Through the teaching, research, and activities of its chair, affiliated faculty, students, and visiting fellows, the Aga Khan Program contributes to building and disseminating knowledge on the cities, landscapes and architectures of Muslim societies.

The GSD program studies the impact of social and economic development on shaping regional territories in the Muslim world. It also explores ways to improve the built environment through design.

Since the end of the Second World War, the Third World’s urban and rural environments have been radically transformed by the drive toward development. An ambition that ran across continents and became the signpost of progress and emancipation, development reshaped the economic, political, and the physical environments of the Third World. Muslim societies have witnessed a similar transformation, be it in countries guided by the development strategies of the capitalist world—as in North Africa, the Middle East, and South East Asia—or those that were influenced by the planning models of the Soviet bloc, such as the Turkic states and Eastern Europe.

Modern infrastructure, new industrial and agricultural production, land tenure and population redistribution were introduced as components of these development plans. Even if they were hardly ever fully implemented, their impact on the built environment has been immense, and generally quite negative.

Today, the Muslim world finds itself in the aftermath of this first wave of development but also undergoing a second wave of extensive urbanization. The exponential growth of the metropolis in many Muslim countries (for example, Cairo, Istanbul, Karachi, and Kuala Lumpur) has consumed the attention of these countries’ design and planning professionals, as well as academics. In parallel, the relative neglect of regional territories, secondary cities, and rural areas has further widened the gap in terms of separated city from country. Unusual physical phenomena have emerged, such as rural port zones, agro-landscapes in cities, resorts in agricultural areas, and industrial complexes in rural areas, challenging the urban/rural distinction and the conventional disciplinary models of architecture/urban design/landscape.

Traditionally, regional and environmental planning has provided the main instruments of inquiry at this scale. However, there exists no sub-disciplinary area of study from which to address regional territories at a design level. The widening of the area of inquiry (from city/country to territory) for the disciplines of architecture, landscape, and urban design also requires collaborative modes of inquiry in order to look at issues such as agro-landscapes, desert settlements, ecotourism, and rural infrastructure.

Within this general framework, the current areas of research are:

  1. History of Planning and Design in the Developing World after WWII: the impact of the pursuit of development on the built and natural environments of the after the Second World War.
  2. New Geographies: the growing interface between landscape and urbanism, the expanding territory of urbanization, and the theoretical and design implications of these emerging geographies.
  3. Regional and Rural Development: scales and types of design problems that are generated by non-urban settings with scarce economic resources and the design and planning approaches to such settings.
  4. Fragile Environments: locations such as desert settlements, historic cities and landscapes in face of the rapid pace development and of worsening environmental conditions.
  5. Public Space: the evolution and design of public spaces and the study of the social, technological, and design issues that shape these spaces.
  6. Educational Environments: the design of educational facilities and campuses, and the study of their connection to educational reform and to urban and regional development.