KARACHI: The Aga Khan Centre, a unique building, was opened by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales at an inauguration ceremony hosted by His Highness the Aga Khan, in London.
Among the guests were the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and Foreign Office Minister for Human Rights, Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, says a press release issued by the Aga Khan University, Karachi.
The Aga Khan Centre (AKC) is a place for education, knowledge, cultural exchange and insight into Muslim civilisations.
It is the new UK home for several education and development institutions founded by His Highness the Aga Khan including the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU ISMC), The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS), and the Aga Khan Foundation UK (AKF UK). Together the organisations work to bridge the gap in understanding about Muslim cultures and to connect the public to global development issues and the work of the Aga Khan Foundation.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, The Prince of Wales commented on the importance of understanding the intellectual and cultural contributions that Islamic civilisations have made to the world.
His Highness the Aga Khan expressed his strong expectation that “from this new home, these education-oriented institutions would contribute powerfully to building new bridges of understanding across the gulfs of ignorance.”
“One of the central challenges that faces our world today is the challenge of harmonizing many highly diversified voices within an increasingly globalized world,” His Highness the Aga Khan noted. “I use the word ’harmonizing‘ carefully – for our ideal here is not a chorus that sings in unison, but one that blends many distinctive voices into an intelligent, resonant whole. But to do that requires a deep understanding of what makes each voice distinctive. And that is the essential function of the educational endeavors that will make this place their home.”
AKC also houses the Aga Khan Library, London, which brings together the collections of the IIS and AKU-ISMC. Located over two floors, the library provides space for publications, areas for study and secure archival storage for rare books and manuscripts. The library collections include academic materials for teaching, research, comparative study and publications about Muslim civilisations, including a unique collection with a focus on Shia Islam and its Ismaili traditions.
The new 10,000 square metre building appears to ‘float’ with its cantilevered façade, hovering above glass walls at ground level. It re-arranges a traditional Islamic architectural format, of multiple spaces organised around ground level courtyards, to a vertical layout – placing a series of open learning and office spaces upwards around a central atrium. The building spans across 10 floors.
The building design, by world-renowned Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, represents openness, dialogue and respect for diverse viewpoints.
Central to the building and across multiple floors is a series of terraces, gardens and courtyards. The Islamic Gardens at King’s Cross are inspired by the diversity of Muslim societies, drawing from regions ranging from North Africa and Spain to the Middle East, Persia and India.
The beautiful spaces offer a series of contemporary, contemplative gardens which have been commissioned specifically to represent the diversity of the Muslim world, while jointly bringing a connected ‘ribbon’ of new green spaces to the developing King’s Cross area. These have been created by Maki and Associates as well as other leading garden designers, including Madison Cox and Nelson Byrd Woltz.
Beginning in September 2018, the Aga Khan Centre will run a public programme of lectures and exhibitions, and members of the public will have opportunities to visit the Islamic Gardens at King’s Cross housed in the building as part of regular scheduled tours.
London has been a home for the educational and international development institutions now housed at AKC for forty years, due in large part to the city’s role as an international centre that has a pluralistic outlook and respects the free exchange of ideas. The thriving King’s Cross neighbourhood is a natural fit for these organisations. The IIS and AKU-ISMC work alongside leading UK universities and are active members of London’s Knowledge Quarter. Through their Higher Education programmes, research and publications, they seek to promote scholarship on Muslim cultures and societies, historical as well as contemporary.
The inauguration took place as part of His Highness’ visit to the UK as a guest of Her Majesty’s Government. This year marks His Highness’ Diamond Jubilee – 60 years of his role as Imam (spiritual leader) of the global Shia Ismaili Muslim community.