Program Research


In December 2016, the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture (AKPIA), with support from Dean Hashim Sarkis, launched a research project under the title Ethics of Intervention: Architecture of Refugees and Reconstruction in the Middle East.   The formation of this research group was of course motivated by the tragedies still evolving in many countries in North Africa and the Middle East.   Many international relief organizations, governments, philanthropic foundations, and academic institutions have established programs to deal with the various aspects of destruction and displacement.  Relief for the refugees, reconstruction, and heritage preservation are among the most pressing and most discussed issues. 
The AKPIA project does not want to replicate these efforts or to compete with them.  Instead, it seeks to develop an ethical yet practical and dynamic framework for the handling of the short and long term aims of refugee relief, heritage conservation, and reconstruction.  It endeavors to re-inject the humanistic principles of inclusiveness, understanding, sensitivity, and empathy into the discourse developing around the idea of humanitarian relief and all projects aimed at alleviating the plight of victims of armed conflicts in the Middle East today.  It seeks to propose ways to give voice to the real stakeholders, the victims of the conflicts, including the refugees and displaced people as well as the people still residing in the areas that have been most affected by the conflicts.  It also hopes to share its findings and recommendations with all interested organizations involved in these and similar efforts.
Led by Professor Nasser Rabbat, the project kicked off with a workshop exploring partnerships across MIT on the issues of refugees and reconstruction in the Middle East.  Next was a workshop, The Architecture of Refugees, which was organized by El Hadi Jazairy, AKPIA Research Scientist for 2016-17, on April 27, 2017.   The workshop addresses the agency of architecture and design in a context where the disrespect of human rights is aggravated by the incapacity of global institutions to react efficiently.  The third installment will be a symposium on art’s reaction to the destruction and looting in the Middle East.  It is slotted for the Spring of 2018.  For the academic year 2017-2018, AKPIA reconfigured its postdoctoral program to focus on the theme of Refugees, Resettlement, and Reconstruction in the Middle East and Beyond.   Three postdoctoral fellows were selected with projects that bear directly on the theme of Reconstruction.   During the academic year, the postdocs, AKPIA faculty, and graduate students will meet regularly to discuss and develop the initiative in various directions and to establish partnerships across the institute and beyond.  The three fellows will also take part in a symposium planned for the spring semester on reconstruction from a comparative historical perspective.   All papers will become part of a volume or a special journal issue to be published by AKPIA.


Delta Waters: 
Research to Support Integrated Water and Environmental Management in the Lower Mississippi River
James Wescoat, Study Committe Chair (National Academy Press, 2013)
The Water Institute of the Gulf is a not-for-profit, independent research institute dedicated to advancing the understanding of coastal, deltaic, river and water resource systems, both within the Gulf Coast and around the world. Their mission supports the practical application of innovative science and engineering, providing solutions that benefit society. Those who make policy for coastal and deltaic systems, as well as managers of natural resources, need high-quality science and engineering to guide their decisions. The Water Institute of the Gulf began operations in 2012 to address exactly this sort of challenge.
Delta Waters offers advice to The Water Institute of the Gulf that it might use as part of its strategic planning process. This report focuses on strategic research to support integrated water resources management in the lower Mississippi River delta and includes international comparative assessments. The recommendations of Delta Waters promote a human and environmental systems approach to scientific research that supports integrated water and environmental resources management in the lower Mississippi River and delta, and offers ideas regarding comparative assessments with other, relevant deltaic regions around the world. This report provides input for research into common deltaic problems and challenges, identifies strategic research for The Water Institute of the Gulf, and suggests ways that the organization can utilize knowledge gained from the lower Mississippi River and delta system in developing a research program to support water management decisions in other large river/delta complexes.

Research on Climate, Water & Agriculture
 in the Indus Basin of Pakistan – 2012-2010

The Indus Basin of Pakistan The Impacts of Climate Risks on Water and Agriculture
Winston Yu, Yi-Chen Yang, Andre Savitsky, Donald Alford, Casey Brown, James Wescoat, Dario Debowicz, and Sherman Robinson

This study by the World Bank and Water and Power Development Authority, Pakistan, updated the Indus Basin Model and used it to assess scenarios of climate change, water use, and agricultural development in Pakistan.  The study identified key hydroclimatic sentivities as well as robust aspects of the Indus Basin Irrigation System and climate adaptation scenarios.

APA, ASLA, ASID, and other design organizations recently joined to create a National Academy of Environmental Design (NAED).  James Wescoat co-directs NAED’s Research program with Dean Thomas Fisher of the University of Minnesota.  As a member of the U.S. National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC) Wescoat and AKPIA@MIT contributed to the following recent research activities:


The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) has an expanding array of Built Environment research initiatives.  Recent and current involvement of AKPIA@MIT faculty and students include:

  • AKAA – Aga Khan Award for Architecture (Geneva). 
    • Lecture series on the 10th cycle of awards in Europe and the Middle East (Nasser Rabbat)
  • AKPBS – Aga Khan Planning and Building Services, India (Mumbai) and Pakistan (Karachi). 
    • Co-leadership of 2012 Design as a Catalyst for Social Change workshop and symposium in Mumbai, India (James Wescoat and graduate students). 
    • Publications: “Disaster-Resilient Design,” Art, Design, Architecture, 2011. Aseem Inam and AKPBS,I, “Designing for Social Change,” Domus, 2013
  • AKTC – Aga Khan Trust for Culture (Geneva, New Delhi). 
    • Advising on the Islamic Garden project in Edmonton, Canada; and Islamic Gardens project at King’s Cross, London. 
    • Landscape heritage conservation and design workshops with the Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative, Delhi, India.
    • Publication: “Waterscapes and Water-Conserving Design,” Indian Journal of Landscape Architecture, 2009.
  • DRMI – Disaster Risk Management Initiative (Dushanbe, Tajikistan). 
    • Establishment of a Knowledge Bank on hazards mitigation in Central and South Asia with Archnet,and Aga Khan Documentation Center (James Wescoat and graduate students).


MIT has Institute-wide research initiatives to which AKPIA@MIT is currently contributing.  Examples include:

  • MITEI the MIT Energy Initiative awarded AKPIA@MIT a grant for research on “Environmental Effects of Hydropower Alternatives in the Indus Basin of Pakistan” (Wescoat, Afridi, Humair, and Siddiqi), 2011-2013
    • PUblication: A. Siddiqi, J. Wescoat, S. Humair, K. Afridi, "An Empirical Analysis of the Hydropower Portfolio in Pakistan," Energy Policy, vol. 50, pp. 228-241, November, 2012.
  • MITEI AKPIA@MIT received a seed grant to conduct research on “Coupling Water Use Efficiency and Irrigation Intensity in the Punjab Province of Pakistan” (Siddiqi, Wescoat, and UROP students).
    • Publication: Nancy Stauffer, “Large scale irrigation: Understanding water, energy & crop connections,” MITEI Energy Futures, March 2013
  • TATA Fellows Scholarship - the new MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design awarded AKPIA@MIT two graduate student fellowships for research on Coupling Urban Tank Restoration with High-Value Horticultural Production: A Compact Water-Conserving Design Approach (Wescoat, Mazereeuw, and graduate students), 2013-2015.