Last week, Australia’s first Islamic Museum opened its doors to the public, aiming to promote harmony and mutual understanding between different cultures and to share the rich artistic heritage of Muslims in Australia.
The new building, located on the banks of Merri Creek trail in Thornbury, was designed by Melbourne-based Desypher Architects with a blend of Middle Eastern and Australian design techniques that represent both the traditional principles of Islamic architecture and the local environment.
“One of the most effective ways to promote cultural diversity and social cohesion is via the universal language of the arts and education, which is why we have chosen to launch the museum with such a strong emphasis on education and cultural awareness,” said the museum’s founder and director, Moustafa Fahour.
Muslims have played an important role in Australia’s history. For example, it is a little known fact that Muslims first came into contact with Australia in the 1700s when Macassan fisherman traded peacefully with the Indigenous Australians many decades before the European settlement. In the 19th century, cameleers arrived in Australia to help build some of Australia’s largest infrastructure projects such as The Ghan – the passenger train operating between Adelaide, Alice Springs, and Darwin which was named in honour of the Afghan workers.
While the museum aims to offer educational resources for visitors and schools, its design was created around the idea of an “Islamic Exploratorium” that would encourage interactive and participatory experiences, featuring five permanent galleries and one for international and local temporary exhibitions, as well as a large multifunctional centre and a coffee bar.
The main challenge for the architects was to emphasize the building’s Australian Islamic context, dovetailing the two cultures. To accomplish this, a rusted Corten veil on the main facade was used to make reference to an Australian iconic material, and it was perforated with modernised Indigenous art that points to the history of Muslims in Australia.
The administration building is located inside a white ‘glass box’, which represents the purity and sophistication of Islamic architecture. In this case, a flattened origami “unity sphere” and applied calligraphy, geometry and pattern, offer a great contrast to the rusticity of the Corten veil.
Inside the building there is a courtyard that both separates and connects the new administrative building and the existing warehouse, providing natural light and cooled ventilation through louvered openings in the surrounding glazed walls.
An interactive rear garden backs onto the Merri Creek walk/bike path and includes working installations such as a water clock, a distillation cauldron and a sundial where the person is the actual dial. There is also a workshop where patrons are invited to participate in creative tasks.
At the front of the building is a verse excerpted from the Quran which translates to “so narrate to them the stories so that upon them they may reflect.”
“The design of the Islamic Museum of Australia aims to challenge ideas of what and how an Islamic museum in Australia should be,” the architects said. “The mission being to create a culture of awareness and understanding through innovative environments, programs and tools that help people nurture their curiosity about Islam.”