret the Koran. He hands down firmans ("pronouncements") on everything from bookkeeping to piety. His followers are mostly in Asian and African lands, but he spends most of his time in France.
The Aga Khan was in Washington recently to speak at the Smithsonian on his latest philanthropy, 25 prizes amounting to $500,000 for 15 projects adjudged the best current architecture in the Islamic tradition. Unlike many architectural awards, each project was actually visited by an architect (Mokhless Al-Hariri of Washington was one) or a community planner. They talked with the people who use the building to see how it works.
The awards were notable because they went not only to the architects of the projects, but also to the owners -- and some to the masons, plasterers and carpenters.
"The full moon shone down on the Shalimar Gardens, an ancient gem of Islamic Architecture, [at Lahore, Pakistan] the night the awards were presented," according to Al-Hariri. "Thousands of tiny oil lanterns burned around the hundreds of fountains.Five hundred people sat at tables around the pools for the supper, listening to the musicians. The Egyptian mason, who was one of the winners, said he thought he was living in a dream," Al-Hariri said.
The Aga Khan is a pleasant-looking man, though his operatic "Student Prince" handsomeness has ripened a bit with the hard work and soft living of the years. His suits are meticulously tailored to make the least of what's there. He wears a single ring, a gold watch and cufflinks.
He speaks with a pleasant English accent, inherited from his mother. He seems almost self-effacing.
Al-Hariri said, "He's rather modest. He desires not to be shining. He's not an arrogant man. During all the Islamic architectural seminars, and the meetings of the technical review committee, he was there, taking a keen interest in everything but always reserving his own opinion. He never imposed his views on others. His parties are like that: elegant but not ostentatious."
The Aga Khan spoke only in cautious generalities, phrases borrowed from business and sociological jargon in an interview in his suite at the Dolley Madison Hotel here. You could see he is adept at keeping the peace among diverse groups.
He won't choose a building he likes best from the winners, lest he hurt the feelings of the others. He doesn't like to talk about his own houses and offices, perhaps to keep from bragging, perhaps because he has learned over the years to be very, very private.
On that day, in the midst of the Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviet Afganistan invasion, he as usual, abstained from any discussion on political issues, though his followers in those countries are directly affected. Perhaps to be the direct descendant of Mohammed is to learn to guard your words well, lest a whole dogma spring up or a holy war ensue.
The Aga Khan comes by his interest in architecture by necessity. He is probably responsible for more buildings than any single man in the world. Though most of his charitable institutions are in Asia and Africa, where most of his people live, he is very conscious, especially in these hostile times, of trying to explain his culture to Westerners. A $30 million Ismaili religious, cultural and administrative center is rising near the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The Institute of Ismaili Studies is another of his London projects.
"I suppose I became involved in architecture because we have to build so much: schools, houses, hospitals. Always, when I look at the plans, I ask, 'Is it appropriate to its site? Where should we be going?'
"Architecture is the greatest cultural contribution of Islam to the world. In the West, the strongest perception of Islamic culture is its architecture. And yet, we are in danger of allowing it to be lost.
"Islamic architecture is so diverse, because each country has its own style, technical limitations, climatic factors and artisan traditions," he said. "Some 80 to 90 percent of our people build for themselves."
The Aga Khan believes that "housing is the most massive problem, but other buildings have a greater impact. Sociological studies show that improper housing is a great problem. Still we have such need of hospitals -- eye, lung diseases are so prevalent, to name a few. Other problems come up, such as building where earthquakes are frequent and energy is scarce."
In addition to the architectural awards, to be given every three years, the Aga Khan has established $11.5-million Islamic architectural libraries, professorships and doctoral fellowships at both Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Aga Khan says that rather than building more grandiose palaces for himself and his wife, the Begum, he has "tended to get rid of places. I prefer to stay with the ruler of the country where I am visiting, instead of keeping my own establishment. Hospitality in that part of the world is legendary. It is part of my discipline. I would not like to keep big houses unoccupied for a long time."
