THE MODERN MOSQUE
REINTERPRETING TRADITION MALAYSIA EMBRACES CONTEMPORARY DESIGN Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque Masjid Negara Mosque
Intro to Islamic Mosques and Malaysiaâ€™s shift to a modern vernacular
A brief study of the evolution of Islamic architecture and the development of the modern mosque through the comparative analysis of the National Mosque of Malaysia and the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque, two prominent Islamic worship structures in Malaysia. This text will introduce an overview of the growing religion of Islam and the complex nature of the Mosque within society and its symbolism through design, also highlighting the constituent elements of mosque design. How has the traditional mosque transformed throughout time, and how can architecture progress without disrupting the spiritual and functional needs of the Islamic community? It remains to be answered.
03 THE HISTORY OF ISLAM
19 MASJID NEGARA MOSQUE A MODERN EXPRESSION
05 TRADITIONAL MOSQUES ELEMENTS OF DESIGN
15 MALAYSIAÊ¼S MODERN TAKE ON TRADITIONAL MOSQUE DESIGN
23 SULTAN SALAHUDDIN ABDUL AZIZ SHAH MOSQUE 25 SYNTHESIS
THE HISTORY OF ISLAM HISTORY AND ELEMENTS OF THE EARLY MOSQUES Islam is one of the worlds fastest growing religions with around 2.2 billion followers, making it the second largest religion around the world. 22% of the population partakes in Islam, most densely occurring in Arabia, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Asia Paciﬁc. Considering the rapidly growing number of Islamic followers there in turn has been a surge of mosques constructed around the world in recent years in order to support Islamic functions. The mosque is the most prominent religious structure in Muslim society, providing followers a sense of religious identity and a communal congregation space. The word mosque is derived from the Arabic word masjid, which means “place of prostration”. The act of prostration requires followers to perform a ritualistic prayer in which they kneel before Allah, God, and pray in the direction of Mecca. Mecca is important to Islam because it is the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad and the site of his ﬁrst revelation, which is written down in the holy text of the Quran. Followers of Islam are required to pray ﬁve times daily, as is laid out in the Quran. Prayer can be practiced anywhere, except on Friday all men must attend Friday noon prayer at the main city mosque, or jami masjid. By attending communal prayer a Muslim does not just afﬁrm their individual belief in God, but also their position as a member of the Muslim community. This means that the main mosque must be able to accommodate the Muslim population of that region comfortably.
ARAB HYPOSTYLE MOSQUE
PERSIAN FOUR-IWAN MOSQUE
INDIAN THREE DOME MOSQUE
TURKISH CENTRAL DOME MOSQUE
The spread of Islam in the east created the four traditional styles of mosque: the Arab Hypostyle Mosque, the Persian Four-Iwan Mosque, the Indian Three-Dome Mosque, and the Turkish Central Dome Mosque. These four styles each have recognizable plan formations and spatial constitutions and have been used as spatial examples throughout Islams history.
The history of the mosque dates back to the time of Muhammad, the first being the Quba Mosque built in 622 in Medina, Saudi Arabia. The Islamic religion started in Arabia, but after the fall of the Abbasid Dynasty, its local regimes became independent and spread throughout the east. Over time as Islam spread throughout the East, four major, distinct mosque styles emerged throughout Arabia, North Africa, and the Asia-Pacific. In the 16th and 17th century the Safavid Dynasty in Persia, the Ottoman Dynasty in Turkey and the Mughal Empire in India were all trying to gain control of the Islamic world and wished to spread their influence through an established characteristic mosque expression.
Opposite: A schematic overview of the four types of mosque, drawn by Martin Frishman.
ELEMENTS OF DESIGN THE ICONIC ISLAMIC LANGUAGE Although mosque architecture has evolved over time, there are certain constituent design aspects that go along with the Islamic language. All mosques contain a qibla wall within the prayer space. This is a wall that faces the direction of Mecca where all Muslims prostrate towards. All Muslims pray towards the same point as a symbol of unity within the religion. This wall contains the Mirhab, a semicircular niche within the wall in the direction of Mecca. They are usually ornately decorated and created to look like a doorway to symbolize a passageway to Mecca. Visually the minaret is a distinct visual cue for Islamic architecture. They were at one time used to sound the call to prayer. The minaret is a tall spire made up of a base, shaft, and gallery that usually stands independent from the main structure to also act as a visual focal point. The use of a dome to cover the prayer hall has also become an iconic symbol of Islam. Although these architectural elements are not technically Islamic in origin, they have been adapted as Islamic symbols and have become iconic design elements recognized throughout the world.
