A British mosque for the 21st century - the UK’s first green mosque
“We didn’t want to create a replica or pastiche of something that existed elsewhere. The opportunity to do something English, British, excited us. Now that there is a significant Muslim community it’s time to work out what it means to have an English mosque.’’
The planning for a new mosque began in 2007 when the existing Mawson Road mosque began to experience capacity issues, with latecomers having to pray on the street. A limited international competition was held, calling for inventive and innovative ideas for a 1000 capacity mosque that is truly sustainable and socially and architecturally integrated into and respectful of it’s neighbourhood. It is intended to announce Islam’s presence in Cambridge as a spiritual and cultural centre not only for Muslims but also the wider community.
In 2009, Marks Barfield Architects won the competition with the concept of the mosque as a calm oasis within a grove of trees. The link between the local and the Islamic is expressed through the natural world. For centuries, mosques throughout the world have adapted to their local building materials, vernacular, cultural and climatic conditions. Consequently, we too were inspired both by Islamic and English religious architectural traditions. Above all, we sort to develop the idea of a British Mosque for the 21st century.
The defining feature of Cambridge Mosque is its timber structure. The timber columns, or ‘trees’, reach up to support the roof using an interlaced octagonal lattice vault structure evocative of English Gothic fan vaulting, famously used at the Kings College Chapel, Cambridge nearby. The timber is sustainable sourced spruce which is curved and laminated. Roof lights are located above the trees creating a prayer hall bathed in light. The external walls are clad in tiles of the traditional Gault colour with castellated parapets that symbolise the meeting of heaven and earth. Worshippers and visitors take a journey from the street through an Islamic garden, to a covered portico and into an atrium, preparing them in a gradual transition for the contemplation of the prayer hall, which is orientated towards Mecca.
‘This building will be truly inclusive, sustainable, safe, secure and respectful of the neighbourhood. It will be a landmark building which will inject new life into the Mill Road area of Cambridge of which the local and wider Cambridge community can be proud’.
Tim Winter- Chair Muslim Academic Trust + lecturer in Islamic studies, Cambridge University