French Architect to Design Downtown Islamic Museum

From the inside of the Institut du Monde Arabe, or Arab World Institute, one of numerous structures designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. (Photo by Marcella, Creative Commons license)

From the inside of the Institut du Monde Arabe, or Arab World Institute, one of numerous structures designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. (Photo by Marcella, Creative Commons license)

In August 2010, an impassioned dispute flared up over a proposal to construct a Muslim cultural center near Ground Zero. Four years later, Sharif El-Gamal, the developer behind the “Ground Zero mosque,” has re-imagined his project at 45-51 Park Place, and decided to create a museum dedicated to Islam there instead. El-Gamal chose Pritzker Prize-winning French architect Jean Nouvel to design the new museum.

In 2010, preliminary sketches of El-Gamal’s proposed cultural center – which would have stood in Lower Manhattan near Ground Zero – already evoked the look of the Arab World Institute in Paris, a structure designed by Jean Nouvel.

On April 29, El-Gamal made two announcements: He would change the direction of his Islamic cultural center project, and he had selected Jean Nouvel to realize his new museum plans.

What would have been a 15-story mosque and cultural center will instead be a museum dedicated to Islamic faith, art and culture. The museum will be smaller, with just three floors, and will be constructed in the former Burlington Coat Factory building. It will include a prayer room, a public green space, and a room for events for the city’s Muslim community.

El-Gamal’s choice of a renowned French architect to design his museum seems to send a message: This project is serious, and El-Gamal is determined to move forward with it despite the three-year polemic over his proposed mosque and cultural center.

“Commissioning an architect of Jean Nouvel’s talent is a dream come true,” said El-Gamal in a statement released through his publicist, Hank Sheinkopf. El-Gamal hoped for a long time to add a new institution dedicated to Islam into the already rich cultural landscape of New York City.

Jean Nouvel is currently working on the Louvre museum of Abu Dhabi and the National Museum of Qatar, skillfully using Islamic architectural traditions.

“I love working in New York and I am particularly happy that I was asked to work on a project in this city,” said Nouvel. “Especially a project on the Islamic world, which has art, culture and traditions that have always influenced me.”

As the museum develops, it will welcome all sorts of exhibits and events. The buildings already standing on the site will be demolished over the course of the next few months, although detailed plans for the construction of the museum have not yet been released.

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