Continuing the tradition carried out worldwide (Vancouver, Dubai, London, Lisbon…), the Ismaili Centre of Toronto is the sixth such Ismaili Centre in the world. It is situated, along with “the Aga Khan Museum”, within a 6.8-hectare landscaped park. It was conceived by the renowned Indian Architect Charles Correa in 2010 and was achieved by September 2014.
In 2015, It was selected as the winning project of the Ontario Association of Architects Design Excellence Award. Moreover, and other than it being an architectural masterpiece; It is also estimated of a great value to the urban and social-cultural tissue of the city of Toronto, as it symbolizes and honours the pluralism that the Canadian society nurses and lionizes.
The main objective Charles Correa envisioned was to concretize the principles of the Muslim Shia community and Islamic Architecture into tangible forms and colours. All whilst conforming it into a more modern template, in order to bring closer the Shia Islamic culture to the western world, and create special-cultural bridges with other communities and social groups.
This latter is achieved through the implementation and merge of some key Islamic Architecture elements such as Muchrabias, El Mihrab, Muqarnas with modern materials, and
the creation of multi-functional spaces, along with the spiritual and worship places to allow social exchange and embrace various events.
The mass plan and masses’ harmony
“The entire site is a harmonious union of the spiritual, artistic and natural worlds,” says Moriyama & Teshima. (Architect of record)
The vision visualized by Correa is developed and reinforced by the scene in which the centre is integrated. The Ismaili centre is set in a landscaped park, Designed by Lebanese landscape-architect Vladimir Djurovic. This latter connects the Centre with the adjacent Aga Khan Museum creating a playing of volumes and a beautiful visual metaphor.
Volumetry and immediate environment
The linear edges of the crystalline frosted glass doom replacing the conventional semi-spherical dome is a proof of technical ingenuity, and it declares detachment of the rigid prototype of a mosque, introducing the display of new/ modern materials, forms and construction techniques.
Through its design and function, the Ismaili Centres reflects a mood of modesty and approachableness to ease the promotion of Islamic culture and encourage dialogue; which justifies the use of Limestone cladding, granite pavers and concrete, resulting in a dominance of white and pale colours covering the external surfaces of the building.
From the flat rooftop of the museum to the faceted glass doom peeking the prayer hall; the prompt change of elevation is smoothed by the formal garden connecting the two buildings. The garden is inspired by the Indo-Persian quadrilateral garden layout (Charbagh or Chahar Bagh) used in the Islamic gardens, as a representation of the ones mentioned in the Qur’an.
The reflective Granit pool adds up the fourth dimension to the volume and completes the Quranic allegory of the divine gardens.
The inside of the centre is meant to convey a sense of openness and welcoming. It encompasses various functional Spaces that are meant to meet the intentions it was built for.
these latter are:
- Institutional Offices of the Ismaili community;
- Social Hall;
- Prayer Hall;
- Atrium Lounge;
- Activity Room.
Natural light is considered as a key design element for Charles Correa, not only for optical interests but to establish a metaphorical perspective/relation with the sky. He emphasises it through the zenithal glass openings in the prayer hall, anteroom and the atrium lounge.
Jamatkhana: prayer Hall
The prayer hall is approached through the anteroom, whose ceiling is beautifully ornamented with Muqarnas and a centred sky highlight. With a circular plan, the prayer hall is less accessible to the public during Salat Hours (prayers), and it is reserved to the faith followers, it comprises a white onyx Mihrab for Al-Imam.
The walls are covered with wooden screens, where the name of “Allah” is inscribed, and the stone mosaic floor coarsely contrasts the vitreous dome, invoking a feeling of grounding of the body, and yet lightness and serenity to one’s soul; so there is no better place to wander but within one’s self.
The Ismaili centre is a spiritual, educational and social-cultural destination in Toronto. It conveys a beautiful message through its modern and pure design and exceeds being just a physical aesthetic box but also an emotional and live-full adventure.
It is indeed a well-elaborated example of how architecture can agitate on not just only space and surfaces but also cultural and spiritual dimensions.