Aga Khan Museum + Ismaili Centre
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Muslim societies comprise a quarter of the world’s population, yet there is limited knowledge of the people and their faith in the West. This considerable lack of understanding spans all aspects of the peoples of Islam: their pluralism, the diversity of their interpretations of the Qur’anic faith, the chronological and geographical extent of their history and culture, as well as their ethnic, linguistic and social diversity.

His Highness the Aga Khan has taken the initiative to create a museum of Muslim culture: the Aga Khan Museum, in Toronto, Canada. Due to open in 2013, the Museum will be established as a permanent institution with an international scope and mission. It is dedicated to the collection, research, preservation and display of works of art, objects and artefacts of artistic, cultural and historical significance from various periods and geographic areas of the Muslim world.

The Aga Khan Museum’s educational and cultural mission is to provide visitors with an understanding of the artistic, intellectual, scientific and religious heritage of communities, both Muslim and non- Muslim. The Museum, through its permanent and temporary exhibitions, education programmes and cultural activities, will offer unique insights and new perspectives into Islamic civilizations, which will foster knowledge and understanding both within Muslim societies and other cultures.

The Aga Khan Museum will have a programme

• of activities with a strong educational impact, aimed at both general and specialized audiences. It will present and host exhibitions, music and theatre, films, lectures and cultural activities that will emphasize the plurality of creative expressions inspired by the world of Islam. It will encourage an appreciation of the shared legacies of world civilizations and act as catalysts

for better understanding and mutual respect.

• A large permanent exhibition space will house art and artefacts acquired by His Highness the Aga Khan and his family and donated to the Museum. Up to 200 pieces from the Museum’s collection will be showcased in the permanent gallery that will combine state of the art display systems with innovative approaches to design and interpretation.

Major temporary exhibitions concerning the Islamic world will be presented in historic, geographic or thematic terms. These exhibitions will draw upon private collections and institutional holdings from all parts of the world. Smaller exhibitions on specific artists and topics will also be hosted in the temporary exhibition space.

• An auditorium with 350 seats will host music performances and theatre productions, book launches and readings, films and conferences. In addition to providing a platform for the Aga Khan Music Initiative, the auditorium will host conferences with sister institutions such as the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, the Aga Khan University, and the University of Central Asia, as well as seminars and symposia in collaboration with museums and cultural institutions from within and outside Canada. These events will offer the public a varied and exciting cultural programme throughout the year.

• A world class reference library and multi- media centre, as well as classrooms and workshops for educational activities will be aimed at a broad public and all age groups.

Through these programmes, the Museum will provide visitors with an understanding of the art, ideas, literature and cultures of Muslim civilizations that have had a profound impact on humanity.

The abstract notion of light was a source of inspiration for the design of the Aga Khan Museum by the renowned Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki.

Born in Tokyo in 1928, Fumihiko Maki is one of the foremost architects in the world. Following his undergraduate studies in architecture at the University of Tokyo (1952), Maki went on to obtain Master’s degrees from both the Cranbrook Academy of Art (1953) and the Harvard Graduate School of Design (1954). After working in the United States, Maki established his own firm, Maki and Associates, in Tokyo in 1965.

For the design of the Aga Khan Museum, Maki and Associates worked closely with Toronto based and internationally recognized Moriyama & Teshima Architects.

Designed to be modern and efficient, the Museum is contained in a 10,500m2 building within a simple rectilinear footprint 81 metres long by 54 metres wide. The four primary functions (exhibition spaces, an auditorium, classrooms and workshops, and library and media-centre) will revolve around a central courtyard, which will act as the heart of the building and will integrate the different functions into a cohesive whole while allowing each space to maintain its independence, privacy and character.

The Aga Khan Museum contains exhibition spaces designed to be flexible, bold and innovative. These spaces will showcase objects in a visual setting that will allow visitors to be inspired by the great diversity of the arts of Islam.

