Ugly modernist plan for Olympic mosque

Could Britain’s mosques ever compete with the east’s great places of worship?

This article featured in yesterday’s Guardian’s G2 supplement, and unlike the online version it had a picture of