Vancouver’s Ismaili community is responsible for two of the most architecturally ambitious Islamic religious buildings in the area. The North Shore Jamatkhana (which means both community and place of prayer) is a conversion by architect Farouk Noormohamed of a former West Vancouver tennis club into a splendidly detailed, architecturally focused centre of worship.
Because it is a conversion surrounded by a parking lot, little of the splendour within is evident from the street.
Following on the Ismaili Centre near the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England, Burnaby is home to the second of the major Jamatkhanas to be built in Western countries under the direction of the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the world’s Ismaili community. Now known as the Darkhana Jamatkhana, it was designed by Telus Science Centre architect Bruno Freschi and completed in 1984. The Burnaby prayer hall is one of the most splendid contemporary interiors in British Columbia, with a powerfully expressed cast-concrete structure and richly ornamented window surrounds.
The exterior, however, is low key to a fault, lacking the urban presence one might expect for a key Canadian building for this branch of Shia Islam. Reflecting on his design, Mr. Freschi is frank in opining that he may have “toned down” too many of the more assertive exterior architectural features, anticipating a reaction by residents of nearby neighbourhoods that never really gathered steam. His design was even “sunk” somewhat to reduce its profile and visual impact on local residents.
But Canada’s Ismaili community is now much more secure and architecturally assertive, as demonstrated by the next of these hub Jamatkhanas, now under construction in Toronto and designed by India’s most prominent architect, Charles Correa of Mumbai.