New York firm designs cultural centre that challenges perception of Islam

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New York-based architecture firm Buro Koray Duman has designed a glass-clad Islamic cultural centre in the city that aims to change fear-based attitudes towards Islam as a religion.

A New York-based NGO called the American Society for Muslim Advancement approached the firm in 2014, requesting it to research and design a Muslim-sponsored, multi-faith community centre to be located in New York City, although exact location is unknown.

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The aim of the centre is to promote social justice, progressive change and inter-religious coexistence as well as cultural exchange.

“We want to promote Islam as a culture, not a religion,” said firm cofounder Koray Duman, during a lecture at the New York Public Library. 

“One of the early ideas about this building is that we really want it to be open and welcoming,” he said. “There is a common fear about the unknown of Islam and we want to convert that into surprise using place and space.” Duman is originally from Turkey and started his firm in 2013.

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The design of the centre features a 9,260 metre square building inspired by historic Islamic complexes, called kulliyes. These complex which are laid-out horizonally, include low-slung buildings with various functions, and are organised around a central mosque.

Due to the urban context of New York, the firm decided to organise the building vertically instead of the traditional horizontal method, with the programs stacked on top of one another.

“Since the potential site in New York City was limited, the challenge for the studio was to implement a civic experience within a vertical layout while keeping the essence of a Kulliye diagram,” Duman said.

islamic cultural centre

The building will be composed of a rectilinear, glass-walled envelope with a tall sculptural volume at ots core, which will be covered in a veil that references traditional Islamic patterns.

The central area will hold an auditorium, a library, a prayer room,  a restaurant, offices and other spaces.

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Wrapped around the central volume will be arched walkways and public spaces.

“The various programs are vertically organised in relation to access,” the studio said. “This distributes program vertically, with large gathering spaces near the base, public programs in the centre section, and destination spaces at the top.”

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The prayer room and multipurpose hall will be located below the main entrance, taking advantage of the double-height space that can be visible from the street level.

“Since the prayer room must orient towards Ka’aba, the base of the inner envelope is rotated towards Mecca,” the firm said. “The programme envelope twists as it moves upward to align with the Manhattan grid at the top.”

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The tranparent facade of the centre aims to convey a sense of openness and suppress a “fear of the unknown”, while the overall design is intended to showcase a “surprisingly poetic and complex reflection of history, with a look toward the future,” the firm explained.

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