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Aga Khan Foundation: Islamic Community Center, First In U.S


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On 4/10/2021 at 10:55 PM, Skyboxdweller said:

The building reminds me of the entrance to the Shah's palace overlooking the great square in Isfahan. one of the treasures of the Safavid era. I was last there in 1977 , but I remember an elevated open air terrace under a roof supported by tall thin columns facing the irrigated gardens in the center of the square ( more of a rectangle ). The fractal geometry of the tile work and  niches and other decorative elements were at least  impressive those one might find on a Gothic cathedral in Western Europe. It's nice to see the continuation and modernization of an architecture that has historical resonance with this religious sect. 

Palacio_Aali_Qapu,_Isfahán,_Irán,_2016-09-20,_DD_58.jpg

When the elevations were first accidentally published, Skyboxdweller pointed out the similarity to the Shah's Palace in Isfahan. 

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1 minute ago, talltexan83 said:

I really like it.  Hopefully worth the wait.

I noticed the esplanade along Montrose?  Do we know if that have plans to add an esplanade on this stretch of Montrose?  That would be a great addition.

More than likely no? Thats one of those, "Well it will make the render look really nice" kind of things. The only way that would happen is if the city asked the developers of this to spruce up that stretch of Montrose as part of this development.

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Exclusive: America's first Ismaili Center will be architectural jewel for Houston

 
Diane CowenStaff writer
Nov. 15, 2021Updated: Nov. 15, 2021 2:46 p.m.
 

Designs for Houston’s the Ismaili Center Houston were unveiled Monday afternoon, revealing architecture and gardens likely to set a new bar in a city increasingly devoted to modern design and lush green spaces.

With a structure designed by UK-based Farshid Moussavi and gardens by Thomas Woltz of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects — a renowned landscape architect known locally for his work transforming Memorial Park — the new Ismaili Center will sprawl across 11 acres at the southeast corner of Allen Parkway and Montrose Boulevard.

Clad in a silvery beige Turkish marble, the building will be a cultural landmark where local and visiting Ismailis can worship, and where others can attend cultural and educational events. Gardens on all four sides will include terraced plantings and water features in a configuration that pays homage to ancient Islamic architecture but with vegetation found in Texas ecosystems.

Houston was chosen several years ago by His Highness Aga Khan as the site of America’s first Ismaili Center, picked for its large population of Ismaili Muslims and for its overall diverse community. The Aga Khan is the spiritual leader — or imam — of Ismaili Muslims, and is a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, who founded Islam some 1,400 years ago.

The Aga Khan Foundation purchased the local land in 2006 and later donated seven monumental artworks — Jaume Plensa’s “Tolerance” sculptures — that sit across the street in Buffalo Bayou Park. Excavation on the site is already under way and a formal ground breaking will likely take place early next year with construction finished by the end of 2024.

An artist rendering of the interior central atrium at the future Ismail Center Houston.

An artist rendering of the interior central atrium at the future Ismail Center Houston.

Courtesy of Ismaili Center Houston

Geometry in architecture

Moussavi’s design goal was layered: create a building that pays tribute to ancient Islamic culture that will support modern life for 100 years. It needed to be an architectural jewel worthy of its spot at one end of a cultural corridor that runs down Montrose to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Museum District.

“The Aga Khan has been a patron of architecture for many years. He is absolutely convinced and aware of the power of architecture to help people live a better life — that architecture is a force for good,” said Moussavi, a native of Iran who moved to the UK when she was 14 and was educated in the U.S. at Harvard University. “This is what sets the challenge when working on a building commissioned by him … every decision must be relevant and executed with excellence.”

It also needed to be a place where Ismailis could turn for spiritual solace, with a jamatkhana — or place of worship — where they could go for daily prayers. Social spaces would need to be used for cultural or educational events or even social gatherings such as philanthropic galas or luncheons.

“There cannot be a better moment to build this building. We have many different crises as humanity, including climate emergency,” said Moussavi. “The scale of the issues we face needs a collective response. It is about bringing people together to better understand each other and form a larger community.”


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The building will be a combination of solid, flat surfaces and walls where the stonework appears as porous screens or woven tapestries with breezes and light passing through.

Stone screens in geometric patterns — squares, circles and curvy Arabesque shapes — are frequently used as ornamentation in Islamic architecture, which avoids images of religious figures. You’ll see them both inside and outside this Ismaili Center even if they’re in a pale monotone as opposed to colorful combinations you’d see traveling in India, Pakistan or Eastern Africa.

There also will be numerous verandas, where people can be outside and still in the shade — a design element just as needed in Houston as it might be in other hot countries.