The Museum will share the 6.8 hectare site with the Ismaili Centre, designed by Charles Correa Associates with Moriyama & Teshima Architects, and will be surrounded by a landscaped park, designed by Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Architecture with Moriyama & Teshima Architects. Together, they will constitute important landmarks and green space for the city of Toronto.

Connecting the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Museum will be a beautifully landscaped Park designed by landscape architect, Vladimir Djurovic, in collaboration with Toronto-based Moriyama & Teshima Planners. Djurovic has worked to create a simple yet expressive space that will unite the two distinctive buildings and describes his vision for the Park as one that “captures the essence of the Islamic garden and translates it into an expression that reflects its context and contemporary age.” The Park will incorporate the Islamic “chaar bhag” or formal garden with reflecting pools, walkways, and components suited to the climate of Toronto, so that the garden captures the stark beauty of the Canadian winter as well as the flowering of summer. It will include spaces for educational programming and outdoor gatherings as well as offering a place of tranquillity and relaxation.

Working with the City of Toronto, additional areas will be landscaped to enhance the green spaces available to the visiting public. The goal is to ensure that the Park, through its design and extensive use, becomes a permanent legacy to Toronto and Canada. For His Highness the Aga Khan, buildings and public spaces are physical manifestations of culture in societies, past, and present. They aim to represent human endeavours that serve to enhance quality of life, foster self-understanding and community values. For the developing world in particular, they aim to expand opportunities for economic and social development in the communities they serve.


“The 1,428 years of the Ummah embrace many civilizations and are therefore characterized by an astonishing pluralism. In particular, this geographic, ethnic, linguistic and religious pluralism has manifested itself at the most defining moments in the history of the Ummah. The Aga Khan Museum Collection will highlight objects drawn from every region and every period, and created from every kind of material in the Muslim world.”

- His Highness the Aga Khan - “Musée-Musées” Round Table, Louvre Paris

The Museum collection contains some one thousand artefacts and artworks. This collection, which will continue to evolve and grow, spans over one thousand years of history. The ceramic, metalwork, ivory, stone and wood, textile and carpet, glass and rock crystal objects, along with rare works on parchment and illustrated paintings on paper present an overview of the artistic accomplishments of Muslim civilizations from the Iberian Peninsula to China.

The Museum will house and exhibit some of the most important works of Islamic art in the world. The collection incorporates miniatures and manuscripts brought together by the late Prince Sadruddin and Princess Catherine Aga Khan with Islamic artefacts and works of art collected by His Highness the Aga Khan over the last two decades.

To prepare the research on the art works, to test various musicological themes, and to develop relationships with key international partners, a series of exhibitions featuring selections from the Museum’s collection have been organized since 2007. To date, major exhibitions have taken place in Parma, London, Paris, Lisbon, Toledo, Madrid, Barcelona and Berlin. Over the next two years, further exhibitions are envisaged in Istanbul and five other cities in the Muslim world. By 2012, these exhibitions will have been seen by nearly one and a half million people and will have created a framework for cooperation and collaboration with museums and institutions throughout the world.

A Museum in Canada

“While some North American museums have significant collections of Muslim art, there is no institution devoted to Islamic art. In building the museum in Toronto, we intend to introduce a new actor to the North American art scene. What happens on that continent, culturally, economically and politically, cannot fail to have worldwide repercussions – which is why we thought it important that an institution capable of promoting understanding and tolerance should exist there.”

Canada has for many years been a beacon to the rest of the world for its commitment to pluralism. This tradition of tolerance and inclusiveness has permitted diversity to flourish, enriching the life of each individual and community that has sought to make Canada its home.

It is within this framework that the Aga Khan Museum will act as both a repository of heritage and a source of inspiration, complementing the work of the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa, another new initiative of His Highness the Aga Khan, that seeks to share Canada’s experience of pluralism with the world.

Standard (alam), Iran, late 16th Century

This Museum is one of three new buildings established by His Highness the Aga Khan in Canada. Taken together, the Museum, the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Ottawa, and, the Ismaili Centre in Toronto, affirm the intent to share within a western setting, the humanistic traditions of Islam and reflect His Highness’ conviction that buildings can do more than simply house people and programmes; they can also reflect our deepest values.

