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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Interview with Park51 (NYC Muslim Comm. Center) Architect

This came across my desktop today from the "Engineering Dispatch" article digest that I read.  While it has nothing to do with this blog's general line of discussion, it does speak to something critical that the American public misses when it considers development and construction projects:  The actual background of the project versus the sound-bites that are for or against it.  Judging projects by hearsay of not-involved parties (pundits and reporters) does not inform you as to the relevance and reason of a project.  The more we seek out information from involved parties, the better informed we are and the more our mind is able to empathize or reject that party's view, depending on the merits.

Here are a few quotes that I felt were interesting:

"AP: Can you tell me about the materials? What is the motivation behind having them so ultra-modern?

MA: Glass reinforced concrete. The whole point is that it's as delicate as lace but structurally as sound as concrete. It's a natural material we use in actual Mashrabiya in any country that has those types of things. You can get extremely thin with that. We haven't done the actual engineering of the facade yet so we don’t know how thin these elements are going to be, because some of them are pretty bulky, but the idea is that some of them will become pretty thin. It's a double skin. You can see in terms of the interior program, you can see we tried to keep it as open as possible.

So if you go in terms of program, the only religious component is really the Muslim prayer space — and we’re not calling it a mosque, because it’s really not a mosque. A mosque has very clear typology, with an open plaza, a minaret, and you’re never going to see these things – probably ever – [in New York], but definitely not in this building. It’s called a prayer space, on two lower levels, below the ground floor, so basically the first two basements. Obviously they’re split between female and male. Everything above the ground floor will be secular architecture, for secular programming. You have restaurants, child care facilities, culinary school, sports center with basketball courts, a pool, a media tech library, auditorium, then you have the offices, administration, different types of workshops, even live-work spaces for artists, for guest artists, a little like Villa de Medici. Some sort of relation with what the culture is, the cultures we’re trying to join in this project."


"AP: 2,000 people – is that the capacity in the basements?

MA: Yes. It needed to be easily accessible from the street with different routes, different security check-ins than the rest of the building, so you don’t go through the main core of the building. Also, to better separate any type of religious program from the rest. You have to keep in mind - I’m saying this from an observer point of view, because I’m not a Muslim – I had to observe the way things worked out for Muslims in New York City who need to pray five times a day. How do you cut off your workday to go five times a day? So you need to be able to go in and out pretty fast, you can’t spend an hour to go in and another hour to go out."


"I'm 33. That's the whole point. Even the developer is young. The developer is 37. We have 50-year-old people, and we have 26-year-old people. It's like any other office, we just like to do our projects a little differently, and what better office structure to have to work on such a project? For example, I'm Catholic, so that shows that it's not an Islamic firm, that it's not all Muslims. For us, it's about joining cultural differences into one project. You’ve got a developer who's Egyptian, who's from a Polish Catholic mother, who goes to a Jewish community center, an architect who has citizenships from France, and Mexico—French and Mexican and Lebanese at the same time, so it's a mix of a cultures, isn't that the whole point of this project?"


"So we went back to really some of the most ancient traditional elements, internationally — even though we're so aware it's been done before, by other architects, namely by Jean Nouvel — taking the Islamic motif and converting it into some sort of facade. In our case it was a little more than that. It was going back to the very essence to what makes Islamic architecture recognizable, and if you go back to history there's a single motif, the Mashrabiya, the sun screen really, using abstract representations, very elaborate arabesques, and turn that motif into some sort of a map to create the facade. A map that would, through several manipulations and articulations, respond to the interior program."

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