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NYC: Park51, a controversial ? center

When images were released by Soma architects of Park51, a Muslim community center too-close-for-comfort to Ground Zero for many, the very purpose of the building was questioned. What, some are wondering, is really going to go on in there?

Certainly it doesn't look like the mosques and other iconic Islamic buildings Westerners are accustomed to seeing in photos of foreign lands or mysteriously dotted, seemingly haphazardly, at the heart of discrete Muslim populations in the U.S.

With it's sleek, honeycombed sides... (based on mashrabiya, the traditional Islamic architectural screen used since the middle ages to shield out the sun)...

White, modern interior...

As New York Magazine writer Justin Davidson puts it in "Dream Mosque," published this past October 18th:
The design's vagueness reflects a certain muddle about Park51's mission. Will the new building be a religious establishment or a cultural one, an interfaith center or a Muslim organization, a symbolic place or a pragmatic facility? It's the architect's job to ask these questions, then weave the answers into the concrete and steel. Bu the Park51 website refers to Soma merely as its "Architectural Design consultants," which is another way of saying that Abboud might not design the building when the clients figure out what they want, assuming they can raise the money.
The purpose of a building may not as always be so critical. In this case, and in light of the opposition forming due to its proximity to the World Trade Center, it is perhaps irrelevant what it will be used for; that it is associated with Muslim organizations at all is enough for opponents to raise their American flags in protest. But for the more open-minded critic, the mission of the building is the very information that can establish understanding, swaying a neutral party in favor or in doubt.

In attempt to rationalize the project based on the architectural images alone, Davidson leans towards the negative. "In absence of clarity, Soma resorted to facile globalism. The façade invokes a series of Western architects' glosses on the mashrabiya more than it does the real thing... Park51's version yields a generic whiff of the Middle East, but ignores its immediate surroundings. The allover pattern even obscures the basic module of New York architecture: the story.

Looking at the "night" version from Soma architects, perhaps Davidson is correct...

But then again, if this Muslim "community center" is to keep with the times, and help to change Western misconceptions about Islam and Middle Eastern culture, then perhaps globalism might be key... and perhaps it's not facile at all.

Head to the Park51 website >>
Read the rest of Davidson's NY Mag article >>

[images © Wikipedia, New York Magazine]

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