Modernist Islamic Architecture: Toward preserving a migrant past

By SHEYMA BUALI, LIFE.STYLE@ARABNEWS.COM

Published: Sep 14, 2011 16:38 Updated: Sep 14, 2011 16:38

MakeSpace Architects is a London-based firm whose work specializes in private and social housing, as well as community buildings. Much of the community work focuses on the development of mosques and Islamic centers. Besides designing and building the structures, MakeSpace aspire to develop a new architectural language based on what indigenous, British Islamic architecture, in their eyes, should be.

The firm’s founder and director, Shahed Saleem, is a modernist architect who believes in preserving heritage, he is also in the process of writing a book about the history of mosques in Britain for the National Heritage Commission. His modernist ideals and concern for heritage preservation may come across as a dichotomy, but his aim to use architecture to address British Muslim communities looks at historical background and religious identities while assessing the present and looking at the future, ultimately rooting this heritage as a British one, rather than a foreign or migrant one.

The Muslim community in London claims a diverse range of backgrounds including South Asian, Arab, Turkish, North African, East African and so on. With the settling of Muslims naturally came the building of mosques. Each group brought with it an aesthetic for architectural shapes to be implanted into British grounds. For more than 100 years, various styles were attributed to purpose built mosques in Britain; from the 1886 Mogul Victorian mosque of Woking which combines Indo-Islamic with Gothic aesthetics to the more modern London Central Mosque established in 1977, quite typically equipped with a minaret and golden dome. Coupling these architectural details with the mosques developed out of building re-conversions, such as the East London Mosque which, in 1940, before building their current purpose-built structure, took hold of three townhouses to convert into a mosque, styles based on space availability and budget range.

Saleem believes that the dominant Asian and Mogul aesthetics are outdated and too foreign to maintain as an ongoing, contemporary design for British streets. “You tend to get mosques that are trying to replicate architecture from Muslim countries. We’re not really getting an architecture that is reflecting the current social and cultural condition of this country, it is looking outward to try and replicate imagery from other places.”

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Categories: Economics, UK

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