Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture and Professorship of Islamic Art established

Area studies to Islamic studies 1979

Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture and Professorship of Islamic Art Established

The Aga Khan Programs for Islamic Architecture (AKPIA) at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were established in 1979 for the study of Islamic architecture, urbanism, visual culture, and conservation and are supported by endowments for instruction, research, and student aid established by Karim Aga Khan (A. B. '59). Through its programs at Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture and Graduate School of Design, AKPIA seek to increase the visibility of the pan-Islamic cultural heritage in the modern Muslim world. In 1983, AKPIA began to publish Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Cultures of the Islamic World with Oleg Grabar, Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Art, as its founding editor.

Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture


Aga Khan Program for Islamic Art and Architecture

András Riedlmayer

A quick introduction to the Aga Khan. His Highness the Aga Khan went to Harvard, he was Harvard class of 1959. He is also the 49th hereditary imam of the Shi'a Isma'ili community. And 20 years after he graduated from Harvard, he was persuaded to establish a program both at Harvard and MIT. This came as a result of several things. One is he noticed that throughout the Islamic world, that really from the Maghrib to Malaysia, everything was starting to look the same, you couldn't tell whether you were in Houston or Kuala Lumpur, there was nothing intrinsically local or Islamic among the architecture that was being built and that the historical heritage was being neglected. And so he thought it would be a good thing to have two leading institutions, Harvard and MIT, run a program on Islamic art, architecture, and urbanism. And the division was as follows: Harvard would do art history, architectural history, gardens, and museum studies; MIT would do the practice of architecture and the teaching of architecture, and urbanism. And so it would be a two pronged approach. And he was criticized at the time, "Why don't you set this up someplace in the Islamic world?" And the idea was that these universities had the resources to really do a serious job. And then people from the Islamic world would come to Harvard, would come to MIT, and take back the knowledge with them. So people teaching in architectural schools in Pakistan, in Jordan, in many other places, are all graduates of the program at this stage. And increasingly, with the benefit of technology, of course, the resources themselves are also being shared.

Aga Khan photos
(Top: left to right) Harvard president Derek Bok, the Aga Khan, and MIT president Jerome Wiesner in 1979; (bottom: left to right) Gülru Necipoğlu, Director of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture Farrokh Derakhshani, and the Aga Khan in Dubai in 2016