Buro Koray Duman aims to dispel fears about Islam through design of New York cultural centre

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Islamic Cultural Centre by Buro Koray Duman in New York City

The schematic design for a glass-clad Islamic cultural centre in New York by local architecture firm Buro Koray Duman aims to dispel fear-based attitudes towards the Islamic faith.

New York-based nonprofit organisation the American Society for Muslim Advancement approached the studio in 2014, asking it to research and design a Muslim-sponsored, multi-faith community centre at an undetermined location in New York City.

Islamic Cultural Centre by Buro Koray Duman in New York City

In the New York metropolitan area, there are 400,000 to 800,000 people who identify their religion as Islam, according to reports. The centre's aim is to promote social justice, progressive change, inter-religious coexistence and cultural exchange.

"We want to promote Islam as a culture, not a religion," said firm cofounder Koray Duman, speaking on Tuesday night at a lecture at the New York Public Library. Duman, a native of Turkey, started his eponymous New York-based firm in 2013.

"One of the early ideas about this building is that we really want it to be open and welcoming," he said. "We want to replace the image of Islam in the West from one of fear of the unknown to that of surprisingly pleasant."



Islamic Cultural Centre by Buro Koray Duman in New York City

His studio's schematic design for the centre features a 100,000-square-foot (9,290 square metres) building that takes its cue from historic Islamic cultural complexes, called kulliyes. In these complexes, which are laid out horizontally, low-slung buildings with varying functions are organised around a centrally placed mosque.

Given the urban context of the proposed New York centre, the firm opted to utilise the kulliye concept, but organise it vertically – so program areas are 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," the architect said.

Islamic Cultural Centre by Buro Koray Duman in New York City
Concept models

The building would consist of a rectilinear, glass-walled envelope with a tall sculptural volume at its core. The volume would be sheathed in a veil that references traditional Islamic patterns.

The central space would contain an auditorium, a library, a prayer room, a restaurant, offices and other functions. Angled walkways and public spaces would wrap the central volume.



"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."

Islamic Cultural Centre by Buro Koray Duman in New York City
Model

The prayer room and multipurpose hall are situated below the main entrance, within a double-height space that is visible from the street.

"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."

The transparent facade is meant to convey a sense of openness and quell a "fear of the unknown". The overall design is intended to show "a surprisingly poetic and complex reflection of history, with a look toward the future," the firm said.

Islamic Cultural Centre by Buro Koray Duman in New York City
Model detail

This is not the first attempt to build an Islamic cultural centre in Manhattan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2011, the New York architecture firm SOMA proposed a 13-storey Muslim cultural centre for a site near the World Trade Centre. The project, called Park51, incited controversy and was eventually abandoned. The developer now aims to build a luxury condo tower on the site, according to reports.

Other recent projects around the globe related to Islam include a competition-winning design by Mossessian Architecture for a museum dedicated to the Islamic faith in Saudi Arabia and an Islamic centre in Toronto by Charles Correa.

Islamic Cultural Centre by Buro Koray Duman in New York City
Initial concept diagram
Islamic Cultural Centre by Buro Koray Duman in New York City
Concept diagram one
Islamic Cultural Centre by Buro Koray Duman in New York City
Concept diagram two
  • Jan Limon

    It is the anti-Trump tower.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Islam IS a religion. That cannot be extricated in any discussion about Islam. For the very name means, “fear of god.”

    • amsam

      Nobody is saying it’s not a religion, they’re saying it’s also a culture, and they’d like us to be taking a look at that as well.

      • Concerned Citizen

        How do you explain this then: “‘We want to promote Islam as a culture, not a religion,” said firm cofounder Koray Duman.'”

        • amsam

          Because they want to PROMOTE it as a culture so it is understood that way as well. They don’t want to promote it as a religion because everybody already knows it’s a religion. Anything else you want me to translate from easy English into easy English?

          • Concerned Citizen

            You missed my point, then, that religion cannot be extracted from the conversation. Without the religion there would be no culture. It’s like trying to explain “blue” by ignoring colour.

          • amsam

            Except that they never said anything like religion should be “extracted.” For heaven’s sake, there’s a prayer room front and centre. All I can say is, your hostility to the project speaks volumes about how necessary it is.

          • Concerned Citizen

            Sorry, I find dealing with the obtuse to be pointless. Goodbye.

          • amsam

            LOL ad hominem and then retreat: the last refuge of the confused.

    • FYI Islam literally means “surrender”.

      • Concerned Citizen

        No, the literal meaning is “fear of god.”

        • Aaron

          No, Islam literally means “submission” (to the will of God), from the root of aslama: “he resigned, he surrendered, he submitted,” causative conjunction of salima, “he was safe,” and related to salam “peace.” There is no connection with fear.

        • As a Muslim and a native Arabic speaker, I’m telling you, you’re utterly misinformed my dear Concerned Citizen. Nonetheless, Wikipedia says “Islam is a verbal noun originating from the triliteral root s-l-m, which forms a large class of words mostly relating to concepts of wholeness, submission, safeness and peace.

          In a religious context it means “voluntary submission to God”. Islām is the verbal noun of Form IV of the root, and means “submission” or “surrender”.

          • Concerned Citizen

            Verbal noun? A Moslem is one who submits, having taken both definitions from learned Imams in Saudi Arabia. For all I know, you wrote the Wikipedia definition, yourself, so that’s not a reliable source of information.

          • You are not a reliable source of information.

          • Aaron

            Thanks for clearing up what crazy fanaticism looks like.

  • Ilpalazzo

    What is it with tacky glass mosques trying to be built in NY? Even that Ground Zero mosque tried to win support by simply looking interesting in an effort to guise what it is housing. It’s like selling kids candy that looks cool but is laced with poison on the inside.

    • amsam

      I’m sorry, did you just equate Islam with poison? Awesome. More proof of how necessary these educational centres are.

  • Ilpalazzo

    Wait, sports facilities in a glass building?

  • H-J

    Just don’t inform yourself about what’s going on in the world in the name of Islam and your fear for Islam will disappear in a heartbeat.

    • Kyle Kutz

      See multiple genocides committed by Christians in the name of Christianity in Africa. But wait, Africa is full of black people so why do we care? *Sarcasm*.