You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2010.

The variation in Islamic patterns throughout the muslim world is vast, but all adhere to a rules of geometry. Whether five point star patterns or hexagonal, tiled or sculpted in relief they all use a system of repetition which brings parallels to wallpaper patterns. What is also of interest is the possibility to define a structural system for the project using pattern systems.

Islamic patterns are prominent in several mosques in the middles east due to the portrayal of human and animal forms being discouraged by the Prophet Muhammed, so as to avoid idolatry. The depth of analysis of these patterns is almost never ending, with much modern study revolving around mathematical algorithms in documents such as these. What is striking from a purely aesthetic perspective is these patterns ability to morph, almost evolve from one into another seamlessly.

The Shajalal Mosque site sits on the corner of Shandy Park, which is located in the middle of the expansive Ocean Estate. From previous planning applications it is expected that 90% of the users of the mosque will be from the surrounding estate, which is in the borough of Tower Hamlets; thought to be 1/3rd Bangladeshi. This starts an interesting conversation of foreign occupants of an English building and how does this manifest itself? What is the architectural equivalent to a Bangladeshi with a east end accent?

It should also be noted from the diagram above, showing the expanse of the Ocean Estate, that there are several new buildings proposed. The proposal directly to the west of Shandy Park will affect the use of the park and mosque with direct access to that corner of the site.

This modern designed mosque, the Islamic Forum by Jasarevic Architects in Penzburg, Germany, is a wonderful example of a building acknowledging both its cultural history and its location. The building is decorated in islamic script and patterns with suitable spaces for prayer but its external aesthetic fits in with the surrounding urban landscape taking more from the local vernacular rather than that of ‘traditional’ mosque architecture, whilst still retaining the Minaret. The really interesting part personally is the adaptation of traditional islamic patterns and their use both as perforated balustrades and decorative patterns applied directly to raw concrete, which follows a similar working to that of Wallpaper Balustrade from The Grapes Public House.

There are several words used is in Islam when describing a mosque and prayer.

Markaz – A multi-functional mosque

Quibla – Direction of prayer towards Mecca

Azan – Call to prayer

Minaret – Lighthouse at top of mosques, used for call to prayer

Mihrab – Niche in wall to indicate direction of Mecca

Imam – Leader of Prayer

Minbar – Pulpit where Imam delivers sermons

Musalla – Prayer hall

“The fundamental difficulty in mosque design arises from the fact that it is not always possible to draw clean lines between what is feasible and what is not, when there are only a few rules governing mosque architecture. The Koran refers to the word masjid twenty-eight times, but in none of these references is there any relevance to mosque architecture. Equally, the Hadith, the Traditions of the Prophet, do not specifically refer to mosque design and, surprisingly, there is no major historical account of architecture by Muslim scholars. The only rules that qualify a building as a mosque are that it should be a clean enclosure or sheltered space, with a mihrab oriented towards Mecca.”

“It must be said that the architecture of the mosque is generally in a stagnant state, due in no small measure to the erosion of regional vitality. The unquestioning acceptance by the clergy of modern planning requirements has severed the mosque from its lifeblood and made it a detached monument, whose importance as sculptural form is essentially untraditional. The resistance of the clergy, on the other hand, to all design innovation has made most architects today adopt the conventional approach and use the familiar imagery as the safest path to client satisfaction.”

“A truly contemporary approach must take into account the needs and aspirations of the people for whom the mosque is built. The technology is the means by which it is built, and the choice of technology, to be appropriate, must depend on honest response to such considerations rather than through literal expression of past styles that the mosques of the future will retain their differences and remain close to the spirit of Islam.”

Ihsan Fethi, “The Mosque Today

from Sherban Cantacuzino, “Architecture in Continuity” (1985)

The Mosque in Chittagong by Kasha Mahboob Chowdury / Urbana is a fantastically successful precedent when looking at modern versions of mosques. Built in 2008 it has many aesthetics that are reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s styling in buildings such as the Villa Savoye with clean lines and white render, but this is the result of the architect striving for a minimal building that is not constrained by traditional or cultural limitations. Where it is most successful is the relationship between public and private. Half of the building is prayer space; enclosed and hidden from the outside world, and the other half a courtyard; opening out to its surroundings. The fact that they have identical footprints with very similar features and sit side by side creates a fantastic relationship which allows this traditionally very closed building to become very open.

Shandy Park, as discussed in Site, contains the Stepney Shahjalal Mosque & Cultural Centre, currently contained in temporary Portacabins, and the Arbour Youth Centre; both of which are in desperate need of attention. Due to the richness of culture within Islam, designing a mosque is a project that is very exciting. The location of the site within an area inhabited by several muslims within a traditionally Christian country produces a unique relationship that a new building would have to embrace to be successful. In a city as diverse as London how does one marry national vernacular with foreign cultural influences?

The phrase “a picture says a thousand words” is normally used used because of a beautiful depiction of something. This picture says a lot more than a thousand person survey. The idea of a demographic survey of an area is to understand the racial and cultural diversity, or lack of, in an area. This information can then be represented in a very attractive and easy to understand diagrammatical way. However this photograph tells us both the cultural diversity of the area with the dual language of the sign, and hints at the poor condition of the area with the edges of boarded up windows shown.


The final project’s site is set in Stepney, London. Rather than going deep into the East London Green Grid as discussed in Green Grid Primer, this will act as a model site, which offers the chance to test the ideas of Public House already observed in previous works. The precise location is Shandy Park (highlighted on map), is located close to both Stepney Green and Mile End london underground stations. It sits amongst dense urban social housing and contains the Stepney Shahjalal Mosque & Cultural Centre, currently contained in temporary Portacabins, and the Arbour Youth Centre.