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Architecture of the contemporary mosque

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Ismail Serageldin and James Steele



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This book is an eclectic collection o f essays, project reviews and personal perspectives about a complex and challenging subject: the architecture o f the contemporary mosque. The subject is complex because it involves an understanding of the societal context in which the building is situated. It is also the most challenging building type for any architect practicing in the Muslim world today. No other building is so charged with symbolism, so hem m ed in by established architectural convention, and so likely to be scrutinized in the minutest detail by friend and critic alike. Above all it is a building that has to answer the spiritual as well as the functional needs o f a com m unity, while also making an eloquent statement about that community.

Realizing the complexity of the subject, and the diversity of the cultural and architectural expressions of the societies of the Muslim world, this book does not seek to be historically or geographically comprehensive. (An excellent start has already been made at this by Martin Frishman and Hassan-Uddin Khan.) Nor is it intended to be encyclopedic in coverage. Rather it presents a number o f contemporary mosques, intended to provide a palimpsest for interested scholars and to engage the attention of practicing architects and students.

In keeping with this aim, Architecture of the Contemporary Mosque opens with a background study and introduction which places the subject in its historical context, offering a brief synopsis o f the development of the mosque, its forms, styles and place in the urban fabric. The many Islamic terms which will be new to those unfamiliar with mosque architecture are explained here and in a comprehensive glossary at the end o f the book. A second introductory essay sets out a framework and critical approach to the architecture of the contemporary mosque. This is intended to provide a conceptual matrix into which the individual project can be mapped, to provide context while also advocating a multi-layered critique to enrich our understanding of the significance of the buildings examined.

The book is then divided according to broad national or geographic areas, though the emphasis within each section is upon specific examples and case studies. Individual buildings are singled out for special coverage in order to reinforce particular points. Thus the ‘browsers’ will be able to access information as effectively as those w ho wish to read the volume from cover to cover.

The geographic regions covered include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Maghreb, Turkey and Iran. Inevitably, given the strong views on the influence o f the West on these societies, it makes sense to round off the book with a discussion o f a few examples of mosques built in the West.

In Architecture of the Contemporary Mosque there is no unanimity o f views among the authors, nor is there any effort to homogenize their differences. Ultimately, the buildings will speak most eloquently to the reader in their own inimitable way.