Islamic Architecture Website Launched
By WILLIAM C. MARTIN
The Aga Khan ?59, spiritual leader of the world?s 15
million Ismaili Muslims, joined the presidents of
Harvard and MIT Friday to launch the world?s largest
online resource for scholars of Islamic architecture.
The resource, called ArchNet, contains over 600,000
images of Islamic architecture, tools for discussion
and collaboration online among scholars and access to
key journals of Islamic architecture.
Harvard served as one of the primary collaborators in
the creation of the site.
Those speaking at Friday?s launch said they hoped the
free site would provide architects, urban-planners and
academics in resource-poor areas the tools they need
to study, and give the Western public an opportunity
to experience Islamic culture.
?In a brilliant way, [ArchNet] combines new technology
and ancient culture to do something that is really
quite important,? University President Lawrence H.
Summers said in his remarks to the 150-person audience
at MIT?s Media Laboratory.
In a video presentation that followed the three
leaders? opening remarks, William J. Mitchell, dean of
the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, said the
goal was to make ArchNet not only a database of
images, but also a ?center of academic activity.?
?In many ways ArchNet is like the ancient library in
Alexandria,? he said.
ArchNet grew out of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic
Architecture at Harvard and MIT, which he endowed in
The Aga Khan described the site as a long-sought
answer to the question of how the program at Harvard
and MIT would serve architects and planners in the
developing Islamic world.
He said that the program had tried many solutions,
?but they didn?t have the potential that ArchNet has
Shiraz Allibhai, the managing director of ArchNet,
said he hopes the site will succeed in fostering input
from its users in the developing Islamic world.
?In 10 years, I see ArchNet not solely rooted at MIT,?
he said. ?I see it being driven at the grassroots
level from schools in the Islamic world really
contributing to it, with the continuing dialogue with
Discussion of the new resource focused on the role
ArchNet could play in educating the world about
Islamic culture after Sept. 11.
Allibhai said the site is a resource for not only the
architectural community, but also the general public.
?If [people] come to a site like ArchNet, they?ll see
the rich diversity of Islamic civilization?the
pluralism that exists within Islamic culture,? he
Summers said he believes the importance of a project
like ArchNet is more widely recognized today.
?What happens in the Islamic world?how the Islamic
world finds its relationship with the rest of the
world, how our country finds its relationship with the
Islamic world?is going to be one of the two or three
most important things that determine the world in
which my children live, and all of our children live,?
Tom G. Kessinger, general manager of the Aga Khan
Foundation and an early leader in the development of
the site, predicted that architectural firms may see
ArchNet as a unique way to showcase their work to
?It may be an opportunity, because with some
commercialization will also come some resources to
help develop [the site],? he said. ?But it would be a
shame to have it completely taken over, so that the
student in one place or another couldn?t deal with
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