The Ismaili Centre, by Faranaaz Alimohamed

When complete, the Ismaili Centre, Toronto will be part of a growing network of Ismaili Centres, five of which have already been established in cities around the world. Over the past 25 years, these architecturally spectacular, multipurpose buildings have been constructed in London, Burnaby, Lisbon, Dubai and Dushanbe, with plans for others in Houston, Paris and Los Angeles. They are situated in spaces from quiet suburbs to busy metropolitan hubs and represent the enduring presence of the Ismaili Muslim community in the places where they are located.

“The Ismaili Centres are typically located in cities where there is a substantial Ismaili Muslim population, and they reflect the Jamat’s hopes and aspirations for the future,” explains Nazir Mulji, Coordinator, Ismaili Centres at Aiglemont, France. “These are representational buildings that over time will be built in more places.”

Conceived as spaces that enable the search for mutual understanding, the Ismaili Centres endeavour to bring people together in a mood of friendship, courtesy, and harmony. They facilitate the promotion of cultural, educational and social programmes from the broad- est, non-denominational perspectives, within the ethical framework of Islam. Serving both religious and ambassadorial functions, each Ismaili Centre incorporates a Jamatkhana— a space of prayer, contemplation and community interaction. They also include spaces for intellectual and social gatherings, meeting rooms, educational facilities, libraries and gardens. The activities that take place in these spaces allow diverse peoples to come together in dialogue and in recognition of a shared responsibility for advancing the common good.

“As you look at the Ismaili Centres, the activities of the Aga Khan Development Network [AKDN] and the Jamat, we are a global Jamat, a global network,” says Mulji. “The Centres give us an opportunity to make connections with global organizations in multiple centres and at multiple sites around the world, to talk about the work of the Aga Khan Development Network, share our experiences and build the kind of strong relationships that we require to improve the quality of life of the people amongst whom we live.”

The Ismaili Centre, Toronto is an ambitious project that will stand adjacent to the first-ever Aga Khan Museum in the Wynford Drive complex. The two buildings will be nestled within a serene park, open to the public, which will link them together. “The Museum and the Park will also provide a lot of space in which to have conversations, to have dialogue with multiple communities in Toronto and to build more of a mutual understanding among cultures,” says Mulji.

The welcoming space of the Park will be a valuable addition to its Toronto neighbourhood, and the architecture of the Centre will be visually dramatic in the context of its surrounding urban environment. The building has been designed by the acclaimed Indian architectural firm Charles Correa Associates in collaboration with the internationally recognized, award winning, Toronto-based firm of Moriyama & Teshima Architects.

Architect Charles Correa describes the design of the Centre as follows: “We knew this Jamatkhana must be pluralistic— expressing on the one hand the age-old heritage of the Ismaili community and on the other their newfound aspirations

as proud citizens of Canada. So, throughout the building, the architectonic language and the materials used are contemporary (exposed concrete, stainless steel and frosted glass), but there are also references to other values, derived from other times.”

The most prominent feature of the Centre, which is it- self located at the highest point of the site, will be a bold, crystalline, frosted glass dome that will sit on top of and illuminate the prayer hall. Circular in shape, the prayer hall will be spanned by a double layer of glass which will rise to form the cone-shaped dome. The glass will be supported by elegant steel trusses of various depths and dimensions, and each layer will be pieced together in its own geometry.

The circular wall surrounding the prayer hall will be rimmed with a slanted glass skylight to allow natural light to wash down on its surface. At night, the glass roof of the prayer hall will glow, lit from within.

While it is the most private space in the building, the prayer hall, defined by its distinct crystalline dome, will also be the feature most visible to the public as it will be easily apparent from Toronto’s Don Valley Parkway, a major artery that leads into and out of the city’s downtown. In this way, the Ismaili Centre will be a strong and beautiful symbol of the Jamat’s presence in Toronto and Canada.

