His Royal Highness Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan discuss the features of the Garden of Life on the ninth floor of the newly inaugurated Aga Khan Centre with garden designer Madison Cox. Image Credit: Aga Khan Centre

Dubai: The Prince of Wales last week opened the new Aga Khan Centre at a unique building in King’s Cross, at the heart of London’s thriving knowledge quarter.

The inauguration took place in the presence of Prince Karim Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shiite Ismaili Muslim, who visited the United Kingdom as a guest of Her Majesty’s Government, according to a press release sent to Gulf News. Among the guests were the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and Foreign Office Minister for Human Rights, Lord Tariq Ahmad, of Wimbledon.

The inauguration took place as the Aga Khan marks the diamond jubilee — 60 years of his role as Imam (spiritual leader) of the global Ismaili Muslim community. For six decades, the Aga Khan has helped transform the quality of life of millions around the world through initiatives in health, education, cultural revitalisation and economic empowerment.

Aga Khan Centre in King’s Cross is a place for education, knowledge, cultural exchange and insight into Muslim civilisations. It is home to a number of organisations founded by the Aga Khan including The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS), the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC), and the Aga Khan Foundation UK (AKF UK). Together the organisations work to bridge the gap in understanding about Muslim cultures and to connect the public to global development issues and the work of the Aga Khan Foundation.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Prince Charles commented on the importance of understanding the intellectual and cultural contributions that Islamic civilisations have made to the world.

The Aga Khan expressed his strong expectation that “from this new home, these education-oriented institutions would contribute powerfully to building new bridges of understanding across the gulfs of ignorance”.

“One of the central challenges that faces our world today is the challenge of harmonising many highly diversified voices within an increasingly globalised world,” the Aga Khan said.

“I use the word ’harmonising‘ carefully — for our ideal here is not a chorus that sings in unison, but one that blends many distinctive voices into an intelligent, resonant whole. But to do that requires a deep understanding of what makes each voice distinctive. And that is the essential function of the educational endeavours that will make this place their home.”

AKC also houses the Aga Khan Library, London. Located over two floors, it provides space for publications, areas for study and secure archival storage for rare books and manuscripts.

The design of the Centre is influenced by Islamic architectural heritage. It is the first London building designed by Japanese architects Maki and Associates.

Central to the building and across multiple floors is a series of terraces, gardens and courtyards. The Islamic Gardens at King’s Cross are inspired by the diversity of Muslim societies, drawing from regions ranging from North Africa and Spain to the Middle East, Persia and India.

An Ismaili Centre was also inaugurated in Dubai by the Aga Khan in March 2008. Since its opening, the Centre has been a hub of cultural, educational and social programmes.