The Ismaili Center has no front or back; each side is equally detailed and welcoming, though there will be entry doors off of West Dallas and Montrose streets, Moussavi said. Deep on the lot toward West Dallas, the building had to be located outside of the 500-year flood plain to avoid damage in future weather events.

  An artist rendering of the North Garden at the future Ismail Center Houston.

An artist rendering of the North Garden at the future Ismail Center Houston.

Courtesy of Ismaili Center Houston

One form of paradise

Woltz, who leads the landscape architecture team that will craft 10 acres of lush garden where there is now dirt and scruffy weeds, also did the landscaping for the Ismaili Center in London. Houston’s center will be the seventh throughout the world; the others — built between 1985 and 2014 — are in London, Toronto, Lisbon, Dubai, and in Burnaby, British Columbia, and Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Visiting other Islamic gardens and Ismaili Centers as he prepared both for the London project and now Houston proved to be a learning experience for Woltz and his team.

On projects such as this one, buildings often sprawl across much of the available land with greenspace is treated almost as an afterthought. Not so for the Ismaili Center.

“The description of paradise in the Quran is a garden, and those descriptions have inspired more than 1,000 years of garden history,” Woltz said. “They’re known for their geometry, axial layout and the use of water as a central organizational element. Water is used architecturally and formally in a remarkable array of forms, from tanks and basins, pools and rills (a narrow stream of water). Then you have the use of fragrant horticulture, color and texture, often laid out in very formal arrangements.”

There will be a great lawn that can be used as an event space with 1,200 people seated or 1,600 standing, as well as plazas, courtyards and immersive garden rooms, each drawing plants from a different ecoregion: high plains, trans pecos, cross timbers, blackland prairie and Gulf Coast prairie.

A bayou garden — at the lowest level and closest to Buffalo Bayou — will have native plants that are most resilient in case they flood.

“This will be a different kind of formal garden than anything I know of in Houston because it is based on this tradition that is so broad. What other traditions of landscaping draws from Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Far East and South Asia?” Woltz said. “There are Houstonians from all of those places, so it stands as a symbol of that pluralism that also reflects the city of Houston.”

  An artist rendering of the future Ismail Center Houston, as it will be seen from Montrose Boulevard off of Allen Parkway.

An artist rendering of the future Ismail Center Houston, as it will be seen from Montrose Boulevard off of Allen Parkway.

Courtesy of Ismaili Center Houston

About the Ismailis

That Texas has the largest concentration of Ismailis in the U.S. certainly contributed to the Aga Khan choosing Houston for this project. Some 50,000 now call Texas home and it’s estimated that there are up to 15 million in more than 25 countries.

Houston has a handful of Ismaili community centers, all places with dual purpose, a jamatkhana where members pray and worship and where nonmembers attend events. Locally, they’ve hosted everything from food drives and blood drives to Ted Talk events and political debates, open to anyone who comes in.

His Highness Aga Khan is the faith’s only imam, and he’s expected to interpret the Quran with both literal and spiritual meanings based in current context. Local jamatkhanas have no paid staff and are run by volunteers he appoints personally.

The faith stresses equality, so men and women are treated equally and both are urged to have higher education.

Volunteerism is a tenet of the faith, and it plays out in big ways and small ways, too. For example, during prayer services, worshippers sit together on a carpeted floor and they leave their shoes at the equivalent of a coat-check room. Volunteers take and watch over the shoes, and on any given day they could be an 8-year-old learning to help others, or a highly educated doctor or wealthy investment banker.

After Hurricane Harvey, Ismailis rallied to help others throughout the city, earning the local faith group a Points of Light Award.

  An artist rendering of the future Ismail Center Houston, a closeup of the building as it will be seen from the gardens on the Allen Parkway side of the building.

An artist rendering of the future Ismail Center Houston, a closeup of the building as it will be seen from the gardens on the Allen Parkway side of the building.

Courtesy of Ismaili Center Houston

‘Building bridges’

Monday’s design reveal drew local dignitaries and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was there via recording because he was called to Washington D.C. for the signing of the federal infrastructure bill.

“My visit to the Ismaili Center in London … in the heart of the city allowed me to see the ways an Ismaili Center can help build bridges across communities,” Turner said. “The Ismaili Center Houston will also be a place where the city’s partners and stakeholders, public and private, can come together to discuss and solve the problems of our time.”

Philanthropy executive Ann Stern, president and CEO of Houston Endowment, praised plans for the new center.

“This will be a place for people to connect, understand differences and build bridges across all people and faith backgrounds and experiences. That is such a powerful thing, and never has it been more important than it is today,” Stern said.

And the importance of the 10-acre green space doesn’t elude her, either.

