Arab Cultural Center Washington DC international architecture competition, USA
Client: the Mosaic Foundation, McLean VA, USA
Design: Monolab; team: J.W. van Kuilenburg with S. Fernandes, A. Hassouri
Year: 2005


…Arab-Islamic architecture meets American grid city


The Mosaic Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1998 by the spouses of the Arab Ambassadors to the United States. Its goal is to aid women and children in their local U.S. communities and internationally, while building bridges of understanding between the peoples of the United States and the Arab World. This international architecture competition launches the Foundation’s efforts to realize a future Arab Cultural Center in Washington DC.


The request for the finest traditions of Arab/Islamic architectural style in an American grid city is challenging. The center will be around 116.000 square feet (10.780 m2). It will offer flexible gathering areas, exhibition spaces and four departments: classrooms with research facilities, catering facilities, theatre and office space. Its location is a non specified plot in the downtown Washington DC area.


We followed the grid in the shape a low rectangular box. It has two passages with colonnades in the lay-out of a cross with a courtyard at its heart. The cross divides the building into four parts, one for each department. The two shorter sides of the box are fully glazed while the long sides and roof are covered with an Arab/Islamic ‘web’ that filters the (sun) light entering the interior during the day and the interior lighting radiating outward during the night. Apart from a filter, the web is a structural device, while it consists of many crossing structural lines.


The heart of the center is the courtyard that has a floor bed with sand assembled from the Arab/Islamic countries in the world. Fruit trees can grow here, offering shade and filling the space with the sound of leaves.