CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - On September 27, 2002, His Highness the Aga Khan; Charles M. Vest, President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Lawrence H. Summers, President of Harvard University, will launch www.ArchNet.org , the world's largest online resource of historical and contemporary materials on architecture, urbanism, landscape design and related issues of concern to the Muslim world and people interested in it. The development of ArchNet is sponsored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.
ArchNet brings together the collections of two prominent universities and materials from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, offering free access to more than 600,000 images, along with selections from academic papers, articles, syllabi and other sources. These include the Hassan Fathy Collection, and 25 years of documentation from the nomination processes of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
With nothing more than a personal computer and an Internet connection, people anywhere in the world can take advantage of this extraordinary online repository. A growing list of partner schools, including institutions in Egypt, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey, contribute to the enrichment of ArchNet by uploading images and information such as faculty research, student projects and departmental monographs. Nearly 6,000 members from 110 countries have already joined the site since it began online testing more than a year ago.
"Not only is ArchNet a means by which we share information on architecture and design, it is also a very real attempt to build an architecture of understanding between those regions of the world that might benefit from a better understanding of each other," said the Aga Khan.
"I think there is a consensus that we need that now more than ever. ArchNet's particular importance lies in the way it informs the debate on what sort of world we seek to build. As trustees of God's creation, we are instructed to seek to leave the world a better place than it was when we came into it. If ArchNet can help bring values into environments, buildings and contexts that make the quality of life better for future generations than it is today, it will have served its purpose," the Aga Khan stated.
"ArchNet fulfills the original promise of the Internet," said President Vest of MIT. "It provides accessibility to teaching resources that are currently unavailable to many universities, while creating a worldwide online community that is constantly enriching the contents of the catalog. Everyone benefits. At MIT, we benefit from the upload of unique resources from ArchNet partner schools, while schools around the world have the opportunity to choose teaching materials from the combined resources of MIT, Harvard, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and other partner schools."
ArchNet's philosophy reflects the vision of its founding entities. The site's emphasis on improving the built environment echoes the multiple mandates of the Aga Khan Development Network, which focuses on health, education, culture, rural development, institution-building and the promotion of economic development.
ArchNet particularly reflects the goals of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. These include improving the training of architectural professionals for work in the Islamic world; increasing cross-cultural understanding of Islamic architecture and the intimate connection between architecture and culture in Islamic civilizations; and creating greater awareness and appreciation of the diversity and pluralism of Islamic cultures - within the Islamic world itself as well as in the West.
ArchNet is especially important for those with limited access to architectural publications, images and research facilities. ArchNet works with schools of architecture in both the developed and the developing world to help them leverage the resources of the site as a way of leapfrogging beyond cost or other constraints.
"MIT has a distinguished history of educating design and planning professionals, and working with institutions in the developing world," said William Mitchell, dean of the school of architecture and planning at MIT. "We are proud to continue this tradition through the support we offer ArchNet's electronic community."
The common Web-based slide library that ArchNet provides for courses on contemporary and historical Islamic architecture is a practical example of how ArchNet enables access to materials that would otherwise be unavailable. The assistance ArchNet can provide to users also includes the provision of hardware and software, training and infrastructure support.
ArchNet participants establish "workspaces," which facilitate the organizing and sharing of project-related information and research. Other site features include job listings, a digital calendar of events of interest to members in various countries, and directories of individual ArchNet members and participating institutions.
ArchNet's innovative Internet-based model is an example of MIT's OpenCourseWare initiative, which seeks to make MIT course materials available on the World Wide Web, free of charge, to any user anywhere in the world.
The OpenCourseWare initiative, announced in 2001, provides free online access to course materials used in undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at MIT.
MIT is also engaged in several collaborative and distance learning projects around the world. In the future the technologies that are being developed to support these efforts will also be utilized to enhance OCW materials.
The Aga Khan is the 49th Imam (hereditary spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims and a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). A Harvard graduate in Islamic history, the Aga Khan, 65, succeeded his grandfather as Imam of the Ismailis in 1957. He has established and leads a number of private, international, non-denominational development agencies, collectively known as the Aga Khan Development Network, which includes the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The Network, active in over 20 countries, seeks to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in Asia and Africa.