However divisive the subject of religion is, especially in today’s climate, there can be no denying that Islam, as with Christianity, Buddhism or any other major faith, has produced some of the world’s most beautiful architecture.
The basic architectural elements of domes and minarets that make up most mosques would be familiar to anyone who has ever visited a classic example. However, as with cathedrals and temples throughout various parts of the world, such elements are not dictated by strict religious based design requirements, but simply reflections of built cultural legacies adopted through the ages.
When architect Glenn Murcutt was invited by a Melbourne based Islamic community to design a new mosque, he insisted from the beginning that it should be a modern interpretation, reflecting the relatively young, primarily Australian born, congregation.
Murcutt was born in England to Australian parents in 1936. He grew up in a province of New Guinea before the family settled down in Sydney after the Second World War. After graduating in 1961 from Sydney Technical College, Murcutt engaged in work experience with various architects before setting up his own practice in 1969. Since then, he has produced a body of work that exhibits the regional sensibilities and attention to detail that follows from his unwavering motto, ‘touch the earth lightly’. Although he works exclusively within Australia, his international influence is such that, in addition to numerous awards and medals over the years, he was the recipient in 2002 of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.
Approaching the mosque, two elements immediately stand out; the dramatic angular concrete wall and the bright gold box forms atop the roof. The wall, created in situ, is an abstract representation of a traditional minaret, to be eventually topped with a decorative gold crescent. The box forms, actually triangular in shape, act both as skylights for the interior and passive ventilation units, dissipating hot air in the summer months. From inside they appear as coloured lanterns, painted to represent various hues associated with Islam.
Glass is used generously throughout the building, representing a transparency and openness that the congregation wishes to express to the wider local community. The eastern entrance is lined with glass pivot doors whilst the women’s area upstairs is encompassed by walls of glass louvres. The west side, or kiblah (facing Mecca), looks through a wall of glass onto a pond which, enclosed in concrete walls, provides an oasis like tranquillity. Tall slim steel columns add to the overall openness and lightness of the interior with the lanterns and water feature providing a dynamic play of movement and colour over the walls and ceiling.
The mosque provides the Newport Islamic community with a modern place of worship that nonetheless expresses the traditional values and forms of their faith. It is also an undeniably open and welcoming space for all who wish to visit.