In different cultures and in different time periods, places of worship have been traditionally adorned with symbols of devotion; architectural ornament, sculpture and other decorative mediums were used to teach doctrine, as well as create places for prayer. Temples, churches or mosques were designed to encourage worshippers to contemplate divine mysteries and offer prayers to the higher powers. For this reason, architectural design of a prayer space has always played a significant role in religious experience: it was the architect who took on the bulk of the responsibility for the success of a spiritual journey of a believer. In proposing various designs of generic spatial forms that will meet conditions and needs of the generation of the cosmopolitan Islamic community, the project examines notions of the generic in contemporary mosque architecture. Generic design is here defined as a set of foundational rules that I extracted from my study of historical Islamic architecture, which can then be applied to different sites and different communities in order to create variation in design. In this context, transformation is anticipated as the inner quality of a spatial system to be tested throughout time. Generic design principles represent the essence of an architect’s vocabulary. On the one hand, they enable a designer to develop a stylistic and conceptual continuity with the past. At the same time, they allow him to execute spatial transformations in response to the religious, political, economic, and technological changes while developing elements that make a particular design his own.
The project Generic Mosque revolves around three main concepts: beauty – based on Islamic geometry as a spatial expression of the Islamic doctrine; transformation – achieved through the extraction of rules from historical Islamic architecture and their reinterpretation within the contemporary context; and flexibility – seen in the resulting set of design elements that can be employed flexibly in different projects. These architectural concepts establish an original architectural grammar of a mosque, which can than be adapted, changed or re-used by a certain Islamic community towards new formal interpretations. The resulting project will point out the variable nature of a mosque – being able to switch between religious and secular functions — and its transformative character — changing its typology when assimilating architectural and programmatic elements of different cultures or other building types. While reinterpreting historical elements of a mosque, it will synthesize learning and the interacting between Muslim and non-Muslim cultures as well as enable spatial aggregation of diverse Muslim sub-cultures and their religious practices.
Azra Akšamija, Generic Mosque, 2004
mixed media (40 hexagonal posters on wooden frames, wire models, 15 min. video)
Place: Princeton, USA. Thesis project for M.Arch. degree at Princeton University, School of Architecture. Advisors: Jesse Reiser, Thomas Leisten. Thanks to: Jason Anderson, William Hartzog, Mathew Haseltine, Ash Lettow, Brian Melcher, John Morrison, David Rhöse, Beth Stryker, Mersiha Veledar, Michael Young, Leslie Witt.