A vision achieved: new Diwan Pavilion officially opens at Aga Khan Garden

The Diwan Pavilion, a majestic new community space, was officially opened at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden this week.

The elegant limestone structure, designed to foster understanding among people of different cultures, is the newest addition to the Aga Khan Garden, a cultural and architectural masterpiece and the world’s northernmost Islamic-inspired garden.

The Diwan Pavilion was celebrated in an inauguration ceremony Sept. 28, attended by Princess Zahra Aga Khan on behalf of her father, His Highness the Aga Khan. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani and U of A president Bill Flanagan were also in attendance.

Designed to be a warm, welcoming gathering place, the Diwan Pavilion is an integral part of the Aga Khan Garden, which opened in 2018 as a gift from the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary imam of the world’s 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims.

The indoor pavilion will be a key focal point for visitor interaction, a place where cultural understanding is fostered, promoting pluralism, openness and inclusion. Its creation fulfils the Aga Khan’s vision for the garden to ensure it could be used year-round, noted Luis Monreal, general manager of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

“The garden is a symbol of the broader partnership the Aga Khan Development Network shares with the University of Alberta, and one that I hope will continue to grow and mature, much like the Aga Khan Garden,” Monreal said.

The horizontal two-storey facility reflects a rich heritage of Islamic design and architecture, with space for cultural programming such as concerts, lectures, retreats, exhibits and community events. Illuminated with a lantern-like light in the evenings, it features a rooftop balcony affording panoramic views of the surrounding gardens.

The Aga Khan Garden itself, housed within the U of A Botanic Garden, was created to symbolize the hope, peace and unity that come when people interact with each other while enjoying the beauty and inspiration of nature.

Located 15 minutes southwest of Edmonton, the geometrically designed 4.8 hectare Aga Khan Garden is a modern interpretation of traditional Mughal architecture. Designed as a unique space for contemplation and education, its features include forest paths, wide-stepped terraces, granite and limestone walls and paving stones, 12 water features and an outdoor amphitheatre.

Premier Kenney said the garden is “a gift of His Highness the Aga Khan to Alberta. People can bring their families and have a moment of spiritual restoration, of contemplation of beauty, of quiet, of communing with nature, of seeing the best of the spiritual idea of humankind in harmony with nature.” 

The completion of the project is another landmark in a history of shared partnership between the Ismaili community and the U of A.

“The Diwan is a beautiful community space, designed for education and cultural understanding. Its opening is particularly momentous as we celebrate 50 years of Ismaili history in Canada,” said U of A president Bill Flanagan. “I am thankful for the special relationship between our communities and our mutual commitment to create spaces where different perspectives are embraced for the benefit of all.”

Made possible by $5.5 million from generous donors across Edmonton, Alberta and Canada, the project was a collaboration of design architect AXIA Design Associates, architect-of-record Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning Ltd., and interiors by Arriz and Co. Construction began on the Diwan Pavilion in early 2021 and was completed this summer.

“On this special occasion, His Highness the Aga Khan has asked that I convey his heartfelt gratitude and sincere appreciation for the contributions of the donors, and the work of the various individuals and teams who have brought this project to fruition,” Monreal said.

The Diwan Pavilion is available for bookings.