The interior spaces of the Centre are also striking in their design. In approaching the prayer hall through the entrance foyer, a tall glass column will be visible, radiating light. The column pierces through to the terrace above, bringing in natural light and establishing the Qibla axis which aligns with the prayer hall.

The social hall anchors the building opposite the prayer hall. It has a large, slanted glass skylight and irregular faceted geometry on the ceiling. The social hall is surrounded by an atrium library, an entry foyer and classrooms. On the upper level, connected to the social hall, is a large roof terrace that looks down on the garden.

The Centre’s outdoor spaces will have an intimate relationship with the setting of the surrounding Park. The design and landscaping of the Park will provide a variety of views, creating opportunities for new experiences at every visit.

Gardens and outdoor spaces play a significant role in other Ismaili Centres around the world as well. The rooftop garden at the Ismaili Centre, London provides an oasis of calm in the midst of a busy urban environment, while in the courtyard of the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby, the sound of moving water, the scent of plants and the interplay of light and shadow stimulate the senses.

The five-domed Ismaili Centre in Dubai also features an idyllic garden, with palms, flower beds and flowing water. The exterior reflects the intent of the building, which Mawlana Hazar Imam describes as “a place for peaceful contemplation, but one that is set in a social context. It is not a place to hide from the world, but rather a place which inspires us to engage our worldly work as a direct extension of our faith.”

Since the first Ismaili Centre opened a quarter of a century ago, the landmark Centres have become synonymous with the Ismaili community’s approach to the Muslim faith and to modern life. At the opening ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, London in April 1985, Mawlana Hazar Imam said, “This building is more than simply a place of congregation. Through the quality of its design and workmanship, it will be a bridge between the culture of the community’s roots and that of its future as well as a symbol of the hopes of people who have lived through change and turbulence and have ultimately found security.”

“These Centres serve to reflect, illustrate and represent the community’s intellectual and spiritual understanding of Islam, its social conscience, its organization, its forward outlook and its positive attitude towards the societies in which it lives.”

Around the world, the Ismaili Centres have hosted a variety of events, including policy forums, cultural exhibitions, award presentations and intercultural dialogues. On these occasions, the Centres have welcomed many members of the wider community including government officials, academics, leaders of other communities and the public. These events have allowed visitors to tour the Centres and engage with Jamati members and leaders, thereby enhancing their understanding of the Ismaili community and of Islam more broadly. By building bridges between diverse groups, these events promote democracy, civil society and pluralism, themes that are prevalent in the work of the Imamat and the AKDN.

Ultimately, the Ismaili Centres are physical manifestations of the values of Islam. As Mawlana Hazar Imam stated at the Foundation Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, Dushanbe in August 2003, “These Centres serve to reflect, illustrate and represent the community’s intellectual and spiritual understanding of Islam, its social conscience, its organization, its forward outlook and its positive attitude towards the societies in which it lives.” And the goal for the Ismaili Centre, Toronto is to be a building block in this rich endeavour.

His Highness the Aga Khan

His Highness the Aga Khan is the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader), of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and Founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network. In the Ismaili tradition, the Imam’s responsibilities involve not only the interpretation of the faith for the Ismaili Community, but also the relationship of that faith to conditions in the present. For the Aga Khan, this has led to a deep involvement with development, as a process grounded in the ethics of Islam, in which economic, social, and cultural factors converge to determine quality of life.

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) was founded and is guided by His Highness the Aga Khan as a group of development agencies, institutions, and programmes that work primarily in the poorest parts of Asia and Africa. AKDN focuses on health, education, culture, rural development, institution-building and the promotion of economic development. It is dedicated to improving living conditions and opportunities for the poor, without regard to their faith, origin or gender.

The AKDN works in over 25 countries around the world and employs approximately 60,000 people, the majority of whom are based in developing countries.

Address Wynford & Garamond, Toronto, Ontario
Category Institutional
Status Complete
Completion 2014

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