ARAB HYPOSTYLE MOSQUE
PERSIAN FOUR-IWAN MOSQUE
The ďŹ rst style of mosque is the Arab Hypostyle Mosque. This was the style adopted by Muhammad so that new followers of Islam would have a space for communal prayer. It was greatly inspired by the design of a typical Arabian courtyard dwelling. A square plan was utilized, creating a duality between the shape of the open courtyard and closed prayer hall. The large size of the open courtyard allowed for an excess of people to congregate for prayer if there was not enough room inside the prayer hall. It was feasible to pray outside because of the dry, warm Arabian climate. The minaret was employed as a symbol for Islamic architecture. The prayer hall consisted of a ďŹ‚at roof which required many structural columns on the interior. Figurative representation is prohibited by the Quran, so the use of patterned ornamentation was widely utilized in the early mosques. Complex geometric structures adorned the walls and the mihrab, all symbolic in nature.
Beginning in the 11th century the caliphate began to subside in authority and their power was distributed throughout Northern Africa. The spread of Islam due to this redistribution led to variations on mosque design in response to regional stimuli. Each Islamic state began to develop a distinct architectural identity. As Islam moved outside of the Arabian Peninsula, new styles of mosque emerged in response to the regions architectural language and local building practices. The Persians adapted the Arabian mosque to follow inspiration from the design of preIslamic Persian palaces, a style called the Persian Four-Iwan Mosque. The design consists of a central courtyard with four vaulted gates stemming axially, creating a cross plan. The Persians believed that their mosques would be heightened in glory if they were to embellish the wall surfaces with symbolic patterns and calligraphy verses from the Quran.
Top Left: Doorway to the Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo, Egypt. A typical Arab Hypostyle Mosque Bottom Left: View of the arcade Bottom Left: Plan of Ibn Tulun
Left: Schematic plans showing the development of the Friday Mosque of Isfahan. Right: Entry to the Friday Mosque
INDIAN THREE-DOME MOSQUE
TURKISH CENTRAL DOME MOSQUE
As Islam spread even further and after Muslim warriors invaded and overtook India, declaring it an authority of Islam, mosques were built more as a symbol of dominance. The minaret became taller and more pronounced as a constant show of conquest by the Islamic authority. The Indian style known as the Indian Three-Domed Mosque was greatly inďŹ‚uenced by the architecture of the region and its traditional building methods. An amalgam of Hindu and Islamic styles resulted in the behavior and adaptation of the Indian mosque. This style adopted a walled courtyard that also acted as a protective stronghold for military purposes, with large minarets at the corners. The number of minarets increased as a blatant show of power and dominance. The courtyard led to the prayer hall structure with 3 onion domes, a dome that has become an iconic symbol of Islamic architecture.
Asia Minor adopted its own architectural interpretation of mosque design. The Turkish Central Dome Mosque derived its square form from the original hypostyle mosque of Arabia. It was comprised of a main square courtyard and prayer hall, although each covered section was then given a series of domes. The central prayer hall was a square building covered by a large dome and flanked by half-cupolas. There was a large courtyard for Friday prayer surrounded by arcades covered by small domes. The excessive use of large domes was used to express Islams powerful presence within an urban setting. Seeing that domes were difficult to construct, especially at such massive scales they were considered architectural landmarks of the town. They were also inspired by the massive dome of the famous Hagia Sophia and its iconic presence and importance within Turkish society.
Top: Architectural elements of the Friday Mosque of Delhi, India Bottom Left: Prayer within the Friday Mosque Bottom Right: Spatial plan of the Friday Mosque
Top Left: Spatial plan of the Yemi Cami Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey Right: Half cupolas off of the central dome
Is it possible to stay true to Islamic tradition while also embracing modernist architecture?
