Architecture of Coexistence: Building Pluralism

Architecture of Coexistence
Building Pluralism


Edited by Azra Akšamija


This book investigates how architecture can shape an open-minded and inclusive society, highlighting three internationally renowned projects: the White Mosque in Visoko, Bosnia-Herzegovina (1980); the Islamic Cemetery Altach, Austria (2012); and Superkilen park in Copenhagen, Denmark (2011). 

Scholarly essays across various disciplines, along with interviews with the architects and users of these projects, provide intriguing insights into architecture’s ability to bridge cultural divides. Soliciting a wide array of questions about migration, transculturalism, visibility, inclusion, and exclusion, the book sheds light on the long-term social processes generated between architectural form and its users.

Architecture of Coexistence offers a truly interdisciplinary perspective on a very timely subject: “Building pluralism” means designing for a respectful inclusion of different cultural needs, practices, and traditions.  

With contributions by Azra Akšamija, Mohammad al-Asad, Ali S. Asani, Simon Burtscher-Matis, Amila Buturović, Farrokh Derakhshani, Robert Fabach, Eva Grabherr, Amra Hadžimuhamedović, Tina Gudrun Jensen, Jennifer Mack, Nasser Rabbat, Barbara Steiner, Helen Walasek, and Wolfgang Welsch.

Photo essays by Velibor Božović, Cemal Emden, Jesper Lambaek, and Nikolaus Walter.


Weight 690 g
Dimensions 245 × 170 × 30 mm
Edited by

Azra Akšamija

Contributions by

Azra Akšamija, Mohammad al-Asad, Ali S. Asani, Simon Burtscher-Matis, Amila Buturović, Farrokh Derakhshani, Robert Fabach, Eva Grabherr, Amra Hadžimuhamedović, Tina Gudrun Jensen, Jennifer Mack, Nasser Rabbat, Barbara Steiner, Helen Walasek and Wolfgang Welsch.

Photo essays by

Velibor Božović, Cemal Emden, Jesper Lambaek, and Nikolaus Walter.



Art Director

Julia Wagner, grafikanstalt


Hardback, full color, stich bound, embossing


17 x 24,5 cm, 6.7 x 9.6 in


approx. 100 illustrations

Page count

292 pages

Pub Date

July 2020



Authors' Biographies

Azra Akšamija is an artist and architectural historian. She is the founding Director of the MIT Future Heritage Lab (FHL) and an Associate Professor in the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT). Her work explores how social life is affected by cultural bias and by the deterioration and destruction of cultural infrastructures within the context of conflict, migration, and forced displacement. Akšamija is the author of Mosque Manifesto: Propositions for Spaces of Coexistence (2015) and Museum Solidarity Lobby (2019). Her artistic work has been exhibited in leading international venues, including the Generali Foundation Vienna, Liverpool Biennial, Secession Vienna, the Royal Academy of Arts London, Queens Museum of Art in New York, Design Week Festivals in Milan, Istanbul, and Amman, and the Fondazione Giorgio Cini as a part of the 54th Art Biennale in Venice. Her most recent work was shown at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization (2019), the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto (2020), and Venice Architecture Biennale (2020). She received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2013 for her design of the prayer space in the Islamic Cemetery Altach, the 2019 Art Prize of the City of Graz, and an honorary doctorate from the Monserrat College of Art, 2020.

Mohammad al-Asad is an architect and architectural historian. He is the Founding Director of the Center for the Study of the Built Environment in Amman (CSBE), a private, non-profit think/do tank established in 1999. He has taught at Princeton University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Jordan, the German Jordanian University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was the Alan K. and Leonarda Laing Distinguished Visiting Professor, and at Carleton University in Ottawa. In addition, he has taught Open Massive Online Courses (MOOCs) in both Arabic and English on architecture and urbanism for the Edraak Platform of the Queen Rania Foundation for Education and Development and for the Aga Khan Trust for Culture Education Program. Al-Asad is the author of Contemporary Architecture and Urbanism in the Middle East (2012). He co-edited (with Rahul Mehrotra) Shaping Cities: Emerging Models of Planning Practice (2016), and edited Workplaces: The Transformation of Places of Production: Industrial Buildings in the Islamic World (2010). In addition, he has appeared in documentary films including Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World (2012), and led the production of films including Arab Women in Architecture (2014). He was a project reviewer for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture between 1989 and 2007, and has been a member of the Award’s Steering Committee for its 2010, 2013, 2016, and 2019 cycles.

