Archnet (www.archnet.org) is the world’s largest online databank of international architecture. It was developed at the MIT School of Architecture and Planning in co-operation with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. It provides users with resources on architecture, urban design and development in the Muslim world to all users free of charge.
History and Conceptualization
Archnet as relaunched in 2013 is an initiative of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT (AKDC @ MIT). The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) is an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). Through various programmes, partnerships, and initiatives, the AKTC seeks to improve the built environment in Asia and Africa where there is a significant Muslim presence. ArchNet complements the work of the Trust by making its resources digitally accessible to individuals worldwide.
Archnet was conceptualized in 1998 during a series of discussions between His Highness the Aga Khan, the President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Charles Vest, and the Dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, William Mitchell. The foundations of ArchNet were predicated on remarks made by the Aga Khan in Istanbul in 1983, about his desire to make available the extensive dossiers resulting from the nominations for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA) for the purpose of “[assisting] those institutions where the professionals of the future are trained.”
The purpose of the website is to create a viable platform upon which knowledge pertaining to the field of architecture can be shared. ArchNet aims to expand the general intellectual frame of reference to transcend the barriers of geography, socio-economic status and religion, and to foster a spirit of collaboration and open dialogue. ArchNet therefore manifests many of the Aga Khan’s values and principles regarding not only rural and urban development but also pluralism and the role of culture, while exemplifying MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative, giving everyone access to its course material free of charge.
The website came to fruition in 2000 and was officially launched on September 27, 2002 by Lawrence Summers, then President of Harvard University, Charles Vest, then President of MIT, and the Aga Khan. It continues to grow with new institutional partners in North America and abroad as well as individual users. Today it has over seventy-five thousand users — fifty percent of whom are students or teachers — representing over one hundred fifty countries and averaging over five thousand unique visitors a day.
Partners and Resources
Archnet makes accessible an extensive collection of resources from numerous participating institutions for students, educators, and professionals, ad is a particularly useful tool for individuals who have limited access to architectural publications. The online library first consisted of two hundred thousand images held by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and four hundred thousand held by MIT and Harvard University, but has since swelled considerably because of individuals who continually contribute to the library. The library is made up of photographs, line drawings, CAD drawings, published papers, video, and text resources including the Dictionary of Islamic Architecture. A considerable portion of the resources come from the archives of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture. Other important institutions that share their extensive archives include the Department of Architecture and Design at the American University of Beirut, the Department of Architecture at the American University of Sharjah, the Center for the Study of the Built Environment, the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Damascus, the Erciyes University Architectural Association, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, the Faculty of Architecture of Istanbul Technical University, the Department of Architecture at Middle East Technical University, the Department of Architecture at Misr International University, the Rizvi College of Architecture, and the Faculty of the Built Environment at Universiti Teknologi MARA in Malaysia.
Because of the Trust’s programming activities, such as the Historic Cities Support Programme and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, significant case studies are conducted, yielding valuable research that is made available through ArchNet. The collection also comprises the archives of the French architect-planner Michel Ecohard and the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, winner of the first AKAA Chairman’s Award in 1980, as well as many others.
Architectural schools outside of North America make up a significant body of partners that have supported ArchNet since its inception. In fact, institutions in Egypt, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey were among the original members when the project first began. ArchNet has also worked closely with and in support of “laboratory” environments at schools in Tajikistan, Syria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, providing them with hardware, software, digital cameras, and other resources.
Augmenting its vast digital image library, ArchNet includes a variety of tools and features that facilitate interaction and sharing between its users. A calendar, which is maintained by ArchNet members indicates events of interest to the architectural community such as surveys, competitions, fellowships, lectures, symposia, and calls for papers and participation in conferences. Discussion forums are integrated so that all website resources can be attached to specific forums. The website also features a careers section, listing jobs related to architecture, urban planning, education, and allied fields. The group workspaces facilitate collaborative project work through ArchNet.
Institutional sections highlight projects, research, courses and publications of ArchNet partners. The course syllabi page gives access to course information with a special emphasis on Islamic architecture course curricula. This information is contributed by ArchNet members and provides extensive reading, bibliographic information, and course outlines from around the world.
The ArchNet International Journal of Architectural Research (IJAR) is an online academic blind reviewed publication on architecture, planning and built environment studies. The journal “aims at strengthening ties between scholars from different parts of the world” as well as bridging the gap between the theory and practice of Architecture with a special focus on architecture and planning in the developing world. The concept of the journal was first developed in 1999 when Shiraz Allibhai, then a project officer with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, was responsible for coordinating the efforts of creating ArchNet. The journal was developed at the MIT School of Architecture and Planning with the support of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and debuted in March 2007 and is currently under the editorship of Ashraf M. Salama. It is published three times a year (in March, July and November) on the internet by ArchNet.
The journal typically features articles written by architects, interior designers, planners, and landscape architects working at both public and private institutions. It addresses academics, practitioners, and students of architecture and interior design and in general those who are “interested in developing their understanding and enhancing their knowledge about how environments are designed, created, and used in physical, social, cultural, economic, and aesthetic terms”.
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- Salama, Ashraf (2007), "ArchNet-IJAR is setting the stage for online publishing in architectural and built environment research", ArchNet-IJAR (ArchNet) I (I): 11–14
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