Photos courtesy Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil
Egyptian architect Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil has won the 2008 Richard E. Driehaus Prize. His work includes the Quba Mosque (top) and the Oxford University Centre for Islamic Studies (above).

Since Léon Krier was presented the first Richard E. Driehaus Prize for achieving design excellence in the classical tradition in 2003, the award’s stewards have sought to broaden people’s understanding of classicism in modern times. “It’s not about columns or construction,” says Michael Lykoudis, jury chair and dean of the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture, which administers the annual honor. “It’s about urbanism and how people live together, and about sustainability—that buildings should be enduring so that the embodied energy that goes into them pays off in the long haul.”

When Demetri Porphyrios won the following year, the prize committee widened the perspective to include that London-based architect’s deployment of “modern materials within the classical tradition,” Lykoudis says. In November it expanded yet again, when officials announced that Egyptian architect Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil won the Driehaus Prize. This is the second year that the award has been valued at $200,000, twice the original amount.

El-Wakil’s work ranges across building types, and includes Halawa House in Agamy, Egypt, and Corniche Mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, both of which won Aga Khan Awards for Architecture in the 1980s. These projects grasp historic Islamic architectural principles concerning circulation, climate sensitivity, and decoration, Lykoudis says. Moreover, the five-person Driehaus jury applauded the architect’s careful blending of Islamic convention and foreign context, most notably in the recently completed Oxford University Centre for Islamic Studies building, as well as his research into fabricating construction materials using inexpensive, indigenous sources.

In addition to representing the Driehaus Prize’s increasingly broad interpretation of classical architecture, Lykoudis notes that this year’s recognition of El-Wakil is particularly resonant given the political climate. “Individual cultures can be celebrated through universal principles as well as local identities,” he says. “The arts can help us better understand each other.”