2345 W Devon Ave. Chicago, IL 60659
Tahoora’s clean exterior facade with minimal advertisements communicates purity. The arabic word, tahoora means pious and pure (or the quality of people and place in paradise or Daar-us-Salaam). Before moving to their present location on 2345 Devon, Tahoora was located across the block on the north eastern corner of Devon Avenue and North Claremont Avenue.
The sweetshop and deli is on the street level and down in the basement level are office spaces, prayer rooms and a mosque.
The experience of being inside this store is an haptic and processional one. The double entry doors keep the cold away and helps heating during the bitter winters. They also serve as a transition space. Unlike other South Asian stores, Tahoora’s entrance is spotlessly clean. There are no advertisements and posters on the entrance door and store windows.
At Tahoora, the sales counter on the street level is set way back at the interior of the store. Since customers waiting to buy or order food crowd around the sales counter in the deep interior, the front zone of the store remains relatively less crowded. After customers pick up their food, majority move out towards the naturally lighted (and less crowded) seating area in the front of the store. Only when the front fills up, families move to the back section next to the kitchen.
The elongated front zone between the sales counter and the entrance, 20’0” long, serves a function that is not immediately obvious to the occasional customer. This front zone, occupying two structural bays, serves as a space for entry and transition for activities in the basement. The stairs, located in this zone, has a chain with a sign notifying that the lower level is private and out of bounds. Yet, shoppers who know about the basement mosque “find their way to the lower level when he congregation meets." ix Stairs located at the left hand side of the entrance lead members of the congregation to the lower level with separate entrances to male and female prayer areas.
The basement of Tahoora has a “community hall” that is used as a basement mosque (Masjid-e-Tahoora) during prayer hours. A separate room serves women worshippers and this room is used for community and educational activities too.
Thus the experience of being in the market place or the prayer space inside Tahoora is mediated by the brightly lit front transition space, signs, chains, and a staircase. This space between the entrance and the prayer room and between the entrance and the marketplace is an experiential transition space, a boundary between two domains, or “thick edges” that “emerge[s] as not a plane but a zone, not physical but socio-spatial, not a division of things but a negotiation of flows." x
Consider how the embodied act of entering into Tahoora is mediated by this thick edge. People entering the store immediately see the sales counter and the food display. The long path between the entry and the destination food counters produce habitual and culturally choreographed responses from the users. Moving straight towards the counter is not a discretely considered act - that is exactly how one behaves in a food deli. However, the very act of veering off towards the basement mosque is a break from the latter - an act of religiosity, an intention to pray, and a reiteration of one’s Muslim religious identity by customers who are actively seeking such spaces. The seeming innocuous act of walking across an entrance zone and deciding to turn towards the stairs in Tahoora is an embodied act reiterating ones identity and allegiances. As one walks down the staircase acts of ritual cleaning and taking of their shoes precede entry into the prayer room. These sequential experiences enacted over a period of time reiterate a feeling of sacredness and enhance a perceptual distance from the marketplace above preparing the devout for prayers.
ix Interview with customer, February 5, 2011
x Iain Borden, “Thick Edge: Architectural Boundaries in the Postmodern Metropolis,” In InterSections: Architectural Histories and Critical Theories, Iain Borden and Jane Rendell, Eds., (NewYork: Routledge, 2000), p. 221-246.
Text by Arijit Sen