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Beijing children’s centre among winners of Aga Khan architecture award for Muslim-friendly design

A children’s centre in China, a bridge in Iran and a park in Denmark are among the six winners of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

The winners were announced on Monday in the historic Al-Jahili fort in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates.

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The awards, presented by the Aga Khan Development Network, are handed out once every three years and are meant to celebrate architecture that serves and embraces Muslim culture.

The network is headed by Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of millions of Ismaili Muslims who belong to an offshoot of the Shiite sect.

This year’s winners included the Hutong Children’s Library and Art Centre, which is located near a large mosque and Tiananmen Square in the Chinese capital, Beijing.

The small-scale project was praised for enriching bonds between communities and reviving hutong life.

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The Chaer Hutong site, about 1km from Tiananmen Square – built around a courtyard dating back about 400 years – covers 350 square metres and was once occupied by up to a dozen families.

Number 8 in this neighbourhood, located near the mosque, is a typical da za yuan, or big messy-courtyard.

The courtyard once housed a temple that was then turned into residences in the 1950s.

The new construction work took place between 2012 and 2014.

Architects redesigned, renovated and reused the informal, often neglected, add-on structures around the courtyard instead of eliminating them to create the 9 square metre children’s library and art centre, built of plywood in Beijing.

Judges also selected the Superkilen park in Copenhagen, Denmark, hailing it as a “public space promoting integration” among various religious and ethnic groups.

“Of course we are looking to award the diversity in the Islamic world, not just in the traditional Islamic world, but also the Muslim communities that are outside the traditional Muslim world,” said Mohammad al-Asad, a member of the award steering committee who heads the Centre for the Study of the Built Environment in Amman, Jordan.

Other winners included the multi-level Tabiat Pedestrian Bridge in Tehran, Iran.

Two projects from Bangladesh also won the award – the Friendship Centre community centre in Gaibandha and the Bait Ur Rouf mosque in the capital, Dhaka.

The sixth winner was the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs in Beirut, Lebanon. It was designed by the firm of Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid – also the designer of the Guangzhou Opera House – died in March.

Winners will receive their awards at a ceremony next month in Al Ain.