Exhibition documents architectural evolution of mosques | Arts | DW | 02.04.2012
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Exhibition documents architectural evolution of mosques

Islamic places of worship often cause controversy: Take the construction of Cologne’s grand mosque or the ban on minarets in Switzerland. A new exhibition in Germany covers the architectural evolution of mosques.

Mosque exhibition at the ifa-Galerie in Stuttgart

Mosque exhibition at the ifa-Galerie in Stuttgart

Mustafa Pinarci from the Turkish-Islamic Diyanet Culture Association proudly presents the interior of a mosque during construction to a small group of visitors in Esslingen. The group has many questions: Who finances the building of the mosque? Why is there a separate floor for women to pray on?

The mosque guide shows the visitors a list of sponsors and explains that the construction work is also financed through voluntary contributions. The members of the group - particularly the women - react with astonishment when the guide explains that Muslim women prefer not to pray in the presence of men. "Women could be disturbed by looks from men as they pray in various positions," said Pinarci.

Visitors on an excursion to the mosque in Esslingen

Excursion to the mosque in Esslingen

The 25-year-old student is pleased that non-Muslims take an interest in Islam and the new mosque. "In this way we can easily counter any prejudices or misunderstandings," he said.

The visitor group had previously been to the "Cube or Cupola" exhibition in Stuttgart. Until the beginning of April, the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations Gallery (ifa-Galerie) was showing the developments and trends in mosque construction around the world, as well as a program of workshops, seminars and tours of mosques in the Stuttgart region.

The exhibition will move to the ifa-Galerie in Berlin in July. The Institute for Foriegn Cultural Relations galleries in Stuttgart and in Berlin frequently host exhibitions of contemporary art from all over the world.

Boom in mosque construction

"Since 2009, 120 new mosques have been built or are under construction in Germany," said Valérie Hammerbacher, one of the curators of the exhibition. "Two thousand prayer and assembly rooms already exist. That was a good enough reason alone to produce this exhibition, which informs the public about mosques."

Building a mosque doesn't necessarily require many resources. In the time of the Prophet Mohammed, the center of a mosque - the prayer room - was simply a walled area covered with palm leaves. Even today, there are very few specifications as to how a mosque should be built, except that one wall should face Mecca, the Kibla. Every other feature of the mosque is open to the imagination of the designers.

The ifa-Galerie exhibition shows 30 examples of mosques from around the world, from the 1960s to today. The show is divided into four sections: New Paths, (In)visibility, The Contemporary, and Encounters.

New paths

"The classic forms of mosques such as pillars, an iwan (a three-sided closed hall which is open at the front) and a dome mosque have been completely reworked by architects around the world," explained Valérie Hammerbacher.

A prime example is the Etimesgut Camii mosque in Ankara, Turkey. Here, the architect Cengiz Bektas was commissioned by the military at the end of the 1960s to build a mosque that looks more like a bunker. In place of a dome is a flat roof and the squat minaret is not a separate part of the mosque, but incorporated into the overall form of the building.

Entimes Camii mosque in Ankara, Turkey

The Entimes Camii mosque in Ankara resembles a bunker

Another mosque built for migrant laborers in Germany is striking because of its distinctive dome, which is made of reinforced concrete and has two glass facades that span two floors. The dome arches over the entire prayer room. The Islamic Center by the Turkish architect Osman Edip Gürel was opened in 1973 in Munich's Freimann district and provides space for 350 people.

A multi-functional building was constructed in Amsterdam in 2009. The 1,600-square-meter (17,200-square-foot) space encompasses two large prayer halls as well as rooms for administration and training. The design of the building took into account the interests of two different mosque communities, one Moroccan, the other Turkish.

A ban on minarets in Switzerland prompted the Zurich-based architecture firm Frei + Saarinen to design a tower block bearing the form of a minaret. After the sun goes down, the cubed form of the building disappears into the darkness, revealing the outline of a minaret lit from the inside.

Although the erection of minarets often causes controversy with new building projects, they are not a necessary part of a mosque. The majority of mosques situated in the backyards of factories or industrial districts have no minarets.

Frei + Saarinen's tower block mosque in Zurich

Frei + Saarinen's tower block mosque in Zurich conforms with anti-minaret laws

Modern religion

The section "The Contemporary" takes up the development of a unique architectural language that represents Islam as a contemporary and modern religion. In this vein, a cubic mosque in the Upper Bavarian town of Penzberg was built in 2005. The muezzin's call to prayer is cut into the steel sheets covering the minaret in the form of Arabic calligraphy.

Penzberg's cubic mosque

Penzberg's cubic mosque has a modern flair

One of the most beautiful examples of the new interpretation of mosque building is the award-winning Chandagon mosque in Bangladesh. The forecourt and mosque area are defined as equally proportioned elements, divided only by glass doors and a step in the floor.

Another section of the exhibition - Encounters - covers classic forms of construction as well as the opening up to other religions. An example of that is the Dogramacizade Ali Pasca Camii mosque in Ankara, Turkey, which is part of a private university. A central courtyard joins the mosque with a synagogue and a chapel. In this way, Christians and Jews have the opportunity for spiritual contemplation in all three prayer rooms.

Author: Christina Beyert / hw
Editor: Kate Bowen

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