Ali S. Asani is Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures at Harvard University. A specialist of Islam in South Asia, Professor Asani’s research focuses on Shia and Sufi devotional traditions in the region. His books include The Bujh Niranjan: An Ismaili Mystical Poem; Ecstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literatures of South Asia, among many others. He is particularly interested in the interaction between religion, literature, and the arts in Muslim societies. His use of the arts in pedagogy is part of his broader effort to combat “religious illiteracy.” For more than thirty years, he has dedicated himself to helping others better understand the rich subtext and diverse influences that make religion—in particular, Islam—a complex cultural touchstone. He is the recipient of the Harvard Foundation medal for his outstanding contributions to improving intercultural and race relations. More recently, he received Harvard’s Petra T. Shattuck Excellence in Teaching Award.

Velibor Božović grew up in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. When he was in his twenties, the country of his youth became a war zone and Velibor spent the duration of the siege of Sarajevo honing his survival skills. In 1999, Božović moved to Montréal where he worked as an engineer in the aerospace industry before devoting his time fully to image creation. Subsequently, Božović earned BFA and MFA degrees in Studio Arts at Concordia University where he currently teaches. His projects have been supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and by Conseil des arts et des lettres du Quebec. In 2015 he was awarded the Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Fellowship in Contemporary Art. His work has been exhibited in Canada and internationally.

Amila Buturović is Professor of Humanities and Religious Studies at York University. She holds a BA in Arabic Language and Literature from Sarajevo University, MA and PhD in Islamic Studies from McGill University. Her research interests span the intersections of religion and culture, focusing on the Ottoman Balkans and Arabo-Islamic world. She is the author of Stone Speaker: Medieval Tombstones, Landscape, and Bosnian Identity in the Poetry of Mak Dizdar (2002), and a co-editor, with Irvin C. Schick, of Women in the Ottoman Balkans: Gender, Culture and History (2007), published also in Turkish translation in 2008. Her latest book, Carved in Stone, Etched in Memory: Death, Tombstones and Commemoration in Bosnian Islam (2015) examines the spaces and culture of death in Bosnia-Herzegovina, particularly in the context of the Islamization and Ottomanization of the region.

Simon Burtscher-Matis completed his studies in sociology at the Universities of Graz, Austra, Waterloo, Canada, and Innsbruck, Austria. From 2003 to 2016, he was involved in the project okay.zusammen leben, an information and advice center for immigration and integration issues in the Austrian province of Vorarlberg (; since 2016 he has worked as an independent sociologist. His work and research explores social change in organizations, municipalities, and regions; processes of integration in the context of diversity; and equality in the education system. He is engaged in the establishment of platforms for social cooperation, responsibility, and solidarity.

Robert Fabach is an architectural historian, publisher, and architect. His studies of architecture at the University for Applied Arts in Vienna were supplemented with cultural field research in the Middle East and on the American West Coast, exploring cultural sources and significance of architecture. Moving to Vorarlberg in 1998, he realized building, consulting, and communication projects at various scales of the formation. Research and editorial work on the building culture of Vorarlberg accompany this practice. In recent years, his focus shifted to teaching at the University of Liechtenstein and to the establishment of the Architectural Archive Vorarlberg, which demonstrates historical evidence of global cultural exchange in the region. The concept of an economy of attention balanced between site and world constitute the basis of Fabach’s publications, historical, and architectural work.

Eva Grabherr was the Founding Director of the Jewish Museum of Hohenems, where she served as Director from 1990 to 1996. In 1997, she began research for her PhD at the Department for Hebrew and Jewish Studies of University College London, and in 2001 published her dissertation entitled Letters to Hohenems: A Microhistorical Study of Jewish Acculturation in the Early Decades of Emancipation. During this research period she was involved in various projects in Austria and Germany, including working as a team member at the Center of Democracy-Studies Vienna (2000–2001), teaching at the Institute of European Ethnology/University of Vienna (2001), participating in the steering committee of the International Summer Academy of Museology (1999–2006), and several museum and project exhibitions. Since 2001, she has been the Founding Director of okay.zusammen leben, an information and advice center for immigration and integration issues in the Austrian province of Vorarlberg. She is also currently a member of the Independent Expert Council for Integration at the Ministry of Europe, Integration and International Affairs in Austria.

