On paper, NY Islamic center looks modern, secular

The Associated Press
Saturday, October 2, 2010; 6:40 PM

NEW YORK -- Conceptual sketches of the Islamic center planned two blocks from ground zero envision a futuristic-looking building wrapped in a honeycomb of abstract shapes, with a core containing far more space for secular pursuits than religious worship.

The renderings, some of which were posted on the project's website this week, are preliminary, but they project the development team's desire to build something cosmopolitan and fun on a site now known only for controversy.

"I don't think that once this thing gets built, anyone will be picketing," said Sharif El-Gamal, the project's developer.

Groundbreaking for construction is probably two to three years away, "or hopefully sooner," El-Gamal told The Associated Press.

The largest part of the building - four of 16 floors - would be taken up by a sports, fitness and swimming center. Another full floor would be occupied by a child care center and playground.

Much of the rest of the building would be occupied by a restaurant, culinary school, artist studios, exhibition space and an auditorium for cultural events.

El-Gamal said the idea was to build a facility that will attract neighborhood residents looking for a place to work out, as well as suburban Muslim couples spending "date night" in the city.

The building's prayer space for Muslims - the part of the center that has caused some critics to derisively brand the center the "ground zero mega mosque" - would be located on two levels in the basement. The 12th floor would hold a 9/11 memorial and sanctuary open to people of all faiths.

As for the look of the place, it could fit in fine as an annex to Superman's Fortress of Solitude, with white walls and floors and a crystalline feel.

Renderings by Soma Architects, a design studio that shares office space with El-Gamal's real estate company, show a building exterior that takes a traditional element of Islamic architecture - an arabesque pattern - and weaves it into a geometric mash-up that extends into the interior.

"We want to have a marriage between Islamic architecture and New York City. We want to do something that is green and cool," El-Gamal said.

Actual working plans for the center are still some time away.

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