No. 503 . 12 January 2011 
ArchitectureWeek

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The Bridge School in rural China provides a pedestrian river crossing — and a slide. Photo: Aga Khan Award for Architecture/ Li Xiaodong Atelier

Aga Khan Award for Architecture

by ArchitectureWeek

There's probably more raw creativity, inspiration, and charm in this collection of relatively humble projects than in a typical dozen starchitect masterpieces.

Near Córdoba, Spain, stand the extensive remains of Madinat al-Zahra, a tenth-century Islamic palace city.

Nearby, a contemporary museum interprets the archeological site within a subtle and deferential structure. Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos arranged the museum's main public functions in a cloister around a courtyard — a form found in both the excavated buildings and the old town of Córdoba.

The museum's restrained material palette of white concrete, iroko wood, and limestone paving is intended to evoke the rough retaining walls and temporary structures of an archeological dig.

The Madinat al-Zahra Museum is one of five projects recently honored with the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Established in 1977 by His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, the triennial award recognizes excellence in the built environment, coupled with contributions to quality of life, in societies in which Muslims have a significant presence.

The group of projects honored for 2010 is small but diverse, including a tiny school in rural China, a new textile factory in Turkey, the restoration of colonial architecture in Tunisia, and a large-scale waterway redevelopment in Saudi Arabia. The jury noted that issues of identity and plurality emerged as guiding principles for the 2010 selections, and praised the award recipients and the other 14 shortlisted projects for exhibiting a "responsible quality, of treading lightly on earth."   >>>

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