Aga Khan Museum, Toronto
The Aga Khan Museum is a museum of Islamic art and culture in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; it is housed in an iconic building designed by renowned Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki.
Opened on May 28, 2010, the museum was founded by His Highness the Aga Khan (Prince Shāh Karim al-Husayni), the spiritual leader of Shia Ismaili Muslims and one of the world’s richest royals, with the mission “to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the contribution that Muslim civilizations have made to world heritage. Through education, research, and collaboration, the Museum will foster dialogue and promote tolerance and mutual understanding among people”.
The Aga Khan Museum is situated in Toronto’s North York district, close to the Ismaili Center Toronto and the Ontario Science Center, in the middle of a 6.8-hectare / 16.8-acre park designed by landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic.
Above: exterior view of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto at dusk. Photo © Janet Kimber.
An aerial view of the museum with the Ismaili Center Toronto on the left. Image courtesy of the Aga Khan Museum
Site plan, image © Maki and Associates.
Despite its simple and compact 81×54-meter rectangular plan, the Aga Khan Museum building is actually a complex geometric object conceived by Fumihiko Maki “as a celebration of light and the mysteries of its various qualities and effects. Utilizing a series of natural materials with differing light-reflecting properties, the building will act as an ever-changing canvas for the display and accentuation of light.“
From the outside, the museum looks like a solid block of white Brazilian granite, but ingeniously carved, deformed, folded, and oriented to capture sunlight at all hours of the day. A small inner courtyard, reminiscent of the sahn typical of Islamic architecture, is located at the center of the building, the four glass facades opening onto the courtyard are provided with sun shading zinc screens whose geometric pattern recalls those of the traditional musharabiya bay windows.
Internally, the museum accommodates two exhibition galleries, a 350-seat theater, classrooms, workshops, conservation and storage areas, offices, meeting rooms, a shop, and a cafe-restaurant with Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian cuisine.
The exhibition galleries are two large and flexible L-shaped spaces, with a total floor area of 2,150 square meters / 23,100 square feet, naturally illuminated by a series of hexagonal skylights and suitable for displaying a variety of artifacts, from small luxury objects to large sculptural works.
The museum from the south. Photo © Shinkenchiku-sha.
Ground floor plan, second-floor plan, and longitudinal section. Images © Maki and Associates.
An exterior view of the courtyard and a view from the museum’s lobby towards the courtyard.
One of the permanent exhibition galleries with the hexagonal skylights. Photo © Shinkenchiku-sha.
Collection and permanent exhibition
Build-up initially by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan and his family in the 1950s, the permanent collection of the Aga Khan Museum is focused on various forms of culture and art developed by the Islamic community and comprises about 1,000 items – including painted manuscripts and ancient Qur’ans, ceramics and other objects of decorative and applied arts, jewels, and architectural decorations – made in the Muslim world from the 10th century to the present day. The collection is constantly improved and enlarged through new acquisitions and special commissions. Pieces from the collection are exposed on a rotational basis in semi-permanent exhibitions.
The program of events and activities of the museum includes special exhibitions, theater, and dance performances, concerts, lectures, educational activities, workshops, film screenings, and special events.
The museum’s lobby. Photo © Shinkenchiku-sha.
Views of the permanent exhibition galleries of the museum. Photos © Shinkenchiku-sha.
Photos © Janet Kimber.
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