"It will be a site for robust dialogue, intellectual exchange, and the forging of new partnerships - with government, and with the institutions of civil society and the private sector of Canada and so many other countries. To be able to site this building on Confederation Boulevard, in close proximity to your major national institutions as well as representations from abroad, is itself a symbol of the outgoing, interactive spirit which must guide our response to global challenges."
His Highness the Aga Khan, Inauguration Ceremony of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa, December 6, 2008
The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat was established by His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th hereditary Imam, or spiritual leader, of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).
Foundation ceremony of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa, June 6, 2005
Promoting dialogue, exchange, and partnership
Opened in 2008, the Delegation supports the work of the Ismaili Imamat and the AKDN as a centre to build relationships, enable quiet diplomacy, and disseminate knowledge and information, reflecting the wide-ranging humanistic and humanitarian agenda of the Network.
Inauguration ceremony of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa, December 6, 2008
In 2014, a Protocol of Understanding was signed between the Canadian government and the Ismaili Imamat, which amongst other things, established a permanent diplomatic representation for the AKDN in Canada. The offices of the Resident Representative of the Aga Khan Development Network to Canada and the headquarters of Aga Khan Foundation Canada are located in the building.
The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies working to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in Africa and Asia. Its agencies work in over 30 countries for the common good of all citizens, regardless of gender, origin or religion. A central feature of the AKDN's approach to development is to design and implement strategies in which its different agencies participate in particular settings to help those in need achieve a level of self-reliance and improve the quality of life.
Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC) is a non-profit international development agency, working in Asia and Africa to find sustainable solutions to the complex problems causing global poverty. AKFC concentrates on specific development challenges in health, education, rural development, and civil society. In Canada, AKFC raises funds, builds partnerships with Canadian institutions, and promotes discussion and learning on international development issues. Established in 1980, AKFC is a registered Canadian charity and an agency of the worldwide Aga Khan Development Network.
Since its opening, the Delegation has served as the site for a diverse array of activities that promote learning and dialogue on international development and humanitarian issues. Past events – often convened in partnership with other like-minded institutions – have included conferences, exhibitions, high-level roundtables, book launches and interactive workshops. Many of the events held at the Delegation are free and open to the public. For information on upcoming events subscribe to the AKFC newsletter and events mailing list.
About the architect
Fumihiko Maki is the principal architect of Tokyo-based Maki and Associates. Maki’s world-renowned work includes the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto; the TEPIA Science Pavilion in Tokyo; the Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts in San Francisco; the World Trade Centre Tower 4 and the UN Consolidation Building in New York City; the Media Arts and Science Building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat was Maki’s first Canadian commission.
Professor Maki’s work has received international acclaim and he has won numerous awards including the Pritzker Prize – often regarded as the “Nobel Prize for Architecture” – in 1993. In 2011, the American Institute of Architects honored Maki with its highest accolade, the AIA Gold Medal. Professor Maki also served on the 1984 Master Jury of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
The design of the Delegation emerges from the Aga Khan’s belief that architecture is not simply about buildings, but about enhancing quality of life. Through personal involvement in creating and building institutions, the Aga Khan underscores the need to acknowledge the past so that it can find expression in the present and future, and to create spaces in which people with different backgrounds and traditions can speak to and understand one another.
Under the general direction of the Aga Khan, Maki has translated concepts rooted in Islamic tradition into a bold, modern design. This design is inspired by the natural luminosity and multi-faceted shape of rock crystal. Throughout the Delegation, the play of light on transparent and translucent surfaces creates a dynamic visual effect. The notion of openness and transparency is carried through the building.
The Delegation has received the Governor General’s Medal in Architecture (2012), and two awards from the Ontario Association of Architects: the Celebration of Excellence Award and People’s Choice Award (2010).
This flexible space is used to host diverse activities that reflect the multifaceted initiatives and priorities of the Ismaili Imamat and the AKDN. Standing in the centre of the atrium, one can look in all four directions and see to the boundaries of the property. This openness is a hallmark of Maki’s work. It promotes the notion of an open and transparent building rather than a walled compound.
Within the glass roof structure, an inner layer of woven glass fibre appears to hover over the atrium. It is affixed in an asymmetrical pattern that differs from that of the outer glass. This creates a functional shade with complex patterns that reflect interior and exterior light at different angles. The shade extends to the south side of the atrium, creating a discreet privacy screen.
The term jali (from the Hindi word for “net”) refers to perforated stone or carved wood screen in traditional Islamic and Indian architecture, typically with a geometric pattern. Here, the atrium’s jali screen is reinterpreted in sand-cast aluminum, with a double layer of repeating hexagons. It partially encloses the space and seems to float at the mezzanine level. Many of the interior glass surfaces bear the same pattern. Each section of the jali screen weighs 68 kg (150 lb) and is held up with shear bolts.
Unique cladding material
The primary facades of the building are clad in Neopariés®, unique crystallized glass panels that create a smooth, opaque surface. This material was chosen for its reflective properties, which provide a subtly changing appearance throughout the day. The Delegation is one of the world’s largest applications of Neopariés®.
An interior courtyard provides a modern interpretation of a char bagh, or four-part garden of historic Islamic landscape architecture in South and Central Asia. Landscaped for Canada’s four seasons, the garden is a peaceful sanctuary throughout the year. Plantings include boxwood hedges, Japanese lilac trees, and flowering groundcover. In keeping with the Aga Khan’s desire for openness, the two ends of the garden enclosure are made of glass. The Char Bagh is one example of the many commitments His Highness the Aga Khan has made around the world to creating new and revitalizing historic gardens and parks, based on the conviction that, when properly maintained, these public green spaces can improve quality of life, generate economic opportunities and bring about positive social change.