Abu Dhabi will boast a unique symbol of human fraternity and peaceful co-existence, when the striking Abrahamic Family House is completed next year on the emirate’s Saadiyat Island.
The new cultural landmark has been designed by Sir David Adjaye, an award-winning Ghanaian-British architect, and epitomises the values of harmonious coexistence and understanding shared between the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, through three main buildings – a mosque, a church, and a synagogue all on one site.
The striking complex is inspired by the ‘Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together’, which was signed on February 4, 2019 by His Eminence Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and His Holiness Pope of the Catholic Church during their historic meeting in Abu Dhabi.
As such, this interfaith centre for dialogue and understanding innovatively recounts the history and builds bridges between human civilisations while preserving the unique character of each faith.
Work on the Abrahamic Family House – which sits in proximity of The Louvre Abu Dhabi in the Saadiyat Cultural District – is now more than 20 per cent complete. The project is endorsed and closely followed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam. The project is supervised by the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity (HCHF).
The names of three iconic houses of worship have been officially unveiled as Imam Al-Tayeb Mosque, St Francis Church, and Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue. In the vicinity of the site, there will be a cultural centre that aims to encourage people to exemplify human fraternity and solidarity within a community that cherishes the values of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.
The design of the project was first unveiled by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, at a global gathering in New York in 2019, during the second meeting of the HCHF. The design was presented to Pope Francis and the Grand Imam during a meeting in November 2019.
“The Abrahamic Family House epitomises interfaith harmonious coexistence and preserves the unique character of each religion. It personifies Abu Dhabi’s vision for human fraternity and embeds coexistence into the already diverse cultural fabric of the UAE,” says Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture Abu Dhabi and a member of the HCHF.
“Overseeing the development of this iconic project is inspiring and reflective of the UAE efforts in realising the values of the Document on Human Fraternity and fostering its lofty principles. The naming of the three houses of worship recognises the work of Grand Imam Al Tayeb, Pope Francis, and Moses Ben Maimon, and harnesses their teachings to forge a message of goodwill for future generations around the world,” he adds.
The design is characterised by an iconic geometric architecture of three cubes that evoke the features of traditional architecture and preserve its uniqueness. The structures will represent the unified commonality and mutual coexistence between the three religions while retaining the individualism of each of the three faiths.
Adjaye, who is the Founder and Principal of Adjaye Associates, comments: “I believe architecture should work to enshrine the kind of world we want to live in, a world of tolerance, openness, and constant advancement. Architecture and landscape design can interpret the fabric and principles of a place, to advance the conversation, reassess current assumptions about the world, and discover more meaningfully what a place can give back. As an architect, I want to create a building that starts to dissolve the notion of hierarchical difference – it should represent universality and totality – something higher that enhances the richness of human life. We hope we have set out a plan for a beautiful and thought-provoking space that celebrates the three faiths and stimulates dialogue and understanding at a critical time for the world.”
The contemporary design was chosen after a rigorous process that included architects of diverse backgrounds and faiths from around the globe. Adjaye’s design was found to be particularly striking, incorporating separate worship spaces for each religion as well as a shared space for collaboration and informal gathering. As a modern design concept, it also reflects the goal of creating an enduring space for future generations.
The Abrahamic Family House will be a collection of three religious spaces, all of which will sit upon a secular visitor pavilion. The fourth space – not affiliated with any specific religion – will serve as a centre for all people of goodwill to come together as one.
The form is translated from the three faiths, carefully using the lens to define what is similar as opposed to what is different, and using the power of these revelations to make the form, according to Adjaye Associates. The design appears as powerful plutonic forms with a clear geometry, three cubes sitting on a plinth – though not aligned, they each have different orientations. The story then starts to become apparent through the power of the silhouette, unified with commonality and the articulation of the three forms. These structures represent a safe space, each volume illustrated with colonnades, screens and vaults to represent the sacred nature.
“The discovery continues with the common ground, the public space in between, where the difference connects. The garden is used as a powerful metaphor, a safe space where community, connection and civility combine – this space exists between the three chambers of the three faiths. The podium allows you to interact with each space with no preventative threshold, to dissolve the perceptions of not being included and encourage the celebration of this collective history and collective identity,” Adjaye adds.
During the design phases of the houses of worship, members of religious communities worldwide have been engaged and consulted to ensure consistency with and adherence to the respective religion’s requirements and teachings.
Each aspect of the design is brought to life through the architectural features and unique constructional details of the facades, the external and internal views, the columns, and the windows and vaults that reflect the unique characteristics of each of the three Abrahamic faiths.