Praygrounds exhibition is telling us the story of Amir Shakib Arslan Mosque which has been renovated from an existing 18th century old palace and has been transformed with a unique interpretation into a mosque. The exhibition also looks at the evolution of mosque architecture across civilizations and geographies.
Introduced by Basmala expression, a glowing scripture facing the street, the exhibit space is organized around three pieces. Each piece is shrouded with its own dialectic, applied on the surface of the curtain enclosures:
Insan (Human Being)/Allah (God) houses Amir Shakib Arslan Mosque design process.
Man/Woman is a quiet praying area for one.
Construction/Destruction displays an evolution - building and demolition - of the mosque architecture in context, across geography and time.
In between the three intimately defined spaces are rows of drawings and photographic documentation of the Amir Shakib Arslan Mosque. All parts are engulfed in the sound of the call to prayer, re-composed here and re-interpreted as a variation on the normative call to prayer by having it spoken rather than sung.
The aspiration of the exhibit is to challenge the pre-deterministic notion of that history upheld by religious extremists - and their ‘orientalist’ counterparts - who want us to believe in a fixed notion of a singular Islamic cultural landscape.
Amir Shakib Arslan Mosque, Lebanon:
The 100 m2 mosque, completed in 2016 by L.E.FT Architects, is located in the Al-Moukhtarah village in the rural area of the Lebanese Shouf Mountain. The mosque included a renovation of an existing masonry cross-vaulted space and the addition of a minaret, grafted onto the existing structure as a symbolic landmark, next to the 18th century old palace. A new civic plaza was created in what was previously an adjoining parking space, turning the frontage of the mosque into a public square with seating, drinking water fountain, an ablution service area that is connected to the historic water cascading canal feeding the palace.
The new mosque envelope, correcting the orientation of the existing structure towards Makkah, is formed out of steel plates, framing the existing building and the plaza into an ever changing silhouette. Seen from one side, the steel plates stack to form a solid surface with an affirmative clear mosque envelope. If looked at straight on, the envelope is rendered transparent—a moment of doubt, merged with the rich background of the old palace and its terracing landscape. The minaret and the curved plaza walls are structured by integrating the two words Allah (God) and Insan (Human Being); bi-folded and pixelated into the steel armature to recreate the Hegelian dialectic of God/Man, but also to recall of the humanist tradition of the Islamic faith. Here, the structure of the text—the structural text as a new calligraphy—is literally a construct, and writing/reading happens between the lines.
On the inside, the minimal intervention involved a ‘white-out’ of the surfaces of the vaults, using lime mix brought from Aleppo, as well as the introduction of a new skylight that cuts the vaulted space to register the direction of the Qibla wall towards Makkah, and bring light towards the Mihrab space.
Equally accessed by man and woman, the mosque aims to partake in a cultural war of ideas that needs to be fought against the fundamentalist forces across religions, a war where architecture is a weapon.
Ziad Jamaleddine, Makram el Kadi, Nayef Alsabhan, Rafah Farhat, Elias Kateb, Shun-Ping Liu, Alex Palmer, Tong Shu, Gentley Smith, Melissa Sofian, Hector Song
Call To Prayer
Lawrence Abu Hamdan & Nisrine Khodr
Lawrence Abu Hamdan with LEFT Architects
Iwan Baan, Ieva Saudargaite
Columbia University GSAPP Students: (historical research on individual mosques) Zahid Ajam, Kenneth Amoah, Kutay Biberoğlu, Ryyan Abou Chacra, Reza Durrani, Ahmed Jawdat, Zhiyun Huang, Mayra Mahmood, Jesse McCormick, Thomas Smith