With the excitement over this month’s opening of the Aga Khan Park in Toronto, we might be forgiven for forgetting the “other” Canadian Ismaili Centre, and its garden, which opened almost 30 years ago on the other side of the country. A building which, in 2005, His Highness the Aga Khan told its architect, Bruno Freschi, “was one of his most favoured” and one that the Aga Khan had “encouraged” Aga Khan Museum designer, Fumihiko Maki, to visit. 1
However, the focus of this photo-essay is not so much the Burnaby Centre’s architecture, but the garden around it. Just as a key element of the Toronto Ismaili Centre is the magnificent park adjacent to it, a well developed garden was also a key element of the Burnaby Centre’s design. Speaking of the Aga Khan’s interest in gardens and parks, the Toronto park’s designer, Lebanese architect Vladimir Djurovic, said: “I think that His Highness is happiest when he is working and discussing the gardens…. [His] passion for gardens is intoxicating.” 2
With some two dozen parks and gardens developed by the Aga Khan, depicted in the graphic above, it is hardly surprising that that same intoxicating passion and enthusiasm also came to bear on the Burnaby Centre’s design, given its lush garden. Indeed, the Burnaby Centre’s garden is arguably the most developed of any Ismaili Centre, perhaps rivalling some dedicated gardens.
Speaking at the 1982 Foundation Stone Ceremony for the Burnaby Centre, the Aga Khan, commenting on the garden, said: “The new building will stand in strongly landscaped surroundings. It will face a courtyard with foundations and a garden. Its scale, its proportions and the use of water will serve to create a serene and contemplative environment.” 3 However, a garden’s shrubs, bushes and trees can take years or even decades to mature and fully reveal themselves. And so it is only now, 30 years later, can we truly appreciate the Aga Khan’s words that building’s surroundings will be “strongly landscaped.” Indeed!
In photo-essay of the Burnaby Ismaili Centre, I focus on, both, the daytime appearance of the building and garden — whose dense foliage befits the wet West Coast — and the Centre’s nighttime appearance when, under a full moon and lit by artificial lights sprinkled within, the garden’s colours and hues take on a mesmerising, ethereal quality.
I think for those not from Vancouver, the garden’s development — as compared to its initial state 30 years ago, shown — will be eye-opening. Thirty years ago, as mere saplings overwhelmed by the commanding presence of the Centre, shrubs, hedges and trees provided little more than a token greening of the grounds. Today, those same plants compete for attention, towering up to the top of the building. Indeed, so dense is the foliage it only permits tantalising glimpses of the building from the road and entrance. While this leisurely, maturing process, in all likelihood, went unnoticed by those from Vancouver and attending the Centre more regularly, I’m sure when viewed anew, with fresh eyes, the change will appear just as startling for them as for others.
Burnaby Ismaili Centre: Daytime
Burnaby Ismaili Centre: Night time
Article: Mohib Ebrahim
Images: Burnaby Ismaili Centre, 2014, Mohib Ebrahim (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
About the author and photographer
Mohib Ebrahim is the Editor and Publisher of the NanoWisdoms Archive of Imamat Speeches, Interviews and Writings. An honours graduate of Simon Fraser University in Computer Science and Mathematics, Mohib has been involved in software development and the IT industry since the ’80s. His religious interests lie in understanding the intersection of faith and reason: validation of faith and the nature of truth.
Creative Commons License
All the images by Mohib Ebrahim are released under a Creative Commons 4.0 International License. The CC 4.0 license allows the images to be re-used non-commercially, without modification and with credit as follows (including the web-link): “Burnaby Ismaili Centre, by Mohib Ebrahim, © 2014 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).”