Farshid Moussavi to design nation’s first Ismaili cultural center, with Hanif Kara on structural design

The Harvard University Graduate School of Design’s Farshid Moussavi has been selected by His Highness the Aga Khan to design the first Ismaili cultural center in the United States, following an intense international design competition. The design team for the center also includes the GSD’s Hanif Kara, co-founder of engineering firm AKT II, who will serve as structural design consultant. Paul Westlake of DLR Group is the architect of record, while Thomas Woltz of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects will lead landscape design.

To be sited on 11 acres in Houston, Texas, across from Buffalo Bayou Park, Moussavi’s project will be the seventh Ismaili cultural center in the world and the first in the United States.

“Our team brings a broad perspective, with diverse skills and experience in international practice, scholarly research, multidisciplinary thinking and delivering cultural projects successfully in the U.S.,” Moussavi tells the Houston Chronicle. “It will bring Houston’s diverse communities together in a unique space for cultural, educational and social activities.”

Space across from Buffalo Bayou Park will host the future Ismaili cultural center. (Courtesy Ismaili Council for U.S.)
Space across from Buffalo Bayou Park will host the future Ismaili cultural center. (Courtesy Ismaili Council for U.S.)

Houston is home to one of the largest Ismaili communities in the U.S., and this new center will serve as an educational, cultural, and spiritual institution for the worldwide Ismaili community and the broader public. As Architects Newspaper observes in its coverage, the other global centers are “characterized by distinctive designs that blend Islamic aesthetic precepts and symbolism with their local contexts.” The Houston center will offer space for prayer and reflection as well as public programming and dialogue. It is expected to be completed in a matter of years.

Moussavi is Professor in Practice in the Department of Architecture at the GSD and principal of Farshid Moussavi Architecture (FMA). In 2015, she was elected a Royal Academician. She trained at the GSD, the Bartlett School of Architecture University College London and Dundee University. She was previously co-founder and co-principal of the London-based Foreign Office Architects (FOA), and prior to this, she worked with the Renzo Piano Building Workshop in Genoa and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam. At FMA, Moussavi completed her first U.S. commission, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland and its installation at the 13th Architecture Biennale in Venice (2012), as well as the flagship store for Victoria Beckham in London, and is currently working on a wide range of prestigious projects.

Farshid Moussavi, photographed by Dan Stevens

In 2018, Moussavi was recognized with the Order of the British Empire (OBE) award amid the Queen’s Birthday Honours. She formally received the OBE from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace in December 2018.

Kara is a practicing structural engineer and Professor in Practice of Architectural Technology at the GSD. His work is recognized as being linked with the research and education areas of design. He co-tutored a Diploma Unit at the Architecture Association, London from 2000 to 2004 and was Visiting Professor of Architectural Technology at KTH Stockholm from 2007 to 2012. As Design Director and co-founder of AKT II (established in 1996), his particular ‘design-led’ approach and interest in innovative form, material uses, and complex analysis methods have allowed him to work on numerous award-winning, pioneering projects. Most recently, he earned praise for his work on the Stirling Prize-winning Bloomberg headquarters in London.