Islamic Architecture in the West

In a fascinating article for the SF Chronicle, Jonathan Curiel examines Islamic inspirations in modern American architecture, including the Alcazar Theatre in San Francisco and the Civic Center in San Rafael, California. The influence dates back at least to the late 19th century, earlier if one counts Moorish trends, which came to the Southwest by way of former Spanish citizens. The slide show for the article contains a shot of the Berkeley City Club, which was designed by one of my favorite architects, Julia Morgan. Morgan’s best-known building, Hearst Castle, also contains patterns drawn from Moorish/Islamic architecture.

But perhaps the most interesting bit of information in Curiel’s article is that Minoru Yamasaki, the man who designed the World Trade Center in 1965, spent considerable time in Saudi Arabia, and used patterns he’d seen in Mecca in his own work, including in the famed Twin Towers. (It’s highly ironic that some thirty-five years later, religious fanatics would consider the building, designed by a Japanese American architect, using Islamic designs at the base and in the plaza, and housing people of a multitude of backgrounds and faiths, to be the symbol of the America they wanted to destroy.) The work was an example of cultural cross-pollination; Muslim architects themselves had borrowed from Byzantine designs.

“Cultures have constantly mixed and seen one another, either in war or peace,” [MIT Professor Nasser Rabbat] says. “It used to be that people thought of the world in terms of purely, independently developed cultures each having its own language, whether it’s culinary, visual, literary, architectural.

“But there are those of us who subscribe to the multicultural method, where we no longer believe in the notion of a purity and insularity of a cultural development. … The influence is continuous, mutual and never ceases. ”

Read the rest of this article, and find out how the city of Opa-locka, Florida, came to be known as the Baghdad of the South.