Reflections on the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat as it Receives Governor General’s Medal in Architecture


David Johnston becomes the 28th Governor General of Canada during the installation ceremony on October 1, 2010. Photo: Governor General of Canada

“The recipients of the Governor General’s Medals in Architecture have distinguished themselves as visionary Canadian architects. They have designed spaces where communities are forged, memories are enshrined and identity is created in-built form. Few architects are able to realize their philosophies so fully in practice and in such diversity of project type and geography.” His Excellency the Right Honourable, David Johnston, C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.D., Governor General of Canada, May 8, 2012.



“The Governor General’s Medals in Architecture recognize and celebrate outstanding design in recently built projects by Canadian architects. The competition continues a tradition initiated by the Massey Medals in 1950. This tradition has provided an important source of understanding of the nature of Canadian architecture and the regional, cultural and historic forces which it expresses. The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, with the RAIC College of Fellows, is responsible for the organization and administration of the competition. The Canada Council for the Arts is responsible for selecting and administering the peer assessment jury. The Council also makes a financial contribution to the publication on the laureates. Up to 12 Governor General’s Medals in Architecture are awarded every two years. There is no distinction among the medals awarded.”



The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa, Canada. Photo: Maki and Associates/Moriyama and Teshima Architects.

“This is a significant addition to Ottawa’s repertoire of diplomatic buildings and puts Canadian architecture firmly on the world stage. Impressively monumental in scale, the project combines a powerful civic presence with a remarkable level of sophistication. Its integration of traditional Islamic motifs such as specially crafted screens and a lush courtyard garden is choreographed with assurance and sensitivity, bringing the building wonderfully to life as a delicate and sensual piece of architecture, while the quality of materials and detailing is outstanding.”

Members of the Jury:

Joost Bakker is a dedicated expert in creating meaningful and memorable public spaces such as Granville Island, Richmond City Hall and the new Canadian Navy Monument.

Siamak Hariri  led his firm’s international, competition-winning designs for numerous projects including he Bahá’í Temple for South America, and the Richard Ivey School of Business.

Manon Asselin is one of the Canada’s most consistent track record of high-end accolades for design excellence. She also teaches at the University of Montreal’s School of Architecture.

Catherine Slessor is editor of the Architectural Review, the world’s oldest and most renowned global architecture publication.

Alejandro Villareal spends his time between Mexico City and London, UK. His firm’s activities span from visual arts to product design and architecture.

Further details and photos: Royal Architectural Institute for Canada  Honours and Awards




Exterior view, at night, of the entrance to the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat on Sussex Drive in Ottawa, Canada. – Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte

“When I invited Professor Maki, a master of form and light, to design this building, I made a suggestion to him – one that I hoped would help connect this place symbolically to the Faith of Islam. The suggestion I made focused on creating a certain mystique, centred around the beautiful mysteries of rock crystal.

“Why rock crystal? Because of its translucency, its multiple planes, and the fascination of its colours – all of which present themselves differently as light moves around them. The hues of rock crystal are subtle, striking and widely varied – for they can be clear or milky, white, or rose-coloured, or smoky, or golden, or black.

“It is because of these qualities that rock crystal seems to be such an appropriate symbol of the profound beauty and the ever-unfolding mystery of Creation itself – and the Creator. As the Holy Quran so powerfully affirms, ‘Allah is the Creator and the Master of the heavens and the earth.’ And then it continues: ‘Everything in the heavens and on earth, and everything between them, and everything beneath the soil, belongs to Him’.

His Highness the Aga Khan and Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the opening of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building located on the iconic Sussex Drive in Ottawa, Canada.

“…in Islamic thought, as in this building, beauty and mystery are not separated from intellect – in fact, the reverse is true. As we use our intellect to gain new knowledge about Creation, we come to see even more profoundly the depth and breadth of its mysteries. We explore unknown regions beneath the seas – and in outer space. We reach back over hundreds of millions of years in time. Extra-ordinary fossilised geological specimens seize our imagination – palm leaves, amethyst flowers, hedgehog quartz, sea lilies, chrysanthemum and a rich panoply of shells. Indeed, these wonders are found beneath the very soil on which we tread – in every corner of the world – and they connect us with far distant epochs and environments.

“And the more we discover, the more we know, the more we penetrate just below the surface of our normal lives – the more our imagination staggers. Just think for example what might lie below the surfaces of celestial bodies all across the far-flung reaches of our universe. What we feel, even as we learn, is an ever-renewed sense of wonder, indeed, a powerful sense of awe – and of Divine inspiration.

“Using rock crystal’s irridescent mystery as an inspiration for this building, does indeed provide an appropriate symbol of the Timelessness, the Power and the Mystery of Allah as the Lord of Creation.

The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat: The illuminated crystal Atrium from the Char-Bagh courtyard. Photo: Maki and Associates/Moriyama and Teshima Architects

“What we celebrate today can thus be seen as a new creative link between the spiritual dimensions of Islam and the cultures of the West. Even more particularly, it represents another new bridge between the peoples of Islam and the peoples of Canada.

“It is our prayer that the establishment of the Delegation will provide a strongly anchored, ever-expanding opportunity for rich collaboration – in the devoted service of ancient values, in the intelligent recognition of new realities, and in a common commitment to our shared dreams of a better world.”