Still, he has recently built a huge complex called Aiglemont in Chantilly, France, for his secretariat. "It centralized five offices," he explained. It also includes a residence for his family. "My wife has overseen furnishing it to include many Islamic crafts, rugs, pottery and so on." They also have a townhouse in Paris, an 11th-century home on the Ile de la Cite near Notre Dame Cathedral. In Geneva the offices of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture are housed in a handsome turn-of-the-century mansion. "We need to preserve the old buildings. We can't afford to pull down buildings every five years -- here you can," he said.
The Aga Khan sees as the prime problem in building finding a way to "answer the needs for a high technology building such as our new 725-bed hospital and medical college in Karachai [Pakistan] while keeping within traditional Islamic architecture."
The Aga Khan is himself a scholar in Islamic studies. When he was young, he was often taken to see his grandfather, the Aga Khan III, a great figure of a man (both figuratively and literally).
"He was a man interested in all of Islamic culture, literature and handicraft. Our people are from such varied parts of the world, from the hot to the cold climates, the Atlantic to the Far East.They have different cultural manifestations.
"My grandfather wouldn't play games with me. He always asked me questions -- big, deep serious questions. He had a remarkable mind. He was interested in everything.
"When I was at Harvard, for instance, he wanted to know: 'What's happening to Muslims of your own age after they've been educated in the Western world?'"
The Aga Khan agreed that it was rather like being interviewed for a job for 20 years. He must have given the right answers. When his grandfather had passed over his sons, Aly Kahn and Saruddin, to designate his young grandson as the imam . The grandfather's will said: "In view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years, due to the great changes which have taken place including the discoveries of atomic science, I am convinced that it is in the best interests of the Shia Moslem Ismaili Community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years in the midst of the new age and who brings a new outlook on life to his office as Imam."
Others added that the grandfather was concerned about the playboy image of his sons, and thought Prince Karim was more serious. Prince Karim's grandfather's last wife, a very beautiful and intelligent French woman, was named as one of the young man's advisers. By all reports, at 20, Prince Karim was a shy serious student. At that time, when asked about the family stables, he said, "I'm not much for sport. I don't know what I will do with the horses."
Another time he explained: "The first time my father put me on a horse I fell off and I haven't been much interested in horses since. I leave the horses to my father." Actually, he didn't have to worry with the horses until his father, who had inherited the stables, was killed on May 21, 1960.
Now, his stables with their green and red silks are estimated to contain more than 900 thoroughbreds. Recently he made a controversial purchase of some 200 horses for more than $10 million. "Now one must consider horses as a business," he said the other day, with a certain amount of understatement.
The Aga Khan is as interested in his children's education as his grandfather was in his. At the moment, thePrincess Zahra (born in 1970), Prince Rahim (1971) and Prince Hussain (1974) have tutors. "And then they go twice a week to school to take examinations," he explained. "They will have a thorough grounding before they go away to school."
Prince Karim, on Oct. 19, 1957, became Aga Khan IV on the spot where his grandfather had once had his weight equaled in diamonds, in Dares-Salaam, Tanganyika. To the rhythmic chant of the Koran, the Aga Khan was invested with a magnificent robe, a kingly turban, a gold chain, a sharp sword and an ancient signet ring.
On Jan. 23, 1958, he was invested all over again, under a canopy of sky blue and sun gold, ay Karachi. The deep wine red and gold throne was elaborately decorated with Persian and Moghul devices. He received as his right a parchment from the Koran, 300 years old. Some 85,000 Ismailis made a holy trek by train, plane, camel and foot to watch the rites in an open-air stadium in Karachi. As if that were not enough, it happened all over again in Nairabi and Kampala, during the two-month inauguration trip to survey his empire.
His is a citizen of Iran, but many of his subjects are in British Commonwealth countries. Queen Elizabeth acknowledged this by granting him the title "highness" shortly after his accession to the imamat.
But all the pomp and circumstance didn't make him think he suddenly knew everything. He went back to Harvard in September 1958. "When I went back for my last year and a half at Harvard, after becoming the imam,"said the Aga Khan, "I knew what I had to do. The dean said I was very fortunate, because unlike some other students, I knew what my life-work was, and I could choose from the intellectual wealth of Harvard."
