Announcing the Winners of the 2019 Aga Khan Award For Architecture
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Announcing the Winners of the 2019 Aga Khan Award For Architecture

By Duncan Nielsen
The Aga Khan Award for Architecture was just bestowed upon six boundary-pushing projects. The winners will share $1 million in prize money, and one of architecture’s most coveted accolades.

Every three years the Aga Khan Award for Architecture honors innovative projects that address needs and fulfill aspirations specific to Islamic societies worldwide. The winners of the 2019 award were just announced at the Kremlin in Kazan, Russia—a World Heritage Site with Muslim legacy.

The Aga Khan—a spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims—established the award in 1977, and more than 9,000 building projects by architects, builders, and engineers, have been considered since. The competition focuses on progressive works: in 42 years, 122 projects have been recognized for their unique approaches to social housing, community improvement, historic preservation, and landscape design. Read on for a look at this year's winners.

Revitalization of Muharraq 

A public space gets an update, providing the community with a place to meet and relax.

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This project by the Authority for Culture & Antiquities Conservation Department of Manama reinvigorates Muharraq, Bahrain, with updated public spaces. The restoration of the environment was a top priority, and the results highlight the city's pearling history and its status as a World Heritage Site. Muharraq was once Bahrain's capital and economic center, and the restoration aims to rebalance the city's skewed demographic by attracting young families.

Buildings, like this one, got new windows and freshened-up facades as part of a general revitalization effort in Muharraq.

Arcadia Education Project in South Kanarchor

After teaching abroad, Razia Alam returned to her home country to establish a school for underprivileged children. She wanted it to be near water, so the architects built a structure that can float when the river floods during heavy rains.

This modular, amphibious structure by Saif Ul Haque Sthapati houses a preschool, a nursery, a vocational training center, and a hostel. It adapts to volatile weather conditions by floating during monsoons, which happen often. The structure rests on 30-gallon steel drums with bamboo frames, and is waterproofed with liquid from boiled gaab fruits—a common technique in Bangladesh. The building was assembled almost completely by hand, and it's sensitive to the surrounding river ecosystem.

The 5,000-square-foot structure is propped up on empty steel barrels with bamboo frames so it can float during floods. 

Underprivileged Bangladeshi preschoolers now can learn in a schoolhouse impervious to shifting weather conditions.

Palestinian Museum in Birzeit

The museum's zig-zagging form emulates the region's terraced landscapes. It was built using locally sourced limestone.

Situated adjacent to the Mediterranean, the LEED Gold-certified Palestinian Museum by Dublin-based Heneghan Peng Architects mimics the region's surrounding terraces. It was constructed using locally quarried limestone, and its design insulates the interior while maximizing daylighting. Rainwater and gray water are harvested to irrigate the surrounding property.

The building’s exterior features carefully placed metal fins that block solar glare and absorb heat to keep the interior cool. They still allow for sunlight to seep in.

Public Spaces Development Program in Kazan

A public pool pops with primary colors, and provides a place for locals to cool off and relax. 

In Kazan—where judges announced the competition's winners today—328 public spaces have seen updates. The idea was to counter the city's trend towards privatized spaces by providing quality outdoor areas for its citizens. The city has become a model for other urban areas throughout the Russian Federation.

A public sun deck made of slatted wood is the perfect setting for a waterfront meal or conversation. 

A structure of flowing, trimmed logs shelters a playground for children. 

Alioune Diop University Teaching and Research Unit in Bambey

The university building has an insulated roof with a heat-reflecting metal skin. Temperatures in Bambey often exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so cooling features like these were essential to the design.

Spanish architects IDOM designed the Alioune Diop University Teaching and Research Unit to be built using construction techniques unique to Senegal, which kept costs low and ensured the project’s sustainability. The project maximizes airflow and deflects heat with a large double-roof canopy and latticework building blocks. Inside is a 500-seat lecture hall, several classrooms, laboratories, offices, and meeting rooms. IDOM created a striking, monochromatic edifice that will serve its students and staff alike.  

The latticed structure—made of perforated breeze-blocks manufactured on-site—allows for plenty of airflow. 

Wasit Wetland Center in Sharjah

X-Architects designed a minimalist center surrounding rehabilitated wetlands. Visitors get an up-close look at the ancient site.

Dubai-based X-Architects rehabilitated an ancient chain of wetlands that runs along the Persian Gulf. They used a minimal approach and sunken design for the center, which will provide environmental information to visitors. From a long viewing gallery, bird enthusiasts can look out onto an adjacent aviary. The minimalist building treads lightly on the now-restored indigenous ecosystem, and it was designed to provide shelter from the hot desert climate. Rainwater is harvested and diverted to the surrounding landscape.

The center surrounds an aviary that is home to many species of birds. Fabric shading stretches out from the structure to provide shelter for both the wildlife and visitors.