A marvel of craftsmanship, the Turkish American Community Center is proof of the power of cross-cultural collaboration. Learn how we preserved Turkish tradition on this unique project.
A bustling international hub, the metro-Washington, D.C. area is a veritable kaleidoscope of cultures. And like a kaleidoscope, in which disparate glass chips come together to form resplendent patterns, the nation’s capital is a place that knits diverse heritages into a multicultural mosaic creating one of the most vibrant communities in the country.
Perhaps no recent construction project in the metro-D.C. area epitomizes that coming together process more so than the Turkish American Community Center* in Lanham, Maryland. A marvel of craftsmanship that harkens the golden age of Ottoman architecture, the project is a living testament to the goodwill and solidarity that can arise from cross-cultural collaboration. But even more, it represents a new standard for quality and excellence from a general contractor partner – a standard Balfour Beatty achieved by embracing every element of the owner’s dream as our own, building as many bridges as square feet during the course of this landmark, two-year project.
Consisting of five buildings situated across 15 acres, the Turkish American Community Center was designed to not only provide the Turkish American populace with a cultural home for prayer, education and recreation but also facilitate the sharing of those values with local residents. The heart of the project is a 12,000-square-foot mosque that boasts an 80-foot concrete dome. The mosque’s other traditional Islamic motifs include pointed arches, elaborate tile decoration and wide roof overhangs. Most striking are the center’s twin minarets, spire-like structures historically used for the Muslim call to prayer. Rising an impressive 142 feet above the site, the minarets are a visual and symbolic focal point.
The owner, a primarily Turkish organization, envisioned the Turkish American Community Center as a project that, though built in the modern era with contemporary technologies like Building Information Modeling (BIM), would preserve the old world aesthetic that has defined Turkish religious edifices for centuries. Beyond importing materials from Turkey, the owner retained Turkish tradesmen for the finish work and stressed the incorporation of native construction practices where possible. For the owner, remaining faithful to tradition was of sacred importance. Embracing this unique vision for the project, Balfour Beatty navigated the expected language barriers through frequent interaction with the owners’ translators; at times, however, issues arose that required Balfour Beatty to marry ancient customs with modern techniques, often rendering this complex project an exercise in creative thinking.
For example, many manufacturer details call for metal flashing with a drip edge around windows, waterproofing terminations and wall penetrations. The owner had a strong aversion to the appearance of metal flashing, a practice not commonplace in Turkish construction, so Balfour Beatty devised alternative solutions including caulking and physical breaks to achieve the desired result. In locations where flashing could not be eliminated, the owner chose to self-perform this exterior trim work, cover the flashing with wood and other materials.
At the peak of finish work, nearly 80 master Turkish artisans were applying their expertise to the stone, marble, lead roofing and millwork packages. As with any construction project, no trade works in a silo; as such, Balfour Beatty led intense coordination efforts between the Turkish craftsmen and local subcontractors whose work needed to take place concurrently. Some of the project’s handcrafted elements were actually fabricated in Turkey and shipped to the United States, including one of the main doors built with the ancient Kündekâri woodworking technique. An art in which tongue-and-groove paneling is used to connect pieces of wood without the aid of glue or nails, Kündekâri is just one example of the many ways this project, in both design and construction, remained true to Turco-Islamic traditions.
Perhaps no area of the Turkish American Community Center conveys the story of this owner-CM collaboration more so than the Fellowship Hall’s millwork ceiling. The locations of sprinkler leads, lights, air supply registers and fire alarm devices needed to be roughed in, but it was imperative to the owner that none of these items penetrate the decorative ceiling. To achieve the owner’s dream, Balfour Beatty worked closely with subcontractor partners to orchestrate the repositioning of all feasible building systems from the ceilings to the wall. Balfour Beatty also substituted the air supplies with custom linear diffusers and concealed them behind perimeter crown molding. The sprinkler heads, however, could not be removed due to code requirements, and to avoid standing out conspicuously within the intricate ceiling pattern, the sprinklers needed to be installed in very specific locations. To complicate matters, there were no shop drawings available for this built-in-place ceiling. To accommodate the owner’s needs, flex-heads were provided with a three-foot flexible hose on each sprinkler head. This allowed the ceiling to be installed first and the sprinkler heads to subsequently be positioned at exact locations that maintained the woodworking flow. Finally, Balfour Beatty concealed the sprinkler heads within custom color-matched caps, thereby allowing them to further disappear from view.
By day, the Turkish American Community Center’s white limestone and marble exterior shines brightly, engendering a sense of pride and awe in those who come to offer prayers or seek refuge. As a shroud of darkness slowly envelops the complex, its glowing, ornate features simultaneously evoke the timelessness of a faith and the tireless efforts of those who, throughout history, have by hand or by machine, labored to create houses of worship. Though the owner and Balfour Beatty brought differing sets of experiences to the construction process, the shared values of teamwork, quality and communication were ultimately what allowed this historic project to contribute gracefully to Maryland’s skyline. And like the kaleidoscope’s cylindrical dance of light, the process of diverse teams uniting in common purpose and vision isn’t just memorable. It’s positively magical.
*Following completion of construction, the Turkish American Community Center project was renamed to its assumed business name, the Diyanet Center of America.