The Aga Khan Award for Architecture was established by the Aga Khan in 1977 to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of communities in which Muslims have a significant presence.
Given every three years, the awards recognise examples of architectural excellence in the fields of contemporary design, social housing, community improvement and development, historic preservation, reuse and area conservation, as well as landscape design and improvement of the environment.
From among 348 nominations for the 2016 Aga Kahn Award for Architecture, an independent Master Jury selected a shortlist of 19 projects. Each of the shortlisted projects was rigorously investigated by architects, conservation specialists and structural engineers. Their reports are the basis for the Master Jury’s selection.
The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI) at the American University of Beirut (AUB) was established as a neutral, dynamic, civil and open space where people representing all viewpoints in society can gather and discuss significant issues. The Institute is anchored in a long-standing commitment to mutual understanding and high-quality research; to harness, develop and initiate research and debate on public policy and international relations. The IFI’s design is defined by the many routes and connections within AUB, interweaving the pathways and views within the campus to create a forum for the exchange of ideas – a centre of interaction and dialogue – at the heart of the university.
Significantly reducing the building’s footprint by ‘floating’ key research spaces above the entrance courtyard to preserve the existing landscape integral to the 2002 master-plan, the design creates a new public space for the campus and establishes links from the university’s Central Oval to the Middle Campus and Mediterranean Sea. Existing Ficus and Cypress trees on the IFI site (aged between 120 and 180 years old) are integral to the design. The building emerges from the geometries of intersecting routes as a series of interlocking spaces for research, engagement and discourse.
The Master Jury’s citation:
“As the last in a series of buildings, the Issam Fares Institute completes the central oval courtyard of the upper campus of American University of Beirut, located on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean. This educational building solves a dense programme within a surprisingly small footprint in a manner that is sensitive to its context. With its contemporary form and the purity of its architectural language the building differentiates itself from its neighbours, though it is not in conflict with the campus and its architecture.
“Cantilevering over the courtyard and overlooking the old cypress and ficus trees, the building presents an extremely powerful and authentic volumetric structure without obstructing the view of the buildings behind. The building’s height, matched with that of the trees and the surrounding structures, serves to strengthen the powerful relationship it creates with its context. Throughout, a fluid planning strategy has turned to advantage the level variances of the site, and a welcoming environment has been created by providing entrances at various levels via ramps that weave through existing trees, in the process becoming part of the landscape themselves.
“The building makes a courageous – and at the same time fully respectful – contribution to the multi-layered physical environment of this historic and rooted university campus. With its simple, exposed concrete surface and strong volumetric presence, it is an elegant yet unique solution to a complex and special context.”