Faith in the City Keynote Lecture: The Architecture of Park51 - From Controversy to Resolution

Weds 10 Nov 2010 7.00pm

The symposium's keynote lecture was delivered by Michel Abboud, principal of SOMA, and architectural consultant for New York's Park51 Islamic Cultural Centre, who presented his practice's designs for the highly contested Manhattan cultural project, outlining the context, design, programme and the social and political landscape that is necessarily negotiated within this sensitive design process. Abboud was in conversation with Ziauddin Sardar, writer, broadcaster, cultural critic and Visiting Professor, School of Arts, City University, London. This was the first time visuals of the project's interior programme was presented to a public audience.

"This project has been the cause of so much controversy and debate in the US and in the world that listening very carefully to all sides and all opinions has become one of our main concerns as architects and as New Yorkers. Our main goal with our proposal has always been to promote unification and interconnectivity among the many faiths and religions that constitute the social network of our city. The over-mediatization of the project caused by its programme and its location has unfortunately promoted a socio-political split that has placed the architectural product at the center of this controversy. For many, the architecture is the solution to the socio-political debate."

- Michel Abboud, SOMA


SOMA | Service Oriented Media Array

SOMA is a young and creative architecture and design firm based in New York City since 2003, with a subsidiary in Mexico City in 2006 and Beirut in 2009. The office employs a handpicked specialized staff of over 13 different nationalities working in close collaboration, led by the principal Michel Abboud. This international structure with teams working on projects of all scales across the globe and around the clock is at the core of SOMA's diverse but efficient production. SOMA makes it a point to be at the forefront of architectural practice. The objective is to turn every client brief into a unique and original environment.

SOMA has developed a variety of projects of different scales and budgets, ranging from the ultra high-end Park51 Community Center in New York to an Eco-village of 40 sustainable homes in Costa Rica.

Ziauddin Sardar

Writer, broadcaster, cultural critic and Visiting Professor, School of Arts, City University, London; a former columnist on the New Statesman, and a regular contributor to the Guardian and the Independent, Sardar is widely known for his radio and television appearances. A 'critical polymath,' Sardar works across a number of disciplines ranging from Islamic and futures studies, science policy and literary criticism to information science, cultural relations, art criticism and critical theory. His most recent books include Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim (2004) and Balti Britain: A Provocative Journey Through Asian Britain (2008). Reading the Qur'an, a book based on his Guardian blogs, will be published by Hurst in Spring 2011. 

Image: Park51 rendering, courtesy SOMA