Ismaili Centre, Toronto
Charles Correa / Charles Correa Associates
Moriyama & Teshima Architects (Architect of Record)
Shamez Mohamed, Executive Officer, Imara (Wynford Drive) Ltd.
Shai Gil Fotography Scott Norsworthy Aga Khan Development Network Foundation
The new Ismaili Centre in Toronto uniquely responds to established Islamic building traditions, while incorporating contemporary architectural form, materiality and construction methods. Rooted in the rich tapestry of Islamic heritage and practices, the architectural language distinguishes a community that is both informed by its past and modern in its outlook. Rising from a drum-shaped limestone base is the magnificent Jamatkhana (prayer hall), the Centre's focal point, which opens to the sky through a soaring crystalline dome of translucent fritted glass. Within this softly luminous space a single vertical slit of clear glass looks east to Mecca. The theme of light continues through other primary spaces: ever-changing natural light washes through the jewel-like corbelled glass skylight in the prayer hall anteroom and the angular glass roofs atop the adjacent social hall. Interiors blend traditional Islamic geometric patterns in stone, metal and textiles with warm-toned Canadian maple wood. The Ismaili Centre Toronto joins the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby, BC as the second of its kind in Canada and one of only six worldwide. The building reflects the identity of the Canadian Ismaili community, inviting peaceful faith and contemplation, intellectual discovery, exchange and outreach programs that engage the wider public by extending a hand of friendship and mutual understanding.
Prominently located in the geographic centre of Toronto, Canada, one of the world's most diverse cities, The Ismaili Centre Toronto, designed by Charles Correa, shares the site with the Aga Khan Museum by Maki and Associates. This building completes the cultural precinct and introduces the North American public to the rich traditions and intellectual triumphs of Islamic art and culture. The complex is a symbolic marker of the permanent presence of the Ismaili community in Canada, and an ambassadorial space intended to foster a better understanding of pluralism. The entire site is a harmonious union of the spiritual, artistic and natural worlds. Located at the corner of Don Mills and Eglinton Ave. East, the project solidifies this northeastern edge of the city as a “cultural destination”. A short walk from the Ontario Science Centre and the diverse retail and residential developments nearby, the significance of the new cultural precinct will continue to grow as the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail is completed. Together with the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre Toronto represents a significant commitment by the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of some 15 million Ismaili Muslims worldwide, to develop mutual understanding among different cultures and faiths.
The centerpiece of this 86,000 sq.ft. facility is undoubtedly the prayer hall, whose crystalline glass roof establishes the Qibla axis and creates exceptionally unique and ever-changing interior lighting conditions. During the day, as sunlight is filtered and diffused through the translucent glass, the serene prayer hall inspires users to physically and spiritually connect with both the sky above and the ground below. At night, the glass roof glows like a beacon in the dark sky, rising elegantly above the surrounding landscape. The first of its kind in North America, the unique roof of the prayer hall is constructed of complex structural steel trusses of various depths and dimensions, which are covered by a double layer of glass. The glass rises in the shape of an inverted cone and is pieced together to form a translucent fractal skin. The ethereal quality of the prayer hall is further reinforced by a sophisticated heating, cooling and ventilation system that operates in near complete silence, allowing for purely uninterrupted prayer and contemplation. The interior acoustics support a variety of uses, ranging from quiet mediation to communal prayer services. The plush carpet and slatted wooden perimeter wall further absorb sound and reduce echo. The community and social spaces of the building occupy the west side of the building. The Social Hall houses the Centre’s more public and secular functions. Its large, slanted glass skylight allows natural light to flood the interior space and create a bright and ceremonial quality that is both dignified and welcoming. Additional community spaces within the building include a library, classrooms, offices, meeting rooms and a large roof terrace that overlooks the gardens, the adjacent museum and city beyond.