“The religion is a way of life but not an architectural style itself. Domes and minarets are beautiful architectural symbols, but not Islamic by themselves”. -Christopher McCoy
Mosques are a reﬂection of how Muslims wish to convey themselves to society at large. It is important for mosques not to diverge from their main function, which is to serve as a space for prayer. Since prayer in the Islamic faith occurs ﬁve times daily for Muslims it is a crucial aspect of their religion and lifestyle. It has been difﬁcult for designers to implement modern interpretations of Islamic architecture without causing backlash from Muslims. There are many that wish to stick to the stringent rules of classic mosque design, not to deviate from the fundamental historical design elements that they are accustomed to, such as domes and minarets. To many Muslims it is important to preserve regional building traditions because they see they iconic expression of a mosque as intertwined with the traditions of Islam as a religion, and a symbol of those who believed before them.
With the introduction of the modernist movement in the 20th century c a m e t h e concept of purity of form and a move away from ornamented surfaces. This greatly inﬂuenced the way architects perceived and designed mosques. The modernist movement became a catalyst for the evolution of the mosque and other religious structures. Islamic architecture has expanded into the realm of simpliﬁed forms, and much of the ornamentation of recently constructed mosques has been reduced or modernized. In a way the design of the modern mosque looks to condense the design of the structure to serve its sole purpose, which is prayer. No matter how the architectural expression of a mosque changes throughout time and region, the prayer ritual remains basically the same. The most basic functions can be broken down by architects like so. The call to prayer w i l l s o u n d , a n a u d i b l e cue which calls Muslims to the mosque during designated prayer times. After entering the front of the complex they will be met by a forecourt or a roofed entrance hall symbolizing the path to the prayer hall. This is where men and women separate to pray in different sections of the hall. After ritual washing in an ablution trough, they m a y e n t e r t h e p r a y e r h a l l . When entering the hall th ey mu st no t enter fa c i ng the q i b l a w a l l . Pra y er a l w a y s fa c es the q i b l a w a l l to w a rd s M ec c a .
Those are the main programmatic stipulations of a mosque, but design o f the s truc ture ca n technically take any form as long as it supports these main functions. This raises the question; is the typical archetype of a mosque simply cultural? Should the design of a mosque stay somewhat stagnant to please the values of a community whose members wish to worship in a space much like that of their ancestors? Or can a mosque, like most other forms of architecture, evolve over time in response to the modern architectural language?
“Mosques are perhaps the most contested building type in the city, provoking debate -sometimes ﬁerceon issues of Identity, social change, race, politics, style, and taste”. -Shahed Saleem
MALAYSIAĘźS MODERN TAKE ON TRADITIONAL MOSQUE DESIGN
REINTERPRETING THE CONSTITUENT ELEMENTS OF THE TRADITIONAL MOSQUE I believe that architecture is not stagnant in nature. It adapts to its environment, to its desired program, and to reflect the technological and architectural advancements of the time. To move forward as humans we must embrace the changes that come with time and implement them into our designs. Until recently, mosque design around the world remained tied to the four original, regional styles, utilizing mostly unchanged domes and minarets. These rigid ideas of what a mosque should be and how Islam is portrayed have been challenged as of lately. As the worlds population becomes more dense, the aesthetics of traditional mosques are evolving to accommodate urban settings. The sociology and culture of different regions are causing the mosque to adapt accordingly. Although I am a proponent for the evolution o f architecture and the moder nization of design, it is also important to respect the design of Islams most emblematic structure. Architecture can represent the identity of the Muslim community while also evolving to match changing social and cultural contexts. By analyzing the Masjid Negara Mosque (The National Mosque of Malaysia) and the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque, two modern mosques in Malaysia, we can begin to understand the duality between c r e a t i n g a m o d e r n m o s q u e l a n g u a g e a n d respecting Muslim tradition.
