Diwan at the Aga Khan Garden, Alberta
University of Alberta Botanic Garden, Alberta, Canada


The Diwan is a year round pavilion and event space for the University of Alberta Botanic Gardens and the final piece to complete the 4.8 hectare Aga Khan Garden, Alberta. The site of the pavilion was designated in the original concept plan for the Garden, inaugurated in 2018. In addition to providing multi-use functionality, the pavilion was to resonate with its rich surroundings, and extend the themes of the Garden, a contemporary interpretation of Islamic landscape architecture in a northern climate and context. The pavilion was designed to complement the spirit of the Garden’s design, heritage and experience. The term diwan has varied historical definitions, and here implies a space for meeting, cultural exchange, and celebration. 


The design team’s research began with the underlying themes of the Chahar Bagh garden typology commonly used in Mughal gardens, a key source of inspiration for the Aga Khan GardenThe function, scale, and detailing of the historical garden, as well as the pavilions within them, were a source of inspiration, as were broader traditions of Islamic building arts. Geometric patterns, surfaces, and screens are embedded throughout the Diwan, and further enrich the visitor experience of building and garden. The design, massing, and material selection is that of a contemporary building that interprets traditional principles. 


The Diwan is designated to be the University of Alberta Botanic Garden’s only year-round facility. It includes a large event space, servery, coat check, washrooms, and universal access to the rooftop terrace, providing panoramic views back to the garden. In creating a facility for performances, conferences, workshops, exhibitions, or weddings, the architectural design ‘offsets’ some of the symmetries of the Aga Khan Garden while adhering to others, to balance the formal garden context with the pavilion’s internal function and focus on a well-serviced ‘public room’.



The Diwan has a strong yet understated presence within the Garden. Its horizontal form hovers along the southern edges of the Garden. A sizeable overhang provides for shade and shelter marking its entry and offering an uninterrupted view into the main hall and through to the woodland forest beyond (Figures 3,6,7,11). It lies symmetrical to the Garden’s north-south axis, acting as its terminus and marking the garden’s edge with the forest. The architectural form was carefully considered to integrate with the scale of the surrounding garden elements in a seamless manner. The Diwan’s rooftop terrace offers an elevated vantage point from which to enjoy panoramic views of the garden, and adds to the existing vantage points of the Talar Terrace and Jilau Khana at the west and north edges of the Garden.


The pavilion takes much of its inspiration and design vocabulary from the Aga Khan Garden to create a seamless integration with its surroundings and define its place. As they are in the garden, geometric patterns are grafted throughout the design of the building to achieve this harmony, articulate light & shadow, and transform the scale of the building to that of intimate human experience. The exterior cladding was chosen to integrate and complement the existing material palette and textures in the garden. The dual-tone porcelain rainscreen system complements the Algonquin limestone used throughout the Garden. Throughout the course of the day, the materials take on different tones, from providing shade from the sun to becoming a source of light and warmth in the evening. The covered entry area is characterized by a patterned metal screen, an interpretation of the traditional mashrabiya, that filters light throughout the course of the day, creating subtle patterns beneath the canopy and into the building. 3D textured panels on all sides of the building add depth and relief to the facade when shadowed by the sun.



The Diwan’s main public entrance is nestled off the main north-south approach to the building, strongly framed by the perpendicular direction of the canopy above. In this way, the view into the building and forest beyond remain uninterrupted. Upon entry, the visitor is welcomed by a mosaic tile floor. The motif is inspired by geometric patterns used in the garden and serves to provide a sense of continuity from outside to inside. A Donor Wall, fabricated with white oak, adorns the space and provides another articulated surface and material continuity. From the foyer, the visitor is drawn towards the main event space, past a welcome point and coat check.


The central event space establishes a visual and physical connection back to the Garden through the symmetry of its central ceiling feature and central windows. These align with the North-South axis of the Aga Khan Garden, while establishing a new East-West axis within the event space itself, which terminate with the servery and stage walls respectively (Figure 26). The event space is a large open plan of 330m², allowing for flexibility to cater for a diverse range of events and activities. The volume of the space is grand and the use of white oak wood floors and paneling provides for a sense of warmth and comfort. Within the main hall, the central ceiling feature is rendered with engraved geometric pattern in bright sunflower yellow. It creates new axial relationships to garden, forest, and the stage to the west. A custom wallcovering with the same motif as the mosaic tile floor is applied to the stage backdrop. Large windows reinforce the relationship between inside/outside and frame views to the surrounding garden elements and natural backdrop of the woods. To the south of the building, a service road encircles a new catchment pond, and provides convenient access for seniors, guests for private venues, and catering services.



The Diwan will be a beacon of gathering and intellectual interaction. It will be a home of the arts and of celebration, as well as a symbol of rich heritage, tradition and cultural pluralism. It is imbued with cultural sensitivity and historic legacy, while remaining responsive to its garden settings, programmatic requirements, and the context of northern Alberta. In the evening, the Diwan will serve as a beacon, illuminated by a warm and welcoming lantern-like light.


Architecture and Design of the Diwan was completed by the team of Arriz+co, AXIA Design Associates, and Kasian Architecture, Interior Design, and Planning.

51227 Alberta 60, University of Alberta Botanic Garden, Alberta, Canada
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Associated Names
Part of Site
Conceptual design through construction drawings between 2018-2020
Construction from 2021-2022
Total building area: 695m2; site area: 725m2
Variant Names
The Diwan
Building Usages