The Ismaili Centre
Casson Conder Partnership
- Original design
- Casson Conder Partnership, 1983
Designed for the Ismaili Muslim community, this building provides for its religious cultural and social needs and serves a large number of people for a variety of formal and informal occasions.
On a prominent island site there was an opportunity, rare in London today, for a building of presence conceived in the round. With such diverse neighbours there was no one building to which it needed to relate; in scale however it is appropriate to the houses that lie to the south while in key it relates to the public and institutional buildings for which South Kensington is famous.
The architectural style has been conditioned by three factors: first, the daylight angle set up by the houses to the south resulting in the chamfered form; second, by the escape stairs necessary at all four corners creating a need to overcome their possible deadening presence at street level, and third, the structural independence of the top floor slab necessary for the weight of the garden allowed the roof level to be planned as a separate entity, realised in scale and detail appropriate to garden architecture.
These factors were much as they would have been for any building in the current western functional tradition, but choice of detail in support of those outlines has been conditioned first by a precedence given to certain qualities associated with Islamic architecture and, second, by a watchful eye for the emblematic significance of shape or line. In the detailing of the outer faces of the building there has been no direct reference to the Islamic architecture of other countries and no use of copybooks, although it will be obvious that there have been influences at work which did not have their origins in Greece or Rome. The architectural brief was that it should be foremost a London building, not necessarily derived from Islamic precedents, but in keeping with their spirit.
The qualities to which reference has been made include lightness of colour, freshness of feel, a liking for reflective and sparkling surfaces and an acceptance of flat planes with only the most subtle modulations of surface. These factors, discipline by geometry, being judged to be conducive to a sense of serenity.
In designing this building the architect came to understand that the emblematic significance of architecture passes unnoticed to those working entirely within the context of their own culture. For the English, trabeated architecture, whether classical or modern, has no emblematic significance except for the fact that it is comfortably familiar, while for others such architecture can be rich in associations that are exclusively western. It was only at the end of the design process that the architects were able to look back at the earlier studies and see such connotations, and the avoidance of them in the finished work has been achieved by many minor but consistent design decisions, in particular those relating to the graphic qualities worked into the granite face of the building.
A more direct reference to Islamic design traditions was requested at the entrance and Karl Schlamminger, a Muslim well versed in the geometrical traditions and symbolic significance of Islamic design and pattern, was appointed to design the finishes of the outer entrance hall and Prayer Hall. The architect designed the other interiors sometimes incorporating patterned ceilings also designed by Mr Schlamminger – notably the gently vaulted ceiling in the Council Chamber and Conference Room.
This last design delineated by recessed painted lines provided the starting point for a linking theme, devised by the architects, and used throughout the building. It comprises a related set of fibrous plaster sections, with both blue-painted and white-painted grooves, and is used to divide the walls into panel-work and create an "order" of interior architecture, grooving the plaster at the movement joints and at junctions to ceilings, and incorporating the door positions and air grilles. Mr Schlamminger also designed the chandelier and light fittings in the Social Hall and all the patterned carpets and curtains.