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Architecture of the Ismaili Centre, Burnaby
  • Geometric patterns inspired by the traditions of Islam are repeated in interior decor. Photo: Gary Otte Geometric patterns inspired by the traditions of Islam are repeated in interior decor. Gary Otte

    The architect was presented with an unusual design brief: Canada's first specially designed Ismaili Centre had to be a synthesis of Islamic architecture and contemporary building design – drawing on architectural principles steeped in the tradition of the faith, and at the same time co-existing with the requirements of modern-day society. It would be a fusion, symbolic of the Ismaili community. The underlying objective was to provide a religious and social facility for the community, blending harmoniously and discreetly with the environment, adding yet another dimension to the varied architecture of the Lower Mainland.

    Islamic architecture, which embodies a strength which comes from the very diversity of the Islamic world and the creativity of those who build for Muslims, has reflected over the ages, different peoples, climates and materials. Essentials that transcend regional factors of climate, materials, time and technology, include concepts such as the serenity of form, the compatibility of traditions with natural forces, and the overwhelming unity of Islamic life. Islamic architecture has always been cognisant of a need for balance between man and his environment – a concern that, particularly in recent years, has found increasing global resonance.

    The calligraphy which adorns much of what is built is a constant reminder of spiritual content through its common design and expression of the name of Allah. The basic forms are balanced and ruled by geometry and there is a sense of stability, tranquillity and equillibrium. Space is framed, with each area being defined; a physical context being constructed for each activity in daily life with a definite delineation between privacy and community, areas in light and in shadow, small and large spaces, and interiors and exteriors.

    A detailed view of the window pane reveals intricate Islamic geometric patterns. Photo: Garry Otte A detailed view of the window pane reveals intricate Islamic geometric patterns. Garry Otte

    A pursuit of geometry, enclosure, symmetry, mass and the layering of symbolic decoration have generated the architectural concept of the Burnaby Jamatkhana and Centre. These architectural principles and use of materials have structured and characterised the building. The setting of the building, with its well laid-out garden, provides a serene and peaceful space for contemplative spiritual experience. The sound of moving water, the touch of varied surfaced textures, the richness of colour and the play of light and shade upon the vision, the scent of plants are all reminiscent of the finest in Islamic tradition.

    The challenge to design in such a cross-cultural environment, symbolic, as well, of the strengths that come from the diversity of the Canadian way of life, has been met, in this building, by the Canadian-born architect who himself hails from an Italian Catholic background.