The Netherlands

West 8 urban design & landscape architecture b.v.

Nico Koomanskade 1021
3072 LM Rotterdam
The Netherlands

+31 (0) 10 485 5801


West 8 Brussels urban design & landscape architecture bvba

Waaienberg 123
1745 Opwijk

+31 (0) 10 485 5801

United States

West 8 urban design & landscape architecture p.c.

2133 Arch Street, Suite 101
Philadelphia, PA 19103
United States of America

+1 347 371 2252

Designing for Reflection

Ismaili Center, Houston, TX, USA

Designing a spiritual home, a cultural ambassador and a gathering place for Houston’s civic and cultural life.

The Ismaili Center Houston sits at a critical junction of two urban axes of the city. Its northern edge lies along the Buffalo Bayou—the newly invigorated park connecting downtown to Memorial Park—while its longer western edge is defined by Montrose Boulevard. The position of the building and its extensions into the landscape negotiate the threat of flooding at the north and the uncomfortable proximity of neighbours to the east.

Famous for its diversity, lack of zoning and tropical climate, Houston is open, verdant and optimistic. As home to more Shia Ismaili Muslims than any other US city, it is a natural site for the country’s first Ismaili Center. Like its counterparts throughout the world, the Ismaili Center Houston has a dual obligation to embrace the needs of a distinct religious culture while sharing the generosity of that culture with a broader community.

The proposal accommodates these interrelated, yet distinct ambitions with the intertwining of two arcades. Each arcade is also a path—their trajectories organize the site and answer diverse needs along their length: shaded corridor, anteroom, pantry. The routes they travel are a mathematical negotiation of the site that culminates in the rotation of the Jamatkhana toward Mecca.

The landscape design is characterized by multiple expressions of water, situating the site within the broader genus loci of the Houston Buffalo Bayou and historic Islamic gardens. The various springs, cascades, pools and channels, and reflecting ponds respectively abstract water as the source of life, fertility, rivers, and the moon. Verdant planting and screened arcades provide shade essential in Houston’s tropical climate. Following the water spine, a series of interior and exterior courtyards unfold along a labyrinth-like path, a contemporary interpretation of the classic Chahar Bagh for a linear site.

Aga Khan Development Network Foundation

OMA, KHA, Arup

© West 8