Some 15 years ago, a green renaissance began in Houston with the re-envisioning of the bayous, embraced as a place everyone could enjoy. From there, taxpayers and philanthropists have invested in better parks all over town.

“This is not just about creating green spaces and parks where people can walk with their kids. This is something that is very sustaining to people,” Stern said. “At no time did we realize this more than in the pandemic. That first summer of lock-down and work-from-home, seeing people in the parks and seeing how important green spaces are to mental health has changed our city in ways that we still don’t completely understand.”

diane.cowen@chron.com

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Written By
Diane Cowen
Edited by hindesky
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There are certainly some nice structures being built along Buffalo Bayou - and elsewhere in town these days.  @Luminare summed up nicely this building/campus.

Many of us have complained over the years about the lack of true quality design here in Houston, but I think we have really seen some remarkable projects the last 5-7 years -including the lofty art institutions who sorta jump started this whole era.  This is possibly the first time since the 70s oil boom where such high quality architecture is being built all over town.  It’s a maturation process I think.  Now, we just need more local firms jumping into the fray!  

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I thought it was fascinating how frequently Moussavi brought up Houston's weather as a reason to include engaging outdoor patio spaces in the designs.  And while I laughed in my head when I heard that, I think it does get at something that Houston lets sneak by unappreciated, which is that with proper shading we actually have broad swathes of the year where outdoor activity is actually quite doable, especially outside the hottest parts of the day in the hottest months. 

I think the pandemic prompted some rethinking of this in areas such as outdoor dining, but having spent the last several years in DC and now being up in Boston, it's amazing how cities with even fewer months of usable outdoor weather (especially DC, they basically have our summers with a halfway decent winter tacked on for good measure) do a much better job of engaging outdoor spaces.  And the answer is basically just provide more shade, a touch less asphalt, and some helpful air movement.  I'm so glad this project and Moussavi are embracing this ethos/bringing it to Houston, and hope it'll keep spreading!

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33 minutes ago, tangledwoods said:

Spoke with someone familiar with the plans on this job, the hole they are digging is going to be around 50' deep.  Not sure if its underground parking or part of the building interior.  My guess would be parking.

Parking/rainwater retention. Many midrises have retention tanks underneath their bottommost parking level.

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  • 2 weeks later...
4 hours ago, tangledwoods said:

drove by this morning, there is a daily parade of dump trucks leaving the site.  it is now hard to see the tops of the excavators as they are working down in the pit.  I think i saw 4 McCarthy people leaning on the cable rail this morning watching the orchestra.

Working in a refinery we always had spotters to watch for "man down" situations, spotting for obstructions unseen by the excavator operator and ready with construction proves looking for unseen pipes. Since the refinery was over 100 years old they often times didn't have detailed blue prints of things laid underground in the past. Better safe than sorry. Can't hit an unknown gas line, sewer pipe or product line, bad things can happen if one is hit accidentally. You have probably seen it happen to contractors in doing civil projects around town. There was a recent one on the news during the S. Shepherd construction where they hit a gas line and that neighborhood was shut down for hours.

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  • 1 month later...

glad you got the drone up!!  I drive by every morning, but you cant really see anything from the street right now.  They are using the little rubber tire crane to feed rebar down into the hole and the tower crane base showed up late last week.  Looks like they got it ready for the NW corner which will likely mean we will see another crane go up on the S or SE corner.

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Quote

Dumb question, but I'm a noob. What is the process they are using for the foundation walls? Are they pouring it layer by layer as they dig down? I have not seen that before.

Long story short the process they are using is likely called "soil nails"  here is a nifty website explaining things:

Soil nailing | Keller North America (keller-na.com)

the surface of the walls is similar to shotcrete that you see on a pool, but there is also a retention component drilled into the earth.

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1 hour ago, thatguysly said:

That is one heck of a foundation for the entire site seeing that the building is only on a portion.

From the rendering you can see that the plaza behind the main structure leads down to a grassy area, which I'm guessing is designed to be a usable space instead of burying the required volume of stormwater detention.

https://imgur.com/kagjQGK

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11 minutes ago, phillip_white said:

From the rendering you can see that the plaza behind the main structure leads down to a grassy area, which I'm guessing is designed to be a usable space instead of burying the required volume of stormwater detention.

https://imgur.com/kagjQGK

Great point about detention requirements. Looks like a creative way to meet them and not just have a giant detention basin onsite. 

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2 hours ago, tangledwoods said:

Long story short the process they are using is likely called "soil nails"  here is a nifty website explaining things:

Soil nailing | Keller North America (keller-na.com)

the surface of the walls is similar to shotcrete that you see on a pool, but there is also a retention component drilled into the earth.

Thanks! Learned something new and it's not even lunch time yet

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