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

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…


28 Responses to “Ground Zero Mosque: nothing political – strictly Architecture.”
  1. Toby Cabena says:

    Thanks! A great piece on how the mainstream media completely overlooks the really important aspects of things.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Imam is not the man’s name. Imam is the leader of a mosque or islamic community. Something like a pastor in a church.
    Other than that, interesting take on this story.

    • Albert says:

      I’ve re-read the post. I don’t know, Jonathan, why you’ve had an impression that I use “Imam” as a name… I would like to assure you that I perfectly know what Imam means 🙂 I appreciate your friendly remark and really happy that you find the story interesting. That’s the most important thing for me. Thank you.

      • Jonathan says:

        I knew you would say something like that, and that is why I debated saying it. It doesn’t really matter though. You can continue to call him Imam if you please. It’s not like either of us are ever going to meet the guy.

      • old mate says:

        if you wanna get it right u should probably refer to him as “the Imam”

  3. Nas Amer says:

    Here is my 2cents on this: I truly think that form is irrelevant in this political fight – and it is just that – at least at this stage. Having a great star architect behind the developer is not going to help his cause and get more votes to his favor.

    The illustration is sad and was probably created for free by one of the immams followers ( by the way , immam is a name as well as a religious title , but not in this case )

    If the developer is smart enough to realize the depth you have discussed in your article ( I really doubt ) , you will not hear or see any of it at this stage.

    I also have my own opinion about it , but here is not the place.

    • Albert says:

      I always carefully check any info prior to posting it. In English transcription word “Imam” is written this way. Capital “I” & single “m”. Although I’m informed that in Arabic pronunciation it sounds as “mm” (unfortunately I don’t speak Arabic so I apologize if it’s not perfectly correct). I also know that it can be a name yet obviously in case of Mr. Rauf (see how careful I’m with titles) “Imam” stands for a religious status. Dear readers, I highly appreciate your notes – it means people not only read but listen and analyze. To me it is the greatest sign of appreciation and again, being an Author I assure you to be as accurate and as responsible as possible.

      Back to the architecture. I absolutely agree the image is pathetic and makes no good for the Mosque supporters. Just as pathetic is that “Home page” collage which is a disgrace for people who are against the project. Both sides are just missing their point in those ridiculous graphics.

  4. Adam says:

    I ran accross this blog, on a Toronto Sun posting.

    This building is very ‘Islamic,’ with the geometric latticework under the glass. Really, there’s nothing else about it that announces its purpose.

    Aside from the location (and the fact that the City is doddling with issuing permits to rebuild a CHRISTIAN structure–a Greek Orthodox Church–destroyed in 9/11), the name ‘Cordoba’ is pretty provocative, for obvious reasons.

  5. Leena says:

    I’m an Architect. I’m American. And I am Muslim. I strongly agree with what you are saying. People need to calm down and look at the form of the building, because we all know that ignorant bigots try to hinder the living of fellow citizens. I keep searching for the architect of the building, and nothing! It’s a little frustrating. I never reflected on how politics can affect the design aspects of our physical environment, or the information about the design. If you do find out which firm it is, do tell me!

    P.S. Your style of writing is excellent.

    • Leena says:

      PS. Great quote from the Quran, very relevant.

    • Albert says:

      Thank you. So far in my search for the project author I could not find any concrete and trustful info.
      Some articles vaguely mention structures of the developer being behind the design. I found those suggestions not professional or specific enough to trust. But could be…
      Another on-line source was saying that the project is done by the architectural agency in Tripoli the “National Engineering Service & Supplies Company” (owner of the company is Saif al-Islam Muammar Al-Gaddafi a son of Lybia’s leader Moammar Gaddafi). I think it is too sensational and again politically-opinionated information. So I don’t trust it either.
      The mystery remains…

  6. Hoss says:

    “Mosques are our barracks, minarets our bayonets, domes our helmets, the believers our soldiers.” Recep Tayyip Erdogan

    Imam Rauf has actually done the American people a great service …
    He has opened the eyes of millions of Americans to the truth … Muslims build their mosques directly over areas that had once been Holy Ground of their enemies, such as Cordoba and in Constantinople.
    He has perhaps done more than any one single person in arousing American anger.
    He is … poking a sleeping bear with a stick.