Kuala Lumpur City
ADAPTING TO A GROWING URBAN L ANDSCAPE In 1957 Malaysia gained independence from Britain who were occupying and controlling the land for trading purposes since 1800. Malaysia became its own country and they wanted to create a new identity apart from the British colonial architecture to signify their new independence. Malaysia wanted the style to portray their newly achieved democracy, and to depict a progressive culture. They were free from foreign control and were looking ahead to their growth as a nation, thus their design aesthetic was modern and forward thinking.
Kuala Lumpur City
MASJID NEGARA MOSQUE
-I had never seen a roof interact with light quite like the folded, triangular sections of this one-
As I was exploring the park in Kuala Lumpur City I noticed a structure in the distance, its magnificent blue, undulating form striking my attention. It was a structure that appeared to by almost like a folded work of origami, reminiscent of an opening umbrella. It drew me in and I knew that I had to see it up close and experience the architecture. When I entered I was given a robe to wear and made my way through the complex exploring its modern architectural style. Once I ascended the main entry stairs I was met by a long covered portico of white with geometric punctures in the roof being supported by columns gilt in gold mosaic at the base. I continued past the single minaret situated in a courtyard and into a vast sea of columns, reminiscent of a hypostyle hall. The columns tapered up and spread like an umbrella at the top to act as the ceiling and block light. The columns were arranged on a prayer grid noticeable within the tile design.
When there is not enough room inside the prayer hall Muslims can pray in this area, using the lines to provide a designated prayer space for each person. Light peaked through the open sides of the court and washed the columns and polished terrazzo floor, giving the space an ethereal glow. It was time for prayer so I was not allowed inside the prayer hall, but I was able to peak into the massive open space. I had never seen a roof interact with light quite like the folded, triangular sections of this one. Light poured through the blue, stained glass triangles and upper balcony walls, washing the space. Intense highlights and shadows were made on the folds of the roof. It was interesting to see a different take on how the prayer hall was covered. I had been used to seeing the iconic onion or semi-circular dome on most of the mosques I had seen. It was an interesting take on the dome because it introduced many planes to play with the light.
A MODERN EXPRESSION The Masjid Negara Mosque is a modern expression of tradition Islamic architectural values. It consists of a prayer hall, a mausoleum, a library, offices, an open courtyard and a minaret. As Kuala Lumpur grows, the mosque must develop into more than a space for prayer, but also a community hub. It is constructed of reinforced concrete and features geometric shapes incorporated into the roof and lattice work. Geometric shapes have always been prevalent in Islamic spaces, and the mosque incorporates intricate calligraphy verses from the Quran on the walls of the dome. The main prayer hall dome is an 18 point star which represents the 13 states of Malaysia and the five central Pillars of Islam. It takes the shape of a partially opened umbrella, which symbolizes the aspirations of an independent nation to grow and flourish. At the back of the mosque complex attached by a foot bridge there is a seven-point, umbrellashaped annex that contains the crypts of several important Malaysian, Muslim leaders. There is a single minaret with a closed umbrella motif that stands at 73 meters high. The minaret has become a very prominent feature in the skyline of Kuala Lumpur, a symbol of Islam in the city. It is reflected into a rectangular pool in the open courtyard space.
The Masjid Negara Mosque has a short history, but charged with symbolism and expression of unity. The Masjid Negara Mosque was built in 1965 in Kuala Lumpur City, and was to become a symbol of independence for Malaysia. It is still widely considered one of the most modern mosques in Southeast Asia and conveys the spirit of unity of Malaysia and of resilience as a nation. The mosque is meant to not only be a place for prayer, but to collect and organize Islamic knowledge, as well as serve as an example of a modern architectural interpretation of the mosque to others. Malaysia continues to be a booming industrial center and its growing urbanization requires new religious structures to adapt to the increasing urban fabric. As the population of Kuala Lumpur grew in its urban areas after independence, it became imperative that mosques evolve to accommodate its growing congregation, which often meant straying from some traditional architectural aspects and adopting modern designs. New advances in technology and materials such as concrete, steel, and marble, coupled with the desire for larger worship spaces required a shift in mosque vernacular.
