Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center
2008, Dr. Sami Angawi; Steffian Bradley Architects; Sasaki Associates. 100 Malcolm X Boulevard, Roxbury
An iconic architectural landmark in Boston since its inception, the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) incorporates traditional Boston architecture while adhering to the symbolism and traditions of Islamic design. Designed by a team of architects led by Dr. Sami Angawi, a former fellow of the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University and founder of the AMAR Center for International Architecture in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the ISBCC in Roxbury at a cost of $15.6 million and 15 years later remains an unfinished work.
Located in Roxbury, Boston’s largest predominantly Black neighborhood, the ISBCC is characterized by its massive proportions, towering over the campus of the adjacent Roxbury Community College and Roxbury Crossing T-Station. Its multi-cubic pyramid like composition, with the minaret at its western end and a dome to its east, visually and symbolically convey the journey every Muslim ideally goes on at least once in their lifetime to Mecca. Constructed of brick and sandstone, the mosque blends comfortably into its surroundings. A belt course borrowed from surrounding buildings emphasizes the mosque’s horizontality, while the minaret reaches for the heavens and makes a direct connection with the towers of The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Mission Church) which is seen at a distance from the mosque. The belt course, the intrados and the abutment of its pointed arches were meant to be adorned with colorful mosaic work and calligraphic inscriptions from the Koran; however, due to budgetary and legal constraints these details remain unfinished.
Considered one of the most controversial new buildings in Boston within the last 10 years, the officials in charge of building the ISBCC have been accused of sympathizing with Islamic extremists groups as well as obtaining funds from Al Qaida for its construction. In addition, the land which was valued at $401,187 was purchased from the Boston Redevelopment Authority for $175,000 with the requirements that ISBCC would establish a library accessible to the public and maintain two parks surrounding the Center. The sale of the land was a highly debated issue among several groups, and some community residents opposed the low price tag for the purpose of building a mosque. The controversies that surround the ISBCC have obscured the positive impact that the Center has brought to the community. It has revitalized a corner of Roxbury once in dire need of economic and cultural prosperity.
As it stands, the center can accommodate up to 5,000 users at one time and in addition to the library, it includes conference and office spaces, underground parking for 100 automobiles and facilities for washing and preparing the deceased for burial. What remains to be built is a school with 17 additional classrooms. The ISBCC has not only become an iconic building in the city, but also a symbol of Boston’s ethnically-diverse communities, a building so majestic that once completed will be considered the pride of Boston and New England.