Designed with input from neighborhood residents and members of The Philadelphia Masjid, the plan would convert a nearly 100-year-old religious building into an urban campus that supports faith, humanitarian and community initiatives in West Philadelphia.
Following months of planning, multiple meetings with local stakeholders and hundreds of hours of pro-bono design work, HOK’s Philadelphia studio last week revealed initial plans for the transformation of The Philadelphia Masjid. The design initiative includes new facilities for culinary services, workforce training, early childhood education, mixed-rate housing and flexible spaces for communal meeting and gatherings.
HOK learned in June it would team with the masjid as one of three proposals in Philadelphia to receive the backing of Sacred Places/Civic Spaces, an initiative that seeks to breathe new life into underutilized, purpose-built religious properties as community hubs.
The Philadelphia Masjid operates out of a three-story brick building that first opened in 1922 as Our Mother of Sorrows Elementary School. The building later became St. Thomas More High School before The Philadelphia Masjid purchased the property in 1976 for use as its mosque and to house Sister Clara Muhammad School. The history of the site makes this property eligible for consideration on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Philadelphia Masjid’s elementary school closed in 2008, and recently the congregation has begun renovating unoccupied and underutilized space in the building for additional community use. Design details call for the building to house a new teaching kitchen and renovated dining area on the lower level, new café and flexible meeting space on the ground floor, and classrooms and offices for workforce training focused on building trades on the second and third levels.
“We had a vision of how we wanted to upgrade and rehab the building, but we never looked at it to the magnitude to what we did with this process,” Aazim Muhammad, director for community development for The Philadelphia Masjid, told The Philadelphia Tribune. “The next step is actually the fundraising and implementation stage. We have a proposed budget of approximately $25 million and we are not afraid of that number at all because it signifies the value of our asset and beyond. It’s achievable.”
The Philadelphia Masjid lies in an area of Philadelphia that is eligible for government tax incentives through both the Obama Administration’s Promise Zone initiative and the Trump Administration’s Opportunity Zone policy. Additional plans for the site, designed with input from community stakeholders, mosque members and the People’s Emergency Center (a nonprofit community development agency), include a new residential building that would provide up to 60 units of market-rate and affordable housing. An early childhood center would adjoin the residential building with a public plaza linking the new construction to the renovated mosque and school building.
“This was a true team effort,” said Caitlin Youngster, a senior design professional who led HOK’s work on the pro-bono project. “The site partners and community members provided us with a forward-thinking, enthusiastic vision, which was an ongoing inspiration. Our team harnessed our collective skills and knowledge to turn that vision into a realistic design that will transform the neighborhood.”
HOK’s design team included: John Maccallum, Katherine Antarikso, Brian Smiley, Jeremiah Woodring, Eunil Kim, Alyssa Horn, Kristen Weismantle, Devki Desai and Kate Bonner. J+M Engineering provided an MEP analysis of the building and Tutor Perini provide a preliminary cost estimate for the project. Alisa McCann was the historic preservationist. Sacred Spaces/Civic Places is a partnership between the Community Design Collaborative and Partners for Sacred Places.