Situated on the junction of East 97th Street and Third Avenue, New York’s Islamic Cultural Center is a building that quite literally defies the city’s street-grid system. While the rest of the neighboring buildings face outwards to the street, the Islamic Cultural Center has a noticeably different angle, 29 degrees to be precise.
Mosque design strictly entails that the mihrab (alter niche) should point to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, so that worshippers face the right direction when praying.
The street-grid system of Manhattan is tilted to follow the island’s natural incline. While most mosques in New York simply interpret the direction of Mecca as being “east,” the Center’s designers didn’t want to leave any room for doubt. Michael A. McCarthy, the Cultural Center architect, worked alongside Mustafa K. Abadan to align the mosque’s dome to the exact geodesic with Mecca. The mosque effectively faces the direction of the shortest possible line between New York City and Mecca through the Earth. It is this bearing that dictates the Center 29 degree angle from the Manhattan street-grid. Another fun fact: The Islamic Cultural Center built the first mosque in New York City, at 1 Riverside Drive.
While this house of worship may look crooked on the grid system of Manhattan, to the discerning eye it is Islamically perfect.
If you are interested in unusual mosques in New York, check out our articles on an old movie theatre in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, converted into a mosque and a factory-turned mosque in Jamaica, Queens. Read more about the Manhattan grid here.