October 11, 2010

WHERE WILL THEY GRIND THE CHRISTIAN BABIES INTO MOTZAH?:

Newsmaker: Michel Abboud : RECORD speaks with the principal of SOMA, the architecture firm behind the controversial Park51 Muslim community center proposed for Lower Manhattan. (Alex Padalka, October 2010, Architectural Record)

AP: What are you trying to convey with the design for Park51?

MA: From day one we knew this was going to be a complicated project in terms of controversy, how many parties we have to please – starting with the developer – the religious institutions behind the prayer space, the community, and not to mention all the political parties. Some parties required a more traditionalist approach to what Islamic architecture should look like — whatever that means. If you try to define that, it's going to be pretty hard. Other people just expected another building in New York, and from the start we knew that we didn't want that building to look like anything else. We wanted the building to be able find its roots into what makes Islamic architecture culturally recognizable as Islamic, without necessarily being religious — because that's a fine line also: What makes an Islamic cultural element, or religious element?

So we went back to really some of the most ancient traditional elements, internationally — even though we're so aware it's been done before, by other architects, namely by Jean Nouvel — taking the Islamic motif and converting it into some sort of facade. In our case it was a little more than that. It was going back to the very essence to what makes Islamic architecture recognizable, and if you go back to history there's a single motif, the Mashrabiya, the sun screen really, using abstract representations, very elaborate arabesques, and turn that motif into some sort of a map to create the facade. A map that would, through several manipulations and articulations, respond to the interior program. It's a map that starts becoming denser in areas that require less openness, and less dense in areas that require more openness. Also in relationship to the site — you’ve got to keep in mind that this is a southern facade that gets hit with direct sunlight, which requires some sort of sunscreen. At the same time this facade is a structural element on its own, so it's actually an exoskeleton that holds itself. A little bit like a curtain wall, but it's truly structural. But not only is it structural, it's projected into the building and starts defining voids inside the building.

AP: Can you tell me about the materials? What is the motivation behind having them so ultra-modern?

MA: Glass reinforced concrete. The whole point is that it's as delicate as lace but structurally as sound as concrete. It's a natural material we use in actual Mashrabiya in any country that has those types of things. You can get extremely thin with that. We haven't done the actual engineering of the facade yet so we don’t know how thin these elements are going to be, because some of them are pretty bulky, but the idea is that some of them will become pretty thin. It's a double skin. You can see in terms of the interior program, you can see we tried to keep it as open as possible

So if you go in terms of program, the only religious component is really the Muslim prayer space — and we’re not calling it a mosque, because it’s really not a mosque. A mosque has very clear typology, with an open plaza, a minaret, and you’re never going to see these things – probably ever – [in New York], but definitely not in this building. It’s called a prayer space, on two lower levels, below the ground floor, so basically the first two basements. Obviously they’re split between female and male. Everything above the ground floor will be secular architecture, for secular programming. You have restaurants, child care facilities, culinary school, sports center with basketball courts, a pool, a media tech library, auditorium, then you have the offices, administration, different types of workshops, even live-work spaces for artists, for guest artists, a little like Villa de Medici. Some sort of relation with what the culture is, the cultures we’re trying to join in this project.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 11, 2010 1:08 PM
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