What was your approach to designing an Islamic-inspired park in a North American climate?
VD: Across different continents, Islamic gardens always adapt to their context and culture. We had to envision this new adaptation for the North American context. We embarked on thorough research on Islamic gardens across the world: what unifies them and makes them unique. And then, of course, a lot of research on the climate and the context, the materials, vegetation, and the construction standards in Canada, because we had to adapt the garden to the North American context.
As a part of your research, you saw Islamic gardens around the world. How did seeing these gardens influence your design of the park?
VD: When His Highness sent me on a tour of Islamic gardens around the world, I saw gardens that were designed centuries ago. I saw projects that transcend time and that have lasted for generations. So we wanted to achieve that somehow. From these classic Islamic gardens, we abstracted what we felt was their true essence and translated it into a language that addresses this new context.
I remember sitting in the garden outside Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi—the last stop on my tour—and it just struck me how spectacular it was, hundreds of years after it had been built. Yet it was simple, too. There was just sand and water channels and a strong geometry, but the sum is much greater than the parts. It was poetry. If you added something, you would destroy it, and if you removed something, it would fall apart.
So in the Aga Khan Park, those few elements—water, gravel and the orchard—are conceived in a certain way so the garden captures you and takes you away from the spaghetti junction all around you. And the context is a tough one: the park is right on the edge of the highway. The garden needed to have a certain presence to cast its spell on visitors. Its bold geometric layout with five major reflecting mirrors of water, and a native orchard in the middle, all surrounded by an expanse of loose gravel, offers a serene and engaging atmosphere for everyone. It’s a contemporary reinterpretation of Islamic gardens.