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Name of Collaboratory :


ArchNet (ArchNet)


URL :  

Collaboratory Status :

Operational   Start Date : 2000 End Date : Info Last Updated : Thu, Dec 2 2010 8:01am PST

Primary Collaboratory Function :

  Virtual Learning Community  

Secondary Collaboratory Functions :

  Virtual Community of Practice  

Domain(s) :

  Islamic Architecture  

Brief Description of the Collaboratory :


At the heart of ArchNet is a free and open online architectural library -- the worlds largest -- which is available to members without cost. The library draws on the extensive resources of its participating institutions, including the 200,000 images in the collections of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and 400,000 images housed at Harvard and MIT. Selections of these materials, reproduced digitally on ArchNet, provide valuable resources and teaching tools for students, educators, and professionals, especially those with limited access to architectural publications and research. ArchNet also provides members with access to an expanding digital archive of images from private collections that might otherwise never be seen. The site integrates this information through linked text and images, and provides access to course syllabi and seminal publications focused on design and culture in Islamic societies.

ArchNet collaborates with architectural schools to provide institutional workspaces that allow for the sharing of locally based resources and knowledge -- including studio work, research, and publications -- across borders and cultures. ArchNets list of partner schools, whose original members included institutions in Egypt, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Turkey, continues to expand. In addition, ArchNet has supported the establishment of laboratory environments at schools in Tajikistan, Syria, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, providing hardware, software digital cameras, and other resources.

Institutions, individuals, and groups that participate in ArchNet can also establish workspaces that facilitate professional development through the organization and sharing of project-related information and research. Other site features include a digital calendar listing events of interest to members in various countries, directories of individual ArchNet members and participating institutions, discussion forums, and career listings.

ArchNet fosters connections and collaboration among the members of its global community through discussion groups, linked resources, and shared workspaces. This unprecedented model of cooperation helps participants transcend economic, cultural, and geographic boundaries; expand their intellectual frame of reference; and enhance the knowledge base of the ArchNet community. The reciprocal exchange of information enables community members to both access and share locally based architectural and planning expertise -- from mud construction techniques in Mali to wooden building methods in Indonesia -- at an unprecedented level.

ArchNet is a online community focused on Islamic Architecture. The centerpiece of ArchNet is the largest online collection of of Islamic architecture images. The project began as a collaboration between the Aga Khan Culture Trust, the MIT School of Architecture, and Harvard Universities, which between them were able to seed the library with over 600,000 images. Architecture classes in Islamic nations are centered around slides and images, yet most universities in these countries did not have access to extensive collections. ArchNets model of community development was to use the digital library as a resource to attract an international community of users. Other fuctionalities of the community are active public discussion boards, which are are integrated with the image library in such a way that conversations can be centered around particular images.
ArchNet has been very successful in providing a resource for educational institutions in the Islamic world. They have 16,000 registered users representing over 150 nations. More than half of these users are students or teachers. The community has been home for many collaborative projects such as international student design competitions and cross-national online seminars. Manager Shiraz Allibhai describes this example:
We recently ran an online competition between 5 schools of Architecture (Liverpool, Mexico City, Istanbul, Sharjah, and Cairo), The MIT Media Lab, Museum of Science, and professors from MIT for a Computer Clubhouse in Mombasa, Kenya. It was a wonderful collaboration and spirit of exchange. ArchNet hopes to improve its impact in the professional community as well. It attempts to create a community of practice by providing access to a member directory, online calendar of events, job postings, and discussion boards focused on professional issues. One of ArchNets newer initiatives is supporting online workspaces for various groups. These are beginning to be used in educational settings for online class support and document management; they have not yet attracted much usage from the non-academic community.
According to Allibhai, ArchNets ultimate goal is to be a completely user-sustained community. At this point, however, it is still quite dependent on administrative support to grow and maintain the community.


Access to Instruments :

  See Communications technology  

Access to Information Resources :

  ArchNets digital image library is the most extensive library of Islamic architectural images. It began by including 200,000 images held by Aga Khan with 400,000 held by MIT and Harvard, and has grown to include many new private collections and individual contributions.
Types of documents include photographs, line drawings, CAD drawings, published papers, and video, and text resources including the Dictionary of Islamic Architecture.
The Digital library has advanced search features appropriate for image collections. Images can be browsed by various categores (by collection, country, building type, decade, etc). If users limit searchers to the digital library, it groups hits (e.g. images, publications), so they can see just the results for images.
ArchNet also provides access to members' course syllabi an online calendar and discussion boards.

Access to People as Resources :

  Archnet facilitates contact between its members via several means:
1) Archnet includes features of a community of practice with calendar listings of conferences and events and job notices.
2) Discussion boards are moderately active and provide informal contact between members.
3) Virtual seminars and international design competitions encourage contact between different Islamic architecture schools.
4) Group workspaces serve as gathering places for digital workgroups within ArchNet, where members work collectively, collaboratively, and in real time on specific projects. Group workspace participants share resources such as sketches, working drawings, and project notes, as well as their local knowledge and expertise. Group workspaces also include real-time chat rooms, discussion forums, calendars for group-related events, an address book area, and a pinup board section where participants can post drawings or images and receive feedback on their work from fellow participants.

Funding Agency or Sponsor :

Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Notes on Funding Agencies/Sponsors:
Supported by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture


Notes on Participants/Organizations:
ArchNet began as a collabortion between Aga Khan, MIT, and Harvard, and has since added many educational institution partners


Communications Technology Used :

  The Archnet website includes these main functionalities:
1) Digital library
2) Discussion boards which are designed to integrate visual images from the library as centerpoints of discussion
3) Actively used calendar of community events and job board
4) Group workspaces with chat, bulletin boards, calendars, and shared filespaces including 'pinup boards' for discussion of images or works in progress

Technical Capabilities :

  Management of technical resources
Access control/login facilities
Support for transition between synch and asynch
Directory of services/experts/resources, Shared calendars
Asynchronous object sharing
Common file space
Asynchronous conversation
Annotation on objects, Threaded discussion
Synchronous object sharing
Electronic whiteboards, Share visualization
Synchronous conversation
Instant messaging/chat
  Key Articles :    

Project-reported performance data :

  ArchNet has 16,000 registered users. Currently averaging 5000 unique visitors per day. The extensive digital image library is the most actively used section of the site. Over 15 gigabytes of information, comprising publications and images from the Digital Library, are downloaded on a weekly basis.  
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