Farshid Moussavi to design first Ismaili Center in the USA
Portrait of Farshid Moussavi

Farshid Moussavi to design first Ismaili Center in the USA

Iranian-born British architect Farshid Moussavi has been selected ahead of Rem Koolhaas, Jeanne Gang and David Chipperfield to design an Ismaili cultural centre in Houston, Texas. 

The London-based architect will work with Thomas Woltz Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, Hanif Kara of structural engineering firm AKT II and Paul Westlake of design firm DLR Group to design the Ismaili Center for an 11-acre (4.5-hectare) site in downtown Houston.

Spearheaded by Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims, the centre will be the first dedicated to the Shia Ismaili Muslim community in the United States, and the seventh worldwide, following outposts in London, Lisbon, Dubai, Toronto, British Columbia and Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan.

Ismaili centre to "bring Houston's diverse communities together"

Moussavi said she was honoured to work on the project: "It will bring Houston's diverse communities together in a unique space for cultural, educational and social activities."

"Our team brings a broad perspective for the Ismaili Center, with diverse skills and experience in international practice, scholarly research, multidisciplinary thinking and delivering cultural projects successfully in the United States," she added.

Ismaili Centre by Charles Correa
The Houston site will be the second in North America, following the Toronto hub, which was completed in 2015

Moussavi's proposal, for a plot that runs along the city's waterway, was selected as the winner of a competition on 5 February 2019, ahead of Koolhaas, Gang and Chipperfield.

"The evaluation and selection of these architects was both intense and enlightening," said the president of the Ismaili Council for the USA, Barkat Fazal.

"The interest from many world-renowned architects for the opportunity to design an Ismaili Center was a reminder of the global stature that an Ismaili Center, and indeed any project by the Ismaili Imamat, holds in the architectural and built environment community."

Design to "elevate city's architectural landscape"

Few details have been revealed about Moussavi's design but it will likely to follow the principles of the community's buildings, which aim to protect the core values of the Ismaili Muslim community. Each centre is intended to merge the principles of Islamic design with the surrounding city to make them architecturally unique.

Moussavi's design will be accompanied by gardens designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz, which also worked on Houston's Memorial Park, and the nearby Tolerance Sculptures, a monument built to celebrate diversity in the city.

"Ismaili Centers are symbolic markers of the permanent presence and core values of the Ismaili community around the world," said the Ismaili Community.

"[The Center in Houston] will enrich Houston's diverse community and elevate the city's architectural landscape."

The Ismaili Center Houston marks a major development for the Ismaili community, or USA Jamat, whose origins in the states date back to 1960s. Today, there are communities in 25, with "a large presence in Texas".

Ismaili Center Houston will be third outpost in North America

While the first in the US, the Houston site will be the third in North America, following the British Columbia hub and the Toronto outpost. The latter was completed in 2015 by Indian firm Charles Correa Associates and local studio Moriyama & Teshima Architects.

The project shares a patch of parkland with Fumihiko Maki's Aga Khan Museum, which showcases a collection of art and artefacts that charts a history of Muslim civilisations over the last 1,000 years.

Moussavi developed acclaim in the architecturally industry as the co-founder of the now-defunct Foreign Office Architects – the studio she founded in 1993 with her ex-husband Alejandro Zaera-Polo. She established her eponymous office in 2011, and has completed projects including the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland and Victoria Beckham's London boutique.

Portrait of Farshid Moussavi is copyright Dezeen.