In a profession crowded with prizes, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture remains one of the world’s most significant and influential honors. Established in 1977 by His Highness the Aga Khan, the awards, which are given every three years, shine a light on parts of the globe that are often overlooked by Western critics and professionals. The prizes focus on projects that have an impact on communities with Muslim populations and histories, often in underserved areas.  Contenders for the award can be new buildings or adaptive re-use, landscape and urban design projects. They are carefully vetted: rather than being judged merely by photographs and architect-supplied text, as so many design awards are, the short-listed projects are visited by technical experts who submit detailed reports to the jury.

Six winning projects have just been announced for the 2019 cycle, and each generates new spaces or sustainable places for the public good, some in challenging conditions. They are:

In Bahrain, the revitalization of Muharraq, a World Heritage site with a history of pearling, is being honored for an ongoing program of restoration and re-use projects, as well the creation of new public spaces and community and cultural venues. The largest new construction on the site, the Pearling Path Visitors Center, designed by Swiss architect Valerio Olgiati, was published in Architectural Record last March.

The Arcadia Education Project, in South Kanarchor, Bangladesh, is a modular building that includes a preschool, nursery and vocational training center. Because its riverfront site is flooded for months during the monsoon season, the architect, Saif Ul Haque Sthapati, of Dhaka, ingeniously designed “an amphibious structure” anchored to the ground with bamboo posts: it sits on the ground during the dry season or can float on 30-gallon steel drums, within bamboo frames, that form a substructure.

The Palestinian Museum, in Birzeit, is built atop a hill of terraced gardens, with a view of the Mediterranean. Designed by the Dublin firm of Heneghan Peng, the sharply angled structure--clad in limestone quarried in nearby Bethlehem--is dedicated to celebrating Palestinian culture and tolerance.  Read more about the museum, published in RECORD in March 2017, here.

The Public Spaces Development Program, in Kazan, the Republic of Tatarastan,  has revamped 328 public spaces all over the country, ranging from neglected town squares to beaches to riverfronts .  Initiated by the President of Tatarastan in 2015,  the project is meant to counter the trend toward the privatization of real estate and re-claim  spaces for communities in the post-Soviet era; it has become “a model throughout the Russian Federation,” according to a press release.  The program has been a boon for the republic’s young architects who have designed many of the varied projects; it echoes in some ways the acclaimed program for the re-design of urban spaces in Barcelona after the end of the Franco regime.

The Alioune Diop University Teaching and Research Unit in Bambey, Senegal, is part of a rural academic campus serving a burgeoning student population.  An ambitious building with classrooms, lecture halls and labs, designed by the firm IDOM of Bilbao, Spain, it incorporates such sustainable elements as a perforated masonry wall for air flow and an expansive roof canopy for shade; both also seem to add to the drama of the architecture.

Finally, in Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, the Wasit Wetland Center project cleaned up a dumping ground along the Persian Gulf coast and created a visitor’s center, walkways and bird sanctuaries to restore the original ecology and attract the public.

The jury in this cycle was lead by Kwame Anthony Appiah, the cultural theorist, philosopher and novelist who teaches at New York University, and included the architects and urbanists Meisa Batayneh, David Chipperfield, Elizabeth Diller, Mona Fawaz, Kareem Ibrahim, Ali M. Malkawi, and Nondita Correa Mehrotra, as well as the historian Edhem Eldem.

The awards acknowledge both architects and clients. This year’s winners, who will share a $1 million prize, will be honored at an official ceremony in Kazan, Tatarastan in September.