Prayer and contemplation

01 Dec 2011

The increasingly populous Muslim community of Cambridge is accommodated with new Romsey Mosque

The potential for a boldly assimilating new Mosque design lies in the hands of Cambridge City Council, as plans by Marks Barfield Architects have recently been put forward. Championed by a diverse team of experienced individuals, such as Prof. Keith Critchlow - former professor of Islamic art - this striking structure is to be erected in a fusion of influences. Drawing on common aspects of both English and Islamic architectural practice, an essential condition for this complex blend, was a complete avoidance of standard cliché references emerging in the aesthetics. The spurring factor, justifying this latest edition, was the inability of the city’s former Mosque to physically accommodate Cambridge’s growing Muslim community. Intended to be situated merely a few hundred yards from the existing place of worship, these new facilities will substantially ease the burden (with a capacity of 1,000), and even allow a downsizing to the former premises.

Set in the midst of a fairly typical English urban setting, with rows of conjoined residences bordering the perimeter, it’s understandable that the project itself should seek to assimilate with the neighbouring area; a prime example of this is to found in some of the internal foundations. Sixteen timber columns scale upwards, to support a geometric roof; features evocative of both English fan vaulting and Islamic arabesque. Those with invested interests in the nearby vicinity were regularly invited into the envisioning process, allowing any comments or grievances to be addressed; as Tim Winter, Chairman of the Muslim Academic Trust stated, they have dedicated 'time, consulting with the local community and local stakeholders to ensure this building will be truly inclusive, sustainable, safe, secure and respectful of its context', whilst underground parking eases any risk an influx of vehicles may pose on connecting roadways.

On entering from the street, visitors will be gently eased into the transition of settings, with tranquil garden, covered portico, and atrium characterising the short journey into the main prayer hall, which has been orientated towards Mecca. Trees immediately accompany those traversing the impressive entrance, before giving way to a fountain. Anyone attending the property at night-time will be afforded an even more embellished welcome, as a prominent golden dome, crowning atop the roof, will be lit in a soft luminescence by a number of LCD lights. Underneath this exterior will be incorporated a community kitchen and cafe, teaching rooms, and residential units. To obtain the distinction of Britain’s first ‘eco-mosque’, a highly efficient energy system - utilising heat pumps, heat recovery systems, water recycling and green roofs - will be employed. The expected benefits being a more conscientious carbon footprint, emphasising humanity’s role as a responsible custodian.

Tom Aston

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