He took five courses at a time, while auditing four more. And graduated with honors. He was a member of Harvard's Delphic social club, but after he became the imam, he had little time for the "Gassers" as they are called. He did keep up his soccer, playing left wing on the varsity team, despite a lingering charley horse. He worked to keep up with his followers with two secretaries and an aide installed in a hotel suite near his single room in Harvard's Leverett House. He graduated from Harvard in a class of 1,025 in June 1959. The nextOctober, he traveled 7,000 miles with 500 leaders of the Ismali Moslem community from Africa, Burma, Ceylon and Pakistan (in a 16-coach train decorated with flags and bunting) from the Arabian Sea to the Chinese frontier in a great ceremonial visit to his followers. It was a great religious event unlikely to occur again.
The enormity of his empire is hard to measure. The Ismailis contribute up to 10 percent of their income to him. Out of this comes not only his pleasures but his responsibilities. The Ismailis are known to be important commercially and industrially in many countries, but quiet politically.
It was nine years after his graduation, and many rumored favorites, before he married. Before then, he had entertained widely -- including Princess Margaret, whom he saved from a watery accident aboard his yacht, Amaloun.
Oct. 28, 1969, the Aga Khan and the former Lady James Crichton-stuart, were married in the Prince's Paris townhouse. The Rani of Hunza, a tiny principality almost lost in the Himalayas, threw 50 fine pearls at their feet to ensure the couple would walk in happiness the rest of their life. The reception was more staid with Coca-Cola and yogurt drinks for the teetotaling Moslems. But that evening, at a party for 800 (including John D. Rockefeller IV and Princess Margaret) the Shah of Iran donated the caviar; whiskey and champagne flowed.
The Aga Khan and his wife exchanged rings -- her was plain gold, his gold and platinum. On becoming the Begum (or consort), the Aga Khan's wife converted to Islam and Changed her name from Sarah Corcker Poole Crichton-Stuart to Salima.
The Aga Khan was born in London, the son of Joan Yarde-Buller, daughter of Lord Chruston, and the Aly Kahn. His father later married Rita Hayworth. (Prince Karim's half-sister, Yasmin, came to his lecture at the Smithsonian).
The Aga Khan's interests are primarily in Pakistan, India, Iran, Afghanistan, Kenya, Tanzania and recently, in Canada. Some 16,000 Ismalis expelled from Uganda immigrated to Canada easily because of their international scholastic degrees and money -- and an elaborate preparation that included an Ismaili phone book. His people are notable, but not always popular, for their industry, their education and their wealth.
The Aga Khan once told Vision magazine, "In the Moslem religion, there is no clear-cut distinction between the spiritual and the temporal. There are many passages in the Koran dealing with mundane problems. Was not the prophet himself a businessman?"
The Aga Khan heads the Industrial Promotion Services group of companies. The organization is a bridge between private investors and local and international governments. Some 100 enterprises have come out of this development corporation, Among his businesses are a diamnd trust, an insurance company, hotels, Kenya newspapers and magazines, clothing and shoe factories, mines, mills-whatever profitably fills a need. He heads a consortium developing a tourist center, the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia, where he has a home, He has been applauded for keeping some sections unspoiled.
The Aga Khan Foundation, which he organized in 1967, is the Inamat's Department of Social Welfare, under a symbol of three revolving red cresents, the Ismaili equivalent of the Red Cross. He is responsible for three hospitals in Kenya, 100 health clinics in several developing countries and the Central Health Board for Pakistan, which oversees 106 health care centers in pakistan alone. Continuing a project of his grandfather's, he built the Aga Khan Maternity Home at Karimabad, opening in 1979.
In 1984, he expects to open the $250 million earthquake-resistant Aga Khan Hospital and Medical College covering a million square feet on 88 acres at Karachi. The center of the complex is a 721-bed teaching hospital.
Before the design began, Payette Associates of Boston, the architects, were required to visit the great Islamic architectural centers; and an Islamic architect, Mozhan Khadem of Perkins & Will International, was hired as a consultant.
If the Aga Khan has his way, every Islamic builder will do the same.