Mosques meet with modernity
Last Updated: May 03. 2008 9:32PM UAE / May 3. 2008 5:32PM GMT
DUBAI // In a city landscape dominated by skyscrapers, vast shopping malls and eight-lane motorways, the mosque runs a real risk of vanishing from view, one of Dubai’s leading architects is warning.
What is needed, says Omran al Owais, is a mosque for the 21st century: a radical new design that will help places of worship compete with the noise and bustle of urban life.
“What happens if you take today’s mosque and put it in 2020?” he asks.
“It will basically disappear. Dubai is progressing, the mosque is not. We have the mosque and there’s a dome and there’s a minaret; this image has been burnt onto the brain. Let’s update this image and make a change.”
His prototype design puts the focus on the minaret, the tallest part of the mosque, from which the call to prayer is broadcast.
Mr Owais says that in its preoccupation with tall buildings, Dubai has overshadowed its mosques and drowned out the sound of the prayers that emanate from them.
He would like to see the height of the minarets increase to a scale that allows them to maintain a visible presence among the high density buildings of Dubai.
The height of the minarets will depend on the “surrounding urban fabric”. As well as increasing their height, the minarets in Mr Owais’s design have elaborate patterns etched into their surfaces, through which LED lights shine, allowing the mosques to be seen from great distances.
That way, even when heavy traffic drowns out the sound of the call to prayer, the light shining from the minaret will be an indication that it is prayer time.
“Light travels further than sound,” he says, explaining that the new visual element allows for greater interaction with the city.
The drawback to his design, of which he is aware, is that glowing lights cannot be seen during the day.
Updating the mosque will not be easy, Mr Owais readily admits. The mosque is one of few symbols of Islamic culture easily visible in Dubai, though he is quick to point out that certain architectural elements of mosques are not historically Islamic.
Domes (which Mr Owais has removed completely from his new mosque) originated on the Hagia Sophia, the vast Byzantine church in Istanbul that was converted to a mosque and is now a museum.
“We’re not going to lose anything by removing the dome, we’re not gaining anything from it either,” he says. Not only would the new mosque be a better reflection of local culture, but by engaging local artists to design the etchings on the minarets — something he plans on doing if his plans are ever realised — as many people as possible would be encouraged to feel they are a part of the city, its design, its aesthetic.
He says engaging as many nationals as possible in Dubai’s development would reinforce a national identity among everyone involved. “This is where we should exhibit our culture.”
His points are brought home by the drive into Dubai along Sheikh Zayed road.
Lined with skyscrapers on either side, the 12-lane road could be in almost any modern city in the world.Other than the vast number of cranes and massive construction sites, the Burj Dubai — already the tallest building in the world even before its completion — is the most recognisable landmark of the city. And this, Mr Owais says, is also regrettable.
“We are jumping over culture in the development process, and we’re losing a sense of what Dubai is,” he says.
“People behave differently when they’re surrounded by tall buildings.”
Architecture should take its cues from the people, he says, and mosques are the perfect place to start.
Reaction to his idea for the new mosque has been mixed. While some are excited by it, others oppose changing one of the most important symbols of Islamic culture. The latter have only given him more reason to keep working on his idea, to improve it until it he convinces everyone.
“Omran, my name, it means architecture in Arabic,” he says.
“But my passion is not just for architecture; it is also for researching and designing cities. I want to take what exists, fine tune it, and make it better.”http://www.thenational.ae/article/20080503/NATIONAL/216314370