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The Architecture of the Mosque -3: the Impact of Modernity on the Design Concept of Mosques

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In the late 20th century, many contemporary architects and planners in the Islamic world reacted against the inappropriate architecture to their regins, culture and tradition. Their reactions and views towards contemporary Islamic architecture can be expr

Nowadays, the Islamic world in general and the Middle East in particular, are experiencing unprecedented, growth, development and transformation. Since the oil crises in the 1970, countries of the Islamic world are undergoing a rapid change in their economic, social, and political environment. Their aspiration for rapid change allowed opportunities for unusual ideas, concepts, ideologies, and building forms and technology to invade their Islamic cultures and traditions. This unusual change is also evident in many of their new architectural production, and city planning, which completely ignored the past and the traditional culture as well as produced inappropriate western-oriented architecture.

In the late 20th century, many contemporary architects and planners in the Islamic world reacted to this alien invasion. Their reaction is apparent and expressed in many of their building. However, the views of these architects towards contemporary Islamic architecture in general and the mosque in specific can be expressed through three distinct aspects; the revivalists, the historicists, and the modernists.

The Revivalist

Revivalists are architects, whose main objective is to try to preserve their Islamic identity, cultures and traditions by reviving their past traditional architectural forms and traditional building methods. There are many mosque examples that express this revival approach such as the New Gourna mosque, Luxor, Egypt, built in 1945, by Hassan Fathy. The mosque was an expression of traditional vernacular architecture in Egypt. One essential feature is the staircase minaret, which frames the main entrance and balances the mass of the dome. This mosque was to become one of the most influential models for North African and Middle Eastern architects.

                    Image source: The new Gourna mosque, Luxor, Egypt, 1945

Another expressive example is the Bhong mosque, Pakistan, built in 1982. It represents a popular vernacular vocabulary of the Indian subcontinent (Mughal Architecture), such as the three domes covering the prayer hall, minarets at the corners of the mosque and the dome-like pavilion. The mosque is characterised by its generous decoration and a juxtaposition of different materials, colours and building styles.

                              Image source: The Bhong mosque, Pakistan, 1982

The Historicist

While the revivalists’ main intention is to revive their pat regional architecture, the historicist architects were looking for architecture, which integrate their rich historical architectural vocabulary with modern building technology of their age. However, they tried to experience the new modern architecture, while expressing their traditional culture, concepts and regional identity in a more persuasive building’s character. One of the most distinctive mosques, which was built in a non-Muslim country is the Islamic Centre and mosque, Rome, Italy (1992-1994), by Paolo Portoghesi and Vittorio Gigliotti. The mosque, which is the focal point of the centre, is based on the typological format of the hypostyle hall with a main dome and exterior courtyard. The main intention of the architect was to create a Muslim centre, which can be considered as a symbol to the various different Islamic countries, which work together as a complete organism. However, the architect shaped the columns of the mosque in the form of trees with its roots, trunk and branches to represent metaphorically this unified culture. The design of the freestanding minaret (40 meters in height) is also an expression of the mosque as well as a structural projection of the interior columns of the mosque.

              Image source: The Islamic Centre and Mosque, Rome, Italy (1992-1994)

         Interior: the Islamic Centre and Mosque, Rome, Italy (1992-1994)

The King Faisal Mosque, Islamabad, Pakistan, built in 1976, and designed by the Turkish architect Vedat Dalokay, is another expressive example to the concept of historicism. The mosque displays the basic forms of Ottoman mosque architecture such as the four cylindrical pencil-like minarets and the symbolic large dome covering one vast area. Similar to the tradition of building the Ottoman’s mosques, the architect also used the deep-blue tiles, which created a strong contrast between the vertical cylindrical form and the surrounding elements faced with white marble.

              Image source: The King Faisal Mosque, Islamabad, Pakistan, 1976

Another distinctive building is the King Khaled mosque, International Airport, Riyadh, built in 1983 by Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum. This mosque represents a new interpretation of the Ottoman mosques such as the Suleymaniye complex in Istanbul, which is characterised by a centralised plan covered with massive dome.

             Image source: King Khaled mosque, International Airport, Riyadh, 1983

The Modernists

The third aspect is the modernists, who completely ignored the past with its rich decorated and ornamented elements and produced mosques that express the building technology of their age. Their designs represented superficially, hybrid architectural elements, where the traditional facades with arches and domes are abstracted to figurative elements without going deep to the essence and circumstances that created these forms. The Shiba Mosque, Abu Dhabi, 2008 is an expressive example of architects’ views towards modern mosques. This mosque represents a prototype of a low energy project, where the inner spaces are cooled through stack effect through openings in the dome. The mosque consists of multiple interconnected white shells structures which accommodate the prayer hall, ablution and residential accommodation.

                          Image source: The Shiba Mosque, Abu Dhabi, 2008

                          The Shiba Mosque, Abu Dhabi, 2008

Other abstracted and symbolic buildings are the Dubai Mosque, UAE and the mosque in Cologne, Germany, by Paul Böhm. These two projects redefine the way in which cubes, domes and minarets can be perceived in different ways, yet performing the same function.

                     Image source: The Copenhagen Mosque, Denmark

             Image source: The Largest mosque in Cologne, Germany, by Paul Böhm

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Abdel-moniem El-Shorbagy

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