Maki and Associates has completed the first building in the world specifically designed for the Aga Khan and his agencies.
The Aga Khan is the spiritual leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslims and founder of the coveted Aga Khan Award for Architecture, which honors projects in communities where Muslims have a significant presence. The new, 95,000-square-foot building, known as the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, is located in Ottawa, Canada, and houses offices for the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada and Aga Khan Development Network, a group of secular agencies with a variety of activities in the developing world that promote health, education, economic development, and revitalization of historic cities.
The rectilinear building’s most dramatic feature is a multi-faceted glass dome with triangular fiberglass shades that control sunlight. The dome’s shape is a direct response to the Aga Khan’s request for a building inspired by rock crystal, which he admires for “its translucency, its multiple planes, and the fascination of its colors—all of which present themselves differently as light moves around them,” he stated on December 6 during an inauguration ceremony at the building.
Located beneath the dome is a 55-foot-high atrium, its glass walls partially obscured by cast aluminum screens with an Arabesque-type pattern. Beyond the atrium is a traditional walled exterior garden, or char bagh. On the exterior, the building is clad in crystallized glass ceramic panels, which are intended to reflect subtle changes in the color of natural light throughout the day.
The Aga Khan noted that the project “reflects our conviction that buildings can do more than simply house people and programs. They can also reflect our deepest values, as great architecture captures esoteric thought in physical form.” The Aga Khan and his institutions have two other new buildings in the works in Canada—an Islamic art museum designed by Maki, and a religious and community center designed by Charles Correa. Both projects are in Toronto. In addition, the Aga Khan has established a Global Centre for Pluralism in the former Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
“Together, these projects represent a permanent institutional commitment to Canada,” says Khalil Shariff, CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada. Shariff notes that Canada was a natural choice for the organization because many Ismaili Muslims moved to the country during turmoil in Uganda more than three decades ago; about 100,000 live in Canada today. “There’s also a long history of active collaboration between Canada and the non-denominational institutions of the network,” adds Shariff, noting that the Aga Khan Development Network has worked closely with the Canadian International Development Agency for the past 25 years to reduce poverty in Asia and Africa. “There’s a convergence of values between the work we’re doing,” he says, “and what Canada stands for and represents in the world.”