Bahá'í Library Online
.. . .
Back to Newspaper articles archive: 2001

Last Updated: Monday 21 May 2001

2 B.C. architects designed new world centre for Baha'i faith

Hossein Amanat and Fariborz Sahba will be lauded at ceremony in Israel

Douglas Todd Vancouver Sun

The view from the entrance portal of the Centre for the Study of Sacred Texts (above), part of the Baha'i World Administrative Centre in Haifa, Israel. The elaborate complex of buildings and gardens (left) was designed by Vancouver architect Hossein Amanat.

The view from the entrance portal of the Centre for the Study of Sacred Texts (above), part of the Baha'i World Administrative Centre in Haifa, Israel. The elaborate complex of buildings and gardens (left) was designed by Vancouver architect Hossein Amanat.

Hossein Amanat

It's almost like saying Vancouverites built the Vatican.

But instead of creating the seat of the Roman Catholic religion, two Vancouver architects have designed the new worldwide centre for the five-million member Baha'i faith.

Hossein Amanat and Fariborz Sahba, two Baha'is based in Vancouver, will be lauded for their accomplishment Tuesday at a giant ceremony to open the spectacular $375-million Baha'i World Centre in Haifa, Israel.

The elegant complex of buildings, gardens, streams and fountains the Vancouver men have designed on a one-kilometre-long hill called Mount Carmel is being compared to a paradise on Earth. Amanat said he wanted the new Baha'i spiritual and administrative centre to convey "the ideal of eternal beauty."

Looking dashing in a black jacket and charcoal shirt, Amanat spoke in a Kitsilano restaurant about how he designed three buildings of the Baha'i World Centre along classical Greek lines; he thought that best reflected the Baha'i commitment to peace and contemplation.

Canada's 30,000 Baha'is have a strong connection.

Not only did two Vancouverites design, oversee and supply material for the massive construction and landscaping project, a Montreal architect, William Maxwell, created the complex's first magnificent building, the Shrine of the Bab, in 1953. As well, Canadian composer Jack Lenz is directing music for the terrace opening in Haifa, which will include dozens of Canadians, including three soloists.

Amanat and Sahba were both born and raised in Iran. That is the same country where the Baha'i faith was conceived in the 1800s by The Bab, who was martyred after predicting the coming of the Baha'i religion's founder, Baha'u'llah. Baha'is believe Baha'u'llah is God's latest messenger after Mohammed, Jesus Christ and Moses.

Just as the Bab and Baha'u'llah had to leave Iran because of persecution, so did Amanat and Sahba, who are now Canadian citizens.

Amanat lost everything he had -- property, position and friends -- when Muslim hardliners ousted the Shah of Iran and took control of the country in the late 1970s. One of Amanat's relatives was executed in Iran for being a Baha'i leader.

"You tend to heal and forgive," Amanat, 59, says quietly.

Although Amanat and his architect friend and colleague, Sahba, were forced to leave Iran, the last thing Amanat wants is to seek vengeance against Iranian Muslim leaders.

He believes revenge leads to an unending cycle of violence, like that which torments Israeli Jews and Palestinians, many of whom are Muslims. Both Baha'i men are proud that Haifa is the most peaceful place in war-torn Israel. They credit Baha'i followers with creating that aura.

The Baha'i religion is devoted to peace, equality, compassion and the unity of all religions. Although Amanat said it's correct to compare the creation of the Baha'i World Centre in Haifa to the Vatican in Rome, he made it clear the Baha'i religion, which has no official clergy, is less hierarchical and more democratic than Roman Catholicism.

Since Amanat moved to Vancouver, with his wife and children, more than 20 years ago, his firm, Arc International, has built avant-garde apartments towers, mansions, hotels and condos from San Diego to Japan.

But Amanat is perhaps most proud of the majestic buildings he's created for his faith in Haifa. He designed the striking Baha'i World Centre's Universal House of Justice, as well as the International Teaching Centre and the Centre for the Study of the Texts, which he said are classical on the outside but high-tech on the inside.

While Amanat has been busy designing the buildings for Haifa, his much-honoured architect colleague, Sahba, oversaw the construction of Amanat's buildings and also designed the complex's 18 dramatic terraces, which symbolize 18 early Baha'i martyrs and leaders.

In an interview from Haifa, Sahba said, "I consider the terraces a symbol of beauty, perfection and hope, the way the Bab wished life to be for all the people of the world."

And when Amanat talks about how he chose a Greek style for the Baha'i World Centre because he wanted it to reflect "eternal beauty," he isn't joking.

"My frame of reference," he says, "is this is going to be here for at least 500 years."

The official opening of The Baha'i World Centre will air at 9 p.m. Tuesday on Vision TV, with follow-up coverage at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

©Copyright 2001, Vancouver Sun

. .