Holy architecture

Not a curve out of place

Architects are rethinking mosque design. Just not too big, please


Highlighting Cologne’s mosque


TO SOME it resembles a budding flower; others see a spaceport. The building that draws stares in the German city of Cologne is a new mosque, under construction since 2008, and one of a growing crop in countries where a large Muslim presence is new. America’s mosque count rose from 1,209 to 2,106 between 2000 and 2010. In both France and Germany 200 new ones are under way—a 10% increase.

The growth spurt has stoked xenophobia and sparked protests. But the innovative architecture of some new mosques also challenges stereotypes about a faith hidebound by history.

Germany’s new mosques have the liveliest designs in Europe, according to Azra Aksamija, an architectural historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The mosque in Moers, on the banks of the Rhine, looks like a dazzling jewellery box. The Bavarian city of Penzberg boasts an award-winning cubic design. Those elsewhere are striking, too: a blue dome encased in a latticed cube will soon lick the sky of the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana. Australia’s first modern mosque, in Melbourne, is eco-friendly. Cool blue light shines through the glass roof; ventilation shafts substitute for air-conditioning.

Muslim scriptures are laconic on mosque design. The holy building must only face Mecca and be “guarded from enemies”. That gives a free hand to experimental architects and adventurous clergy. In Albania’s capital, Tirana, BIG, a Danish architectural firm, is erecting a mosque with walls like breaking waves. Their clever geometry helps it face Mecca—inconveniently askew from the city’s north-south grid layout.


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