Correa, Maki Tapped to Design Aga Khan Center

October 6, 2008

By Alex Bozikovic

One of the world’s great architecture patrons has hired two distinguished architects—the Indian Modernist Charles Correa and Pritzker Prize winner Fumihiko Maki—to design a $200-million cultural and religious complex in Toronto.

Ismaili Centre and Jamatkhana
Image courtesy of Imara (Wynford Drive) Limited
A view of the Ismaili Centre and Jamatkhana (prayer hall), designed by Charles Correa.

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Development agencies for the Aga Khan recently announced details of the scheme, which will include a pair of buildings on a 17-acre suburban site: a religious and community center by Correa and a new Islamic art museum by Maki. While both designs are inspired by traditional Islamic architecture, says project coordinator Shamez Mohammed, the idea is to create modern structures “with modern materials, glass and steel, that are of the time and of the country.” The Aga Khan, spiritual leader to the world’s Ismaili Muslims and sponsor of a major international award for architecture, has been closely involved in the design of the complex, Mohammed says.

The two buildings, each about 100,000 square feet, will be knitted together on publicly accessible grounds designed by Vladimir Djurovic. The Lebanese landscape architect has envisioned formal gardens inspired by the “four gardens” plan found throughout south Asia and the Near East. A series of water features will help counter traffic noise from an adjacent expressway.

First to break ground, later this year, will be Correa’s Ismaili Centre. The limestone-clad structure will include a jamaatkhana, or prayer space, topped with a grand, complex glass dome that reflects its significance to Ismailis. The center is one of just six such institutions in the world. “It’s akin to a cathedral compared to a local parish,” says Mohammed, noting that it will serve Ismaili communities in eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S, all within a day’s drive.

But the adjoining museum by Maki likely will draw more attention. Run by the non-profit Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the building was added to the Toronto site plan several years ago when a deal to place it in central London fell through. Still being finalized, Maki’s design includes a dome of its own, a central courtyard, and wall planes that cantilever outward on all four sides. It will house permanent exhibits of Islamic art and artifacts from the personal collection of the Aga Khan, along with large galleries for visiting exhibitions and a 350-seat auditorium for cultural events. Groundbreaking is scheduled for next year.

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