Ground Zero Mosque: nothing political – strictly Architecture.
And when they hear vain talk,
they turn away therefrom and say:
“To us our deeds, and to you yours; peace be to you:
we seek not the ignorant.”
Qur’an, Al-Qasas, Surah 28:55
So called Ground Zero Mosque is the hottest topic in town. People are confused and emotional, politicians are divided about the topic not knowing how to play it properly, journalists are fueling the flames of the public opinion… (Have I just assumed that politicians and journalists are not “people”?)
Put it briefly, a lot of mess around the Mosque. Now I am trying to understand what exactly causes all that controversy, what is the concrete source of the chaos? In fact the reason behind all this is quite materialistic, it’s a BUILDING. Ergo, Architecture is involved.
Of course I am not a naive idiot. I understand that the building is a mere shape (who cares about the architecture!) and the major discord is an Idea (or maybe an Ideology) of having this particular project (Islamic Center) at this particular spot (2 blocks from 9/11 attack). Yet since the building is playing such a role wouldn’t it be constructive to review some architectural issues behind the current “clash of civilizations”.
Program: Form follows Function
Yes, Form follows…Definitely that’s the hierarchy in the case of the Cordoba House (Ground Zero Mosque).
More than that. No one even gives a damn about how the building’s form looks like. Everybody talks “FUNCTION” (i.e. Mosque). Actually the function itself is so confusing; I couldn’t figure it out clearly.
- Officially it’s called Park 51 (not Cordoba House) yet Cordoba House is there: “Cordoba House will be a center for multi-faith dialogue & engagement within Park51’s broader range of programs and activities.”
- As per Program of Park 51 it is not a Mosque but a Community Center with a wide-range of facilities yet “a mosque, intended to be run separately from Park 51”…
- And after all – it is not exactly a Mosque but a prayer space “accessible to Park51 members as well as all New Yorkers”
(The quotes are from the official website of Park51 http://www.park51.org)
But, hey, forget the legal niceties of those function definitions. What about the architectural design? Is it a genius design which will live for centuries? Is it just some typical mass-production project? The problem is, I repeat: no one cares. Please keep in mind the huge public discussion around the Mosque includes not only cynical politicians or uneducated masses, but very prominent cultural figures. Yet none of them (of course as far as I can track the theme coverage in the central mass-media) has questioned the architectural aspects. Really! No one! Wouldn’t it be useful at least to SEE what all the fuss is about?
Building: contemporary mediocrity – nothing Islamic
First of all there are practically no images of the project on the web. What you see as a front image is the only rendering I could find. Strange, especially given the importance of the project… (it’s just another evidence of how insignificant the form is). Having so little we cannot run a deep architectural analysis, yet two things are noticeable:
A. It is obviously not a Parthenon shrine which is destined to live for centuries. (Why I am not surprised?)
B. It doesn’t look like a Mosque at all. (That’s a surprise. Especially after numerous propaganda posters showing Islamic domes and minaret towers silhouettes). Actually it is a regular modernistic/minimalistic block with the standard attributes of boring and pretentious contemporary architecture. Nothing Islamic, nothing traditional, nothing original, nothing authentic. Monotonous rectangle of a gray facade smoothed with some kind of ostentatious high-tech looking ornament (maybe it’s some kind of a visual projection – who knows?)
But here’s a provocative thought: if they really build it I would probably prefer to see well balanced elegant minaret shapes and curved domes. The suggestion has nothing to do with whether or not I accept the Idea of the Mosque. Nothing political – strictly Architecture.
Architect: one hit wonder (or one hit failure)
I couldn’t find the name of the architect or a firm in charge of Park 51 design. Developer’s name is everywhere; project investors are widely known – among them Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Imam is a well-known figure in the Muslim community, he is a Founder of the Cordoba Initiative Foundation; the project is Imam’s brainchild.
But no one mentions architects. Who are they? Why their names are unknown or hidden? I don’t know… Maybe there are some political reasons. But what I know for sure is that whoever the designers are (a private design bureau or some department from the developer’s corporation) this project is the only project they will be remembered for. Whether it comes out great or it will be one of the numerous average buildings – architecture will be forever overshadowed by the enormous politico/religious scandal, which has nothing to do with the architectural talents of the building creators. And it’s a shame. The architect of Park 51 Project is doomed to be a one-hit wonder. Or should we call it a one-hit failure?
P.S. I was trying to be as neutral as possible. I am an Architect and I am beyond (or above) the politics. (Yes I do have a position about the issue, but since I am not a high-level politician or an important public dignitary – it’s my personal matter.) I was just hoping to see an architectural story of the project, the story which is sadly disregarded through the noisy bedlam of political debate…