Islamic Architecture Speeches
Speech by His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan
Architecture as Symbol and Self Identity, Fez, Morocco, October 9, 1979
I would like to begin by thanking all guests of the seminar for their being here in Fez and contributing to the development of the Award procedures. When I walked through the Madina yesterday I sensed the presence of the aged and the very young. I saw neither the students nor the people a little older than students which I am accustomed to seeing in other densely populated Islamic cities. That is what I observed, and it may well be an incorrect observation. But I asked myself whether, in fact, the Madina of Fez is squeezing this generation out of the city. As Prof. Grabar and others have pointed out, this generation is an absolutely critical force in the density of the Islamic world. The situation in Iran, I think, shows the power of this generation in shaping the destinies of Islamic countries.
This seminar has been extremely helpful in providing the Steering Committee, and therefore me, with an understanding of the symbols of the city. I am not sure any one of us has a full understanding of what will be the symbols and the signs of the future generations that will lead the Islamic world. Mr. Soedjatmoco spoke of an enabling environment; I think this is quite correct. We are living through a time of passive disabling and must now seek to reverse that trend. My suspicion is that that will be done by the generation to which I have just referred, which today comprises more than fifty percent of the world's Muslims.
I hope that the jury, having obtained from this seminar information about past symbols and signs, will have the wisdom not to restrict the future environment to those symbols and signs. We have to accept that they will, and should, change. But our objective is to enable society to live within the context which we have been discussing.
I have studied history, but I am also involved in building for the future. Therefore, one part of me is on the historian's side, and the other on that of the architect. And somewhere between the two there should lie a solution which will enable us to develop an appropriate environment, not for understanding the past, but for aiding the generations which will live in these buildings of the future.
Without any doubt whatsoever, they are different from previous generations. All one needs to consider is the interiority to which Prof. Burkhardt referred. The nature of the family unit is in the process of changing. I am not convinced that that is desired by the youth in the Islamic world today. Legislation in many countries will simply not permit us to build wall to wall. There is a very specific restriction against it.
I think we have all benefited from your views on symbols and signs. I certainly understand them infinitely better now than at the first seminar at Aiglemont. On the other hand, I think that a great deal still needs to be done to permit new symbols and signs in the architecture of the future. Let me conclude by saying how much I think your participation has helped us to find proper criteria for the Award.