Photo Essay: The Soaring Crystalline Glass Dome of the Toronto Headquarters Jamatkhana – Views from the Ismaili Centre Terrace
The building will feature a crystalline frosted glass dome — standing like a great beacon on top of a building that is itself at the highest point of the site — and illuminating the Prayer Hall and its Qibla wall. — His Highness the Aga Khan, Foundation Laying Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan Museum and the Aga Khan Park, Toronto, May 28, 2010
On September 12, 2014 when the Ismaili Centre Toronto (ICT) was inaugurated, the media got an opportunity to take photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (PM from 2006 – 20015) at the rooftop terrace of the building. That was as close I got to the iconic dome of the Jamatkhana building for seven years. I finally returned to the rooftop terrace recently, and was absolutely dazzled to be standing in front of the crystalline glass dome and appreciate its powerful presence and beauty from a very close distance. However, its impact is all around the Aga Khan Park and can be specially felt as one drives on the Don Valley Parkway, especially at night when it is fully lit. Over the years, we have published many spectacular day and night time photos of the dome from the ground level. Being so close to the dome recently, was a different experience.
In this post, I offer photos of the dome and the rooftop terrace from various angles as well as views from the terrace of the surrounding buildings and neighbourhood. Of course, the most notable presence is the Aga Khan Museum, located just 200 metres east of the Jamatkhana building, with the 5 ponds of the beautiful Aga Khan Park separating the two majestic buildings. At the end of the piece I make some “important” remarks.
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What we dedicate today is what we identify as an Ismaili Centre — a building that is focused around our Jamatkhana, but which also includes many secular spaces…..And soaring above it all is the great crystalline dome that you have observed, through which light from the prayer hall will provide a glowing beacon, symbolising the spirit of enlightenment that will always be at the heart of the Centre’s life. — His Highness the Aga Khan, Opening Ceremony of Ismaili Centre Toronto, September 14, 2021.
Public guided tours of the Ismaili Centre have not been available for almost 18 months due to Covid-19. The guided tour takes visitors to all the floors of the Ismaili Centre, including the Jamatkhana prayer hall, above which sits the spectacular glass dome. If you are in Toronto, please visit the Ismaili Centre when guided tours become available once again. Of course, the building can be seen from the outside at any time of the year. And you can also roam around the Aga Khan Park daily until 10 PM, and visit the Aga Khan Museum on specific days of the week.
Unfortunately, many of the features of Ismaili Centre building are not well known to the public. Visitors do not know that the domed structure is the Jamatkhana prayer hall and that a very important section that can also be seen on the exterior of the Jamatkhana is the Qibla wall.
Inside the building itself, there are no caption panels explaining the many significant artistic works, including those designed by the late Karl Schlamminger (1935-2017). The passionate guides, no doubt, do an excellent job of explaining the building’s features when they take visitors around. However captions are important! They keep the meaning of an object alive all the time, and for everyone.
Being close to the dome, as I was, is a very powerful feeling. The technical features of the glass dome and the hundreds of glass panels are spectacular, and also deserve an explanatory panel.
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I think the rooftop needs a lot of enhancements to make it a place to enjoy for personal quiet moments or for good conversations. It lacks sitting spaces; there are no benches. There is a small green space, with a tree in the middle. This green area can be considerably beautified with plants and flowers, and a couple of benches can be placed around the green zone. It might be argued that the Aga Khan Park offers those features, but the rooftop “exists” and should therefore equally reflect the beauty and majesty of the Ismaili Centre building itself, especially its unique crystalline dome, as well as the surrounding Aga Khan Park and the Aga Khan Museum.
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One significant challenge in keeping the rooftop terrace open is that the glass dome is very easily accessible, and anyone can get to it by climbing over a short wall, and make mischief. This can damage the glass panels and, worse still, can result in serious injuries from falls if anyone tries to climb the dome.
My time spent at the rooftop terrace to bring these pictures to you was enjoyable. It brought back memories of the historical opening day when I was able to capture photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam. And being close to the Jamatkhana dome was a powerful and inspiring experience. Seven years have passed since the Ismaili Centre was opened. The rooftop terrace needs a lot of work for a more pleasurable experience — it appears to have been forgotten or overlooked, and Covid-19 may have been a factor.
Date posted: September 25, 2021.
Last updated: September 28, 2021.
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