Reviewed April 2018
Rebecca K. Friedman
Acting Head/Assistant Librarian
Marquand Library of Art & Archaeology, Princeton University
Archnet is a free resource for architecture content related to the Muslim world. Version 2.0 launched in 2014, but the resource was originally developed in the early 2000s by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture—one of ten agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network focused on economic, social and cultural development around the world—and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Archnet is the “research portal” of the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT, which hosts general information like a FAQ and how-to videos on a companion website .
Archnet’s core content includes images (and associated metadata), downloadable publications, and some video and audio, all available via the search and browse area of the site. The “Collections” and “Resources” menus at the top of the page include individual architects’ archives, reference materials, exhibition-related content, links to content from other Aga Khan initiatives, and more. There is also a pedagogical section with syllabi from individual instructors available for download, and related resources.
Archnet serves as a major hub for discovering content related to Muslim architecture from multiple sources. In the Oxford Bibliographies , the architecture article by Walter Denny within the Islamic Studies module (last updated in August 2013) mentions three items under “Image Sources and Digital Libraries:” Archnet (which he notes should be a “starting point for scholars needing images”), Artstor, and the Creswell Archive. A set of digital images from this last collection are incorporated in Archnet. The Artstor Digital Library, available only to subscribers, includes some 19,000 images of Islamic art and architecture from Professors Sheila Blair, Jonathan Bloom, and Denny. Archnet presents a greater range of content, but Artstor also includes other potentially useful images—including those available within the free Public Collections—that would complement those found on Archnet. Nonetheless, Archnet’s variety and depth surpass the mostly image content of this and other resources like archINFORM and GreatBuildings.
Despite its quality content, Archnet presents several severe usability issues. For one, the content can be slow to load. Navigation in the search area is confusing, as sections of the page slide in and out of view and the search box opens as a modal window on top of the content. When one clicks on “Search” up at the top or bottom left, a varied number of “featured” results are displayed but without further information. One has to click a second time in the search box to start a search from scratch, and then one can see the number of results for a particular keyword or topic only. Filters may be chosen on the left-hand side, but it is not obvious how to implement them. Finally, the site is not optimized for viewing and searching on all devices, including some laptops and mobile phones, as some menu and navigation options are not fully visible.
Overall, Archnet’s content is of high quality, and would be appropriate for undergraduates to advanced scholars, especially those working in architecture, urban studies, landscape architecture, and related fields. The free and open availability of the content is a boon to users, especially independent scholars or patrons at institutions lacking resources. However, the inability to fully utilize the site on some devices is a limitation. That it takes some time and effort for the user to realize the full scope of what exists and how to access it is also an issue. Though the content could be of great use and benefit to researchers, the site could be better organized and overall navigation could be improved.