Note: The listing of religions or associated elements in the respective sentences as nouns, sacred building types or adjectives was done in alphabetical order to avoid objectivity and hierarchisation.
Adjaye Associates, Sir David Adjaye’s architectural practice, and the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity (HCHF) made a step forward – towards tolerance and inclusion of cultures, faiths and above all people. On 20 September 2019, they revealed visualisations on the architect’s winning competition concept—the Abrahamic Family House. Four spiritual spaces: the three Abrahamic faiths represented through their places of worship (church, mosque and synagogue) unitedly placed together on a pedestal representing a fourth space, the space of assembly.
The idea of a multi spiritual church already exists. However, the architect succeeded ingeniously by creating an ensemble that shows the individual faiths’ similarities instead of differences. The Abrahamic Family House is an artistic and architectural implementation of the basic concepts of the HCHF. It is a prime example of the importance and meaningfulness of well thought and well-intended architecture.
The Higher Committee of Human Fraternity
The Higher Committee of Human Fraternity is an association of religious leaders of three world religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism, including educational scholars and cultural leaders. It emerged from the Abu Dhabi Declaration between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in February 2019. The resulting Document on Human Fraternity defined the intention of reconciling these three faiths.
With the help of the United Arab Emirates, the irenic project led to the announcement of an architectural competition with the aim of a religious landmark to consolidate these ideas. On 20 September 2019, Sir David Adjaye claimed the building project with a convincing design.
Sir David Adjaye is a world-renowned architect with practices in London, Accra and New York. Many of his projects have attracted considerable attention because of his holistic approach to creating architecture, favouring the people who use them.
He points the essence of his architectural philosophy to human geography, which considers social, cultural and economic aspects plus topographical and climatic factors. It reacts to the location in thorough research and site analysis, resulting in spaces that can and need to be collectively experienced through memories and emotional involvement, thus stimulating dialogue.
The Abrahamic Faith house is a landmark project situated on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi is the United Arabic Emirates’ capital, which is home to a diverse population, similar to a melting pot of cultures and faith.
The project consists of four elements: spiritual meeting places – three characteristic places of worship of the three Abrahamic religions and one meeting place as a unifying space. The fourth space is free of religious affiliation and unites the three sacred buildings as a pavilion and landscape garden and creates a place for inter-religious dialogue.
Adjaye identified one common characteristic that the faith’s corresponding architectural traditions share: Limestone, timber and bronze as classical materials. Additionally, the design promotes a lack of thresholds: staged light shows and visual relationships of the sacred buildings’ interior and exterior underline boundaries’ disappearance.
The countless timber columns hanging from the roof represent the denominations that form Christianity, separate but united as an ensemble towards heaven. The individual elements’ differences harmoniously unite to form a vault in the interior, in the sense of unity of the church, which symbolically delimits the place of prayer, acting like the ark as a place of protection for believers. The interior with the cross in the East and the furniture’s orientation is typical of churches’ typology.
The elongated colonnades symbolise the direction towards heaven; the close-meshed decoration combined with the resulting play of light gives the prayer room a transcendent character.
The architect succeeds in capturing the essence of Islamic places of prayer: the orientation towards Mecca and the importance of purity symbolised by the absence of furniture. The Mosk is not solely a place for prayer but also serves as a multi-purpose room for political discussions.
The design adapts to the essence of Jewish places of worship – the secrecy, resulting in historical incidents; the veiled elements reference to the Mishkan, the covenant tent. Additionally, triangular shapes suggest the Star of David without portraying it.
Unlike the other two worship houses, the architect included an opening in the roof of the synagogue. It refers to the Jewish community’s history in the desert, led by God in the form of a pillar of fire.
Sir David Adjaye chooses “plutonic forms with a clear geometry, three cubes sitting on a plinth – though not aligned, they each have different orientations”. Just as the faiths share a commonality, namely the worship of a higher God, architecturally translated, they share the same typology of the cube. They differ in their orientation: towards the East, the Kaaba in Mecca or Jerusalem, as a possible interpretation, but effectively they share a universal orientation due to the shape’s typology. They appear as an ensemble “through the power of the silhouette, unified with commonality.
The architect succeeds in convincingly combining and unifying the three sacred buildings by implementing a joint base. In the shape of a podium, the meeting point extends into a garden, blurring the individual buildings’ boundaries to generate a unified experience.
As in the past, Sir David Adjaye was impressed with a sound and intentional design from which its overall design philosophy stems: Creating a narrative of architecture. In the Abrahamic Family House, this is highlighted through the symbolism and powerful iconography of its design. The design represents the architect’s aspirations to combine the past and present learnings to create a desirable future.
The HCHF envisaged the completion of the building in 2022. With the inauguration, the complex will offer educational event programs that promote compromise, peace and fraternal coexistence of societies, cultures and faiths worldwide.
An aspiration that further corresponds to the architect’s ideals:
“I believe architecture should work to enshrine the kind of world we want to live in, a world of tolerance, openness, and constant advancement”.
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