SULTAN SALAHUDDIN ABDUL AZIZ SHAH MOSQUE
-A structure of columns pierce through the courtyard resembling open flowers-
To witness how Malaysia has managed to establish a mosque identity it is important to study the evolution of mosque design in the country over time. In Shah Alam, the capital of the Malaysian state of Selangor, the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque stands as the most recognizable religious structure. It was built in 1987 by Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz when Shah Alam was decided as the capital in order to make a statement of grandeur and represent Islam. Its massive structure was built to hold 24,000 people if need be, recognizing the rapid growth of Malaysia as a country. It is Southeast Asiaâ€™s largest mosque with the worlds largest religious dome, measuring 52 meters in diameter, and the worlds largest group of minarets at 142 meters tall. The style is a fusion of traditional Malay and Middle Eastern architectural styles. the courtyard resembling open flowers. They are slender at the base with a top that spreads out to cover the walkway like an umbrella.
Not only is it a prayer hall, but it was also built to serve as a community center to meet the growing needs of the public. It contains Islamic art galleries, conference rooms, seminar halls, a library, and religious classrooms besides its main multipurpose hall. The prayer hall is of massive scale, containing two floors, the upper floor made up of galleries. The large stain glass onion dome reaches 106 meters high, creating a prayer space that reminds those who enter that they are but small in the presence of Allah. Blue and silver stained glass make up the dome in order to counteract the light that constantly floods into the space, creating a cool glow. Geometric shapes are present in the metal lattice work and the glass design of the dome. Upon entry one passes through a covered portico that branches off to columned arcades. A structure of columns pierce through the courtyard resembling open flowers. They are slender at the base with a top that spreads out to cover the walkway like an umbrella, much like the Masjid Negara Mosque nearby.
SYNTHESIS THE DUALITY OF HONORING TRADITION AND CREATING MODERN ARCHITECTURE Both the Masjid Negara Mosque and the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque contain elements from previously mentioned traditional mosque layouts, although they did take liberties in mixing and matching aspects from several styles. Although both mosques are modern representations, the iconic nature of many aspects still remain.
The spatial layout of the Masjid Negara coincides partially with that of the traditional Arabian Hypostyle Mosques. There is a duality between the open courtyard and the prayer hall, although a columned portico pierces the courtyard, cutting it in half. The courtyard leads into a large square, covered area. The covered space is partially open, supported by columns in a hypostyle hall fashion, while the rest of the space is used for the closed prayer hall. The Arabian style was not known for a domed prayer hall, merely a ďŹ‚at roofed structure. The spatial design of the dome takes from Turkish Central-Dome Mosques, using one large dome to make the prayer hall a central focal point. The spatial layout of the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque is a fusion of many traditional styles. It most closely resembles the Turkish Central-Dome Mosque with a central square building for the prayer hall with a prominent central dome. There is a courtyard in the front that balances the covered section, which is then surrounded by columned arcades with protruding glass prisms reminiscent of the small domes used in the arcades of Turkish mosques.
The minaret of the Masjid Negara Mosque greatly resembles the single minarets used in Arabian style mosques. The lone mosque is square in shape and is used as a symbol of Islamic architecture. Before speaker systems the minaret was used to sound the call to prayer, and also as a lookout to protect the mosque against attack. Over time the minaret grew in size and multiplied. It was believed that more minarets were a show of Islamâ€™s power in the East. The Sultan Mosque adopts the style set by the Persian Mosques, placing a minaret at each corner of the complex, but endorsing the immense height used in Turkish Mosques.
Both mosques incorporate one large dome with a unique design that draws attention to the building and highlights elements of Islamic architecture. The Sultan Mosque uses the traditional shape of the onion dome, however with new material advancements it is able to be fully glazed. The Masjid Negara on the other hand simply alludes to a dome, but diverges from any traditional dome shapes, utilizing an 18 point star instead. Again, advancements in technology and materials such as reinforced concrete have made forms like this possible in modern architecture.
Malaysia has succeeded in creating its own national mosque identity. The structures allude to important architectural icons of Islam to respect the Muslim identity, but embrace the advancements in technology and design to create experiential spaces that evoke symbolism through space. Malaysia has exalted its progress in the world through the grandeur of its Islamic architectural language as it continues to develop as a nation. 26
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A study of the modernization of Malaysian mosque architecture.