Complete Speech: AKDN – His Highness the Aga Khan



“It is a rare occurrence when the complex engineering strategies and design details comprising a building merge into a sublime architectural experience. Such is the case with the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat building in Ottawa. Designed by Fumihiko Maki, the building is the veteran Japanese architect’s first commission in Canada. Working with Moriyama & Teshima Architects — the architects of record — Maki and his team have achieved an extraordinary level of resolution and refinement throughout the building. No detail was overlooked or overdesigned. Equally remarkable is the commitment of His Highness the Aga Khan, an enlightened client who understands how architecture can become a significant testament to his efforts in global pluralism, cultural heritage, and social and economic development — efforts that focus on both the Islamic world and the Ismaili diaspora….

The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat: Sussex Drive Facade. Photo: Maki and Associates/Moriyama and Teshima Architects.

“…..To achieve the immaculately white exterior of the building, Maki’s office selected 26-mm thick panels of white Neopariés — a versatile material comprised of crystallized glass beads that, when compressed into slabs, resembles marble. Unlike its stone counterpart, Neopariés has the ability to maintain its colour and appearance over time — an important quality given the building’s proximity to the heavily salted wintry roads adjacent to the site. Furthermore, the extremely smooth glass-based panels don’t absorb water and are highly reflective. When visiting the building late last summer, the sunlight reflecting off the building’s exterior panels was blinding at close range.

“Nevertheless, the building contains significant amounts of natural material: blue lapis lazuli from Namibia graces the outside terrace, Croatian limestone is used throughout the exterior courtyard, and volcanic basaltina can be found upon entry. Much of the material used for the panelling, flooring, millwork and furniture is a light-coloured maple. An interesting feature contained within the atrium’s maple floor is the incorporation of the number 49, symbolizing the Aga Khan himself, who is the 49th Ismaili Imam.

“Fumihiko Maki’s first building in Canada is a deceivingly complex cultural building of a quality rarely seen in this country.”

Complete article: Canadian Architect – Crystal Clear



A section of the ‘Jali’ screens at the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building. Phtoto: Malik Merchant, Simerg.

“[The Delegation Buiding] sparkles like a brilliant jewel, shining whiter than the fresh snow that blankets its wintry landscape. The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa’s newest landmark, is a graceful marriage of East and West. The building features a confluence of traditional Islamic motifs and contemporary materials — its intent to serve as “a metaphor for humanism and enlightenment” reflected in both exterior and interior. The shapes of its structures, the flows of its space, the sight lines, the materials and the finishing, all serve to accentuate the effect of light….During the day, the building is radiant, while at night it gleams. It is not entirely of the East or of the West, but draws creatively from both. Worldly aspiration has embraced heavenly inspiration.

“Beautiful jali (screens) on the four sides of the atrium give the effect of enclosing the large space without creating a significant barrier to the flow of light. Gazing at the atrium through the jali on the upper floor evokes a rich sense of mystery.” – Ottawa Magazine, February-March 2009



“To enter the new building from the ceremonial entrance off Sussex Drive, you cross an open forecourt to the shelter provided by the overhanging floor above. A terrace cuts into this floor, marking the location of the doors below.

“The shadows made by this deep modelling set off the brilliance of the Neoparies. The vestibule leads into a hall, which opens into the atrium courtyard.

“A floor of Canadian maple gives warmth and a note of welcoming domesticity to the moment of arrival. Maple strips make a pattern of 49 squares, a reference to the 49th Imam.

“The space is filled with light and the play of shadows from the glazed roof. On your right the light streams in from a glass wall that joins the roof to the ground. To your left is a library.

“Surrounding the atrium is a patterned screen of cast aluminum. It evokes the screens of carved marble and wood that filter light and view in historic Islamic architecture. Composed of 180 panels, the screen was made by Custom Aluminum Foundry, a family business in Cambridge, Ont. that makes sand castings for machine parts. This is their first work of art.

“Continuing across the wood floor of the atrium, you have a view into the garden court. Its geometric layout recalls the chahar-bagh, or traditional Persian-Islamic walled garden, a representation of paradise.

“Four paths intersect at the centre. Snow-dusted trees and shrubs stand in symmetrical rows in four raised planters. In winter, heaters in the floor will melt snow on the ground, leaving snow mounds on the planters.

“Walking through the building there’s an overall feeling of lightness and serenity. Furniture is either white or maple. Different types of glass have been combined to give the building an ethereal quality and varying degrees of transparency and opacity. This effect complements the dramatic play of solid and void between the courts and surrounding wings of offices.”

Above excerpts from “Essay in Glass” published in the print edition of the Ottawa Citizen, December 6, 2008.



The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat: Ever changing patterns of light and shadow in the Atrium. Photo: Maki and Associates/Moriyama and Teshima Architects.

“While urban cultural tourism continues to be dominated by the great capitals of culture such as Paris and London, the current trend of improving the cultural offering means even cities previously lacking cultural interest can emerge as new tourist destinations. Back here in Ottawa, The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat located on Sussex Drive, is the first building in the world specifically designed for the Aga Khan and his agencies. The rectilinear building’s most dramatic feature is a multi-faceted glass dome with triangular fibreglass shades that control sunlight.

“The dome’s shape is a direct response to the Aga Khan’s request for a building inspired by rock crystal, which he admires for its translucency, its multiple planes, and the fascination of its colors–all of which present themselves differently as light moves around them. So we do have a crystal here after all.”

Website article: Cultural Architecture

Date Posted: May 9, 2012

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6 thoughts on “Reflections on the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat as it Receives Governor General’s Medal in Architecture

  1. I am hoping to study architecture at University and reading this article, just before my AS level exams, has reinvigorated my efforts and ambitions. Thank you!

  2. Simerg deserves our admiration for bringing this detailed architectural and philosophical presentation for the readers. Thank you.

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