The New ‘Archology’:

An Investigation Into a Rural Religious Settlement Through the Constructs of Education and Land Forms

Advanced IV Studio- GSAPP Spring 2020
Critic: Ziad Jamaleddine, L.E.FT Architects

Collaboration with: Yasmin Ben Ltaifa

Islamberg, a religious intentional community outside of Deposit in upstate New York, is characterized by a dichotomy of isolation and connectivity simultaneously. Seeking refuge and quietude, the community is located in a remote rural area tucked in a vast landscape marked by challenging terrain conditions. The particularly steep entrance to Islamberg is difficult to navigate, further distancing the community from its surroundings, creating a ‘break by design.’ Given the rural condition, there is a second layer of hardship for the Islamberg community dealing with opportunity and prospects for younger generations. With the speculation that the younger generations of Islamberg will be more transient and mobile than their past generations due to their rising presence and awareness of others through the internet, the project aims to provide Islamberg’s youth an incentive to stay.

By reinterpreting the existing threshold at the entrance of Islamberg, the proposal creates a twofold agenda that ultimately will bolster the relations the community has with surrounding stakeholders including a family-owned farm nearby, a seaonal camp and the closest town of Deposit. This environmentally responsive development has a long term outlook for the ecology as well as the prospects of residents.

Annotated site map probing the hamlet’s architectural and territorial relationships to its environment (geological, topographical, infrastructural, ecological and social).

Islamberg was settled by a group of mostly black Muslim families in 1980s who sought a more peaceful and holy way of living away from the chaos of urban life in NY. Although relations within the neighboring communities are mostly cooperative, Islamberg has repeatedly faced threats from false right-wing conspiracy theories that were spread online. The goal is to address this social layer by reinforcing existing social networks and creating new ones.

The intervention sets up a network of interaction to bolster the transactional, seasonal, non-existent and remote relations the community has respectively with Mountain Dell Farm, Camp Hilltop, and Deposit.

Phasing diagrams showing the first intervention that addresses the spatial condition. A new ‘productive threshold’ manifests itself through the rearrangement of infrastructural roads, the gentle manipulation of topography and the simultaneous re-creation of a productive agricultural and wetland ecology. Through a tactful manipulation of topography we have sculpted a crater and embedded programs in the landscape, none of which compromises the ecological vitality of the site.

Phase 1: New Road Infrastructure + Topography Manipulation
Phase 2: Creation of Ecology, Further Excavation + Topography Manipulation
Phase 3: Program Introduced

E-W Sections showing scenes of various types of learning including:

Secular + Religious: The academic school merges two typologies of secular and religious institutions in physical form, where the hierarchy between the student and instructor is broken down as the building wheels into the courtyard.

Recreational: Wetlands, depending on seasonality, are utilized for outdoor water activities. Pedestrian bridges integrated within wetlands create experiential pathways for the residents.

Creative: The outdoor kiln assists pottery activities and merges with the infrastructure of the retaining walls surrounding it. The scene also includes a glimpse of the observation deck and watertower, where water from the wetlands is collected.

Agricultural: Includes hands-on learning processes including growing crops, harvesting, storing and post-harvest handling, cooking, composting and recycling

The masterplan: Using the same design strategies, the productive threshold and ecological concept have been extended to create a connective spine with smaller water pods along the path towards Camp Hilltop. This path follows existing topography that leads to the lowest altitude, thereby naturally collecting water for the utilization of camp activities. The creation of this greater masterplan is an effort to apply the ecological knowledge in a larger scale.