Amra Hadžimuhamedović, PhD in architecture, has been the leading expert in the process of implementation of Annex 8 of the Dayton Peace Accord for Bosnia and Herzegovina, managing diverse projects of integrating cultural heritage into postwar recovery. She has taught the history of architecture and architectural conservation at the International University of Sarajevo since 2010 and guest-lectured on heritage in war and postwar periods, on the theory and philosophy of conservation, and cultural heritage management at universities and for international specialist courses in many countries: Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Palestine, Israel, Italy, Sweden, Norway, USA, UK. She has worked on a number of postwar conservation projects and cultural heritage management plans, and has widely published on Bosnian architecture and the rights-based approach to cultural heritage conservation, including her most recent book Heritage, War and Peace, published by Sarajevo University.

Tina Gudrun Jensen is an anthropologist and Associate Professor in Global Political Studies at the University of Malmö, Sweden and affiliated with the Centre for Advanced Migration Studies at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She has done research on migration, diversity, cultural complexity, social integration, and urban spaces. Her work focuses on inter-ethnic relations and everyday multiculturalism in Scandinavia. Her publications include “The Complexity of Neighbourhood Relations in a Multi-Ethnic Social Housing Project in Copenhagen” in Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power and a monograph on everyday life and social relations in a multi-ethnic neighbourhood in Copenhagen: Sameksistens. Hverdagsliv og naboskab i et multietnisk boligområde (Roskilde: Roskilde Universitetsforlag). She has co-edited the special issue on “Planning for pluralism in Nordic cities” for the Nordic Journal of Migration Research. Tina was awarded the gold medal of the University of Copenhagen in 1996.

Jennifer Mack is an Associate Professor at the School of Architecture at KTH in Stockholm. Mack received a PhD in architecture, urbanism, and anthropology from Harvard University in 2012 and also holds an MArch and MCP from MIT and a BA from Wesleyan University. Her work combines history, ethnography, and formal analysis to study social change and the built environment and has recently published the monograph The Construction of Equality: Syriac Immigration and the Swedish City (2017), which investigates how one immigrant group has challenged the Swedish welfare state’s assumptions that “universal,” modernist design standards would create social equality. Mack is currently conducting two multiyear research projects. The first concerns the architectural design and urban planning of new Swedish mosques and churches in the context of shifting national religious orientations, increasing immigration, and the rising influence of neoliberal notions of management. The other concerns modernist ideas of nature in the creation of public and outdoor spaces around housing blocks developed during Swedish Million Homes Program (when Sweden built one million dwelling units from 1965 to 1974).

Nasser Rabbat is the Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT. His interests include the history and historiography of Islamic architecture, medieval urbanism, modern Arab history, contemporary Arab art, and post-colonial criticism. He has published several books, most recently online The Destruction of Cultural Heritage: From Napoléon to ISIS, co-edited with Pamela Karimi, (2016) and al-Naqd Iltizaman: Nazarat fi-l Tarikh wal ‘Ururba wal Thawra (Criticism as Commitment: Viewpoints on History, Arabism, and Revolution) (2015). A volume on the Dead Cities in Syria is slated for publication in 2018. Rabbat regularly contributes to several Arabic newspapers and consults with international design firms on projects in the Islamic World

Barbara Steiner is a curator, editor, author, lecturer, and the current director of Kunsthaus Graz (Austria). Until 2017, she was visiting professor for Cultures of the Curatorial at the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig. Besides monographs of artists including Jorge Pardo, Christine Hill, Superflex, Liam Gillick, Josef Dabernig and Jun Yang, Steiner brought out a series of theme-related books on conceptions of space, the relationship between private and public, and on art and the economy: Mögliche Museen (with Charles Esche), Cologne 2007; Spaces of Negotiation (with as-if wienberlin), 2010; The Captured Museum, 2011; Scenarios about Europe, 2012; The Europe Book, 2013; Superkilen, 2014; and Creative Infidelities, 2016. In her curatorial work, she looks into conditions of cultural production, drawing attention to conflicting concerns and interconnected processes of negotiation.

