Professor in Practice of Architecture Farshid Moussavi recently unveiled the design for the first Ismaili Cultural Center in the United States, which will be built along Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Park. Moussavi was selected by His Highness the Aga Kahn following an international competition in 2019. The design team for the Ismaili Center Houston also includes Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, DLR Group, and engineering firm AKT II—co-founded by Professor in Practice of Architectural Technology Hanif Kara. The center in Houston joins its counterparts established in London, Lisbon, Dubai, Dushanbe, Vancouver, and Toronto. As ambassadorial buildings, these centers are dedicated to advancing pluralism, public understanding, and civic outreach.
In a press release put out by His Highness the Aga Khan, the Ismaili Center Houston is described as “a venue for educational, cultural, and social events, to encourage understanding and facilitate the sharing of perspectives across peoples of diverse backgrounds, faiths and traditions. It will aim to build bridges through intellectual exchange by hosting concerts, recitals, plays, performances, exhibitions, conferences, seminars, conversations, book launched and community gatherings. The building will also provide space for quiet contemplation and prayer, as well as serve as the administrative headquarters of the Ismaili community in the USA.”
It also states that the center’s contemporary design is “reflective of a historically rooted, rich architectural heritage. It combines contemporary architectural technology—its light steel structure—with traditional Persian forms and ornament.” The central atrium, for example, features a stepped structure that “celebrates the heritage of the cupola dating back to 3000 BCE dominant in both the architecture of the Sasanian period in Persia and the Christian buildings of the Byzantine empire.”
In presenting the design, Moussavi says: “What made this project especially rewarding was the close alignment between the aspirations of the client and architect. What made it especially challenging was my awareness of the rigorous standards that His Highness the Aga Khan has established for architecture. We have tried to work with Islamic design philosophy, and celebrate its singularity and unique qualities as well as the features it has in common with Western design, so that the building, both through its fabric and through the way it is used, would act as a symbol of dialogue.”
The Ismaili Center Houston is scheduled to be completed in three years, expanding the city’s cultural realm and providing a place of gathering for the Ismaili community.