In 2010 The New York Times reported plans to build an Islamic Cultural Centre at 51 Park Place, Lower Manhattan. Soon after, the phrase 'ground zero mosque' was subsequently disseminated by various media, triggering protests opposing the project, to which the project's supporters retaliated three fold. This was the start of a socio-political controversy on both national and international scales; a polemic inflated by the media, using reductive and often misguided representations of the project.
We have addressed the project as we do all projects: with no preconceptions and a candid will to respond to a given site, propose a workable programme, and create a unique identity for the project, without seeking any historical references.
The project is located at 51 Park Place, New York City. The site is a typical midblock property, flanked by adjacent buildings on either side. The program of the building includes a 500-seat auditorium, theatre, performing arts centre, fitness centre, swimming pool, basketball court, childcare services, art gallery, bookstore, culinary school, and halal food court, set over 20 storeys. The true challenge was to create an architecture that would propose a platform for the mediation of social, cultural, urban and political differences, in one coherent environment that would cater equally for all parties.
Given the controversial context of the project that spawned a media war of images, our first responsibility as architects was to create an iconic image for the building that would enter the world's collective imagery through global printed, televised and web media.
This has led us to develop a complex geometric façade both symbolic and functional. This abstract pattern is projected into the building to become floor plates that connect the exterior façade and the building's internal program, as an intricate, sponge-like endoskeleton. This process results in a series of voids in the interior spaces that start at the prayer spaces in the sublevel and end up at the 9/11 memorial at the top floor. The geometries forming the building's skin have been spawned by the interior program and have then been freeze-framed to create a self-supporting structural and dynamic interface with the urban realm, resulting in the building's street front.
Using a parametric scripting tool written specifically for this exercise, we were able to adapt the density of the geometries in relation to the interior program; creating a pattern of unique elements (multiplicity), tessellated and atypically repeated (unity). Higher densities of pattern were achieved for functions requiring more privacy or more daylight control (i.e. the auditorium), and reduced densities were maintained for the areas requiring more daylight or openness (i.e. the sports centre). This modern "musharabyeh" does not solely reflect the all-encompassing perfection of the universe, as in traditional Islamic architecture, but is also a literal and conceptual exhibition of the building's entrails, with the clear message that the building has nothing to hide and does not fear to expose its functions. It promotes a message of openness and integration of the Muslim community with the city of New York and its various communities of faith.
PRINCIPAL: MICHEL ABBOUD
PARTNER: LEO SGUERA
LEAD DESIGNERS: FADY STEFAN
KEY STAFF: YONG JU LEE, MATT POST, STEVEN TOWNSEND, KAMIL CZARNECKI, FADI CASTRONOVO, CHARBEL NASR, NADER EL KHOURY, JOSEPH CHARTOUNI, MARWAN SALIBA