Amid rising sectarian tensions and religious animosities in the region, Abu Dhabi has unveiled plans for an expansive interfaith complex that bundles together a mosque, a church, and a synagogue. The complex is designed by Adjaye Associates, which was established by renowned architect Sir David Adjaye OBE.
The Abrahamic Family House, as the project was named, will be located on Saadiyat Island in the United Arab Emirates’ capital city, not far from the new Louvre Abu Dhabi. Saadiyat Island has been the site of numerous labor disputes that raise questions about the role of Western architectural firms that benefit from the autocratic government of UAE and their kafala system, which is a exploitative system used to monitor migrant laborers.
According to the biblical account, Abraham is the father of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism; Christianity; and Islam.
The decision to build the complex was set in motion by a meeting between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar (the top-ranking religious official in Sunni Islam), Ahmed el-Tayeb, during the pontiff’s historic visit to the Abu Dhabi in February of 2019. The two religious leaders signed a “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” which urged politicians and decision-makers “to work strenuously to spread the culture of tolerance and of living together in peace,” and “to intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood and bring an end to wars, conflicts, environmental decay and the moral and cultural decline that the world is presently experiencing.”
According to the Emirates news agency WAM, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, responded to the historic meeting with an order to construct a complex would promote interfaith dialogue.
In September of 2019, leading international architecture firms competed to design the complex at an event at the New York Public Library in midtown Manhattan. The winner was the British firm Adjaye Associates, led by world-renowned architect David Adjaye. According to the plans, the center will include a museum and an education center in addition to the three temples, which will be connected by a garden.
“There has never been a building that has the three faiths in one form,” Adjaye told the Emirates-based publication the National.
Adjaye, who also designed the National Museum of African American History in DC and the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, said that the design “is very contemporary but it is rooted in the histories of all three faiths.”
In Adjaye’s design, the mosque will be orientated toward Mecca, the church’s altar will point east towards the sun, and the synagogue’s podium and Torah will face Jerusalem.
The three temples share a similar silhouette (to symbolize unity) but vary in their facades and interiors (colonnades for the church; screens for the synagogue; and vaults for the mosque).
“We were led towards these powerful plutonic forms with a clear geometry,” Adjaye told designboom. “Three cubes sitting on a plinth — though not aligned, they each have different orientations.”
The garden fulfils an important symbolic function in Adjaye’s design. “I saw the garden as a powerful metaphor, this safe space where community, connection and civility combine — this space exists between the three chambers, the three faiths,” he said.
Construction for compound has already begun and it is expected to be completed in 2022.