    Thank you, Imam Rauf, for stirring America’s passions before it was too late. Thank you for waking us up.

    • Albert says:

      I had to moderate at least half of the previous message.

      I strongly encourage any kind of emotional discussion with bold individualistic views, politically-incorrect positions, controversial conclusions. I am looking for sincerity and truth. I don’t want formal niceties, false politeness or “balanced” opinion with calculated interest behind it (you can watch all this on major TV stations).
      What I don’t encourage is baseless hatred, dirty personal insults and religious/political fanaticism. Doesn’t matter where it comes from.

    • Kathy says:

      Amen Hoss! Imam Rauf and Daisy Kahn have lit a fire under so many! Thank you! Never surrender!

  7. Dimitri says:

    What’s interesting is that there was a small and pretty Orthodox church that was crushed down by one of the towers. The church is probably not going to be rebuilt, instead there will be the “Cordoba house”, because building it would be more politically correct. Not that I have anything against Islam, or the building of the mosque, it’s just that double standarts are annoying at least.,%20Charles%20V

    • Albert says:

      Let’s be objective. “Cordoba House” is NOT built instead of the church. We should not misinform the public, REGARDLESS of our positions towards the existing controversy. The fact that such pretty church is not rebuilt is a shame. But this has nothing to do with the Muslim community (or Jewish, or Buddhist or any other communities). As it follows from the NY Times article you kindly provided: the issue is rather administrative / financial and is under direct responsibility of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church and Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.

      • Dimitri says:

        No, I’m not saying it has to do anything with the Muslim community (I don’t know that at least). The issue is administrative, as you said, but that doesn’t make it more pretty. )

  8. maria says:

    i was also confused why there are no images of the building. rather than that just one same image on every site. no body is giving importance to architecture.

  9. Aidar says:

    The mosque is designed by SOMA Architects based in NYC (“young and creative firm”, as they declare).
    Look at There you will find some more pics (which are probably already widespread now). I wouldn’t say I am impressed with this pictures, but it’s definitely much better and less kitchy than what we can see here.

    But I suppose these are just an abstract pictures yet, not based on any project. Is there a project itself? Do they build it in the end or not? (Sorry for being out of date)

    At any rate it seems like a pure political event, where architecture doesn’t play any role. No matter to discuss…

    • Albert says:

      Thank you. There was an article in NY Times (I think it was NY Times, I might be wrong though) talking about the architectural aspects of ‘Park 51’ project. It was published in November (~3 months after my essay). The article has mentioned SOMA and had the same link.

      I agree, the images are fine. Interesting elevation solution. But I have a suspicion it was all done retroactively… No one has mentioned any architects, any SOMA in the middle of the mess, in August when I raised the issue. There was nothing on the web: neither images, nor architects.

      My essay was viewed by more than a thousand people just in the first few days after publishing and no one could find anything… All this – that big noise in August and total quietness today means it’s been all orchestrated for some dirty political/business strategies. It has nothing to do with the religion, culture or architecture. What a shame!

      • Aidar says:

        Right! “Retroactive” is a word I mean.

        So, first of all, while planning a scandal, they hired a student and rapidly got this fascinating preliminary picture (just one) with some “Islamic” features as an illustration. The student spent a couple of hours and got a couple of hundred bucks. (I like neighboring buildings facades particularly, it reminds me an early DOOM surroundings).

        Then the situation entered next stage and became worthy to spend some more money. This time they hired a real architectural company, spent a couple of thousands (?) and got three (!) plausible pictures to proceed the scenario.

        Next (and final) step probably is to turn all this efforts to a real money. Excellent business. Profitable. Major work is done by a huge number of various extremists, politicians, xenophobes and other slackers. They work for free.

        So, being a Muslim and being an architect, I don’t feel ashamed of this. Because it’s neither about an architecture, nor about a religion. People who want to build a mosque just build it, as it’s not forbidden. And in this case nobody would notice it…

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