Helen Walasek is the author of Bosnia and the Destruction of Cultural Heritage (Routledge 2015) and is an Honorary Associate Research Fellow in the College of the Humanities, University of Exeter, UK. She was Deputy Director of the London-based campaigning organization Bosnia-Herzegovina Heritage Rescue (BHHR), the only heritage NGO accredited as a humanitarian aid organization by UNHCR during the 1992–1995 Bosnian War. She has been a consulting expert to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, an advisor to the Swedish NGO Cultural Heritage without Borders (CHwB), and an Associate of the Bosnian Institute, London, 1998–2007. In 2016, she was a consultant-contributor for the website Targeting History and Memory (SENSE Center for Transitional Justice, Pula) documenting the prosecutions of crimes against cultural property of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Her 2000–2001 field trips across Bosnia-Herzegovina (with the archaeologist Richard Carlton) made the first independent postwar assessments of damaged and destroyed historic monuments across the country. She has lectured widely on the destruction of cultural heritage and art crime in the context of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, particularly the Bosnian War.

Wolfgang Welsch is Professor Emeritus in Philosophy of the Friedrich-Schiller University of Jena in Germany. Previously, he taught at the University of Magdeburg, and has held visiting professorships at Stanford University and elsewhere. His work focuses on epistemology and anthropology, cultural philosophy, aesthetics, and transculturalism. Among his publications are Unsere postmoderne Moderne (1987), Ästhetisches Denken (1990), Vernunft. Die zeitgenössische Vernunftkritik und das Konzept der transversalen Vernunft (1995), Grenzgänge der Ästhetik (1996).


Architects: BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, Superflex, Topotek 1
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark

A public space promoting integration across lines of ethnicity, religion, and culture. A meeting place for residents of Denmark’s most ethnically diverse neighborhood and an attraction for the rest of the city, this project was approached as a giant exhibition of global urban best practice. In the spring of 2006 the street outside the architects’ Copenhagen office erupted in vandalism and violence. Having just gone through the design of a Danish mosque in downtown Copenhagen, BIG chose to focus on those initiatives and activities in urban spaces that work as promoters for integration across ethnicity, religion, culture, and languages. Taking their point of departure as Superkilen’s location in the heart of outer Norrebro district, the architects decided they would approach the project as an exercise in extreme public participation. Rather than a public outreach process geared towards the lowest common denominator or a politically correct post rationalization of preconceived ideas navigated around any potential public resistance, BIG proposed public participation as the driving force of the design. An extensive public consultation process garnered suggestions for objects representing the over sixty nationalities present locally to be placed in the area. The 750-metre-long scheme comprises three main zones: a red square for sports; a green park as a grassy children’s playground; and a black market as a food market and picnic area.
Recipient of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2016

Islamic Cemetery Altach

Architect: Bernardo Bader
Art installation: Azra Akšamija
Location: Altach, Austria

The Cemetery serves Vorarlberg, the industrialized westernmost state of Austria, where over eight percent of the population is Muslim. It finds inspiration in the primordial garden, and is delineated by roseate concrete walls in an alpine setting, and consists of five staggered, rectangular grave-site enclosures, and a structure housing assembly and prayer rooms. The principal materials used were exposed reinforced concrete for the walls and oak wood for the ornamentation of the entrance facade and the interior of the prayer space. The visitor is greeted by and must pass through the congregation space with its wooden lattice work in geometric Islamic patterns. The space includes ablution rooms and assembly rooms in a subdued palette that give onto a courtyard. The prayer room on the far side of the courtyard reprises the lattice-work theme with Kufic calligraphy in metal mesh on the qibla wall.
Recipient of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2013

The White Mosque

Architect: Zlatko Ugljen
Location: Visoko, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The White Mosque serves as the religious and intellectual centre for the community. Its geometrically simple plan encloses a complex, slope-ceilinged, skylit volume, pure, abstract, sparsely ornamented and painted white. The archetypal Bosnian mosque has a simple square plan crowned by a cupola and entered by means of a small porch. The White Mosque’s plan conforms to the archetype, but its roof is a freely deformed quarter of a cupola, pierced by five skylights, themselves composed of segments of quarter cupolas. The effect is one of confrontation between the elementary plan and the sophisticated hierarchy of roof cones. The principal symbolic elements, mihrab, minbar, minaret, and fountains, have a fresh folk art character subtly enhanced by the avant-garde geometries of their setting. Commending the mosque for its boldness, creativity, and brilliance,” the jury found it “full of originality and innovation (though with an undeniable debt to Ronchamp), laden with the architect’s thought and spirit, shared richly with the community, and connecting with the future and the past.
Recipient of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1983

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