Not quite a mosque...or at 'Ground Zero'; but potentially a good piece of architecture

October 5, 2010

For all the cable news firebreathing, the frothy-mouthed syndicated radio yakking, the protests, pickets, assorted yelling and–as of this week–death threats: The above photo is what the alleged “Ground Zero Mosque”  will probably look like.

You would have thought the Islamic community in Manhattan had planned a mean-looking bunker with minarets, gunports and an upside down U.S. flag eternally burning outside its doors, for all the national hubbub over the past few months. This is the building former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin asked, via Twitter, “peaceful Muslims” to  “pls refudiate.”  That master of understatement, former US House speaker Newt Gingrich, said putting the building near Ground Zero would be “like putting a Nazi sign next to a Holocaust museum.”

Then as time passed, we learned the mosque is not actually at Ground Zero–where the World Trade Center terrorist attacks occurred on Sept 11, 2001–but at least two long blocks away. And then we find out it’s not actually a mosque, but a musalla–a prayer hall which is not built and sanctified in the way as is a mosque. But those are just minor details that can be easily missed or glossed over. What cannot be missed–or at least should not: the more refined official images of the Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center that are now making rounds. Designed by Lebanon-based Soma Architects, the 16-story building has a honeycomb-like facade that appears–on renderings, at least–modern, elegant and open.

Renderings appear to show expansive interior public spaces; the style of the building’s exterior wall would be carried inside, creating visually-permeable weblike floors that allow people to see each other from different levels.  An auditorium, a theater, a fitness center, a food court, a cooking school,  a performing arts center, a basketball court and other facilities are planned. Prayer space will occupy two stories.

“I don’t think that once this thing gets built, anyone will be picketing,”  Sharif El-Gamal, the project’s developer, told the Associated Press.


Soma Architects

El-Gamal is a little optimistic. There is an element in this country that will picket once the center is open. These folk are as sure the building is a Jihadist training ground as they are in their belief President Barack Obama is a closeted Muslim who is hiding the fact that he was not born on U.S. soil. They won't be convinced. But before these people shout down Park 51, the rest of us should be allowed to seek out and look at these images, ask questions and judge for ourselves. And when we do, we should seriously ask whether the architecture and design of the building‚  jibes with what its foes have been telling us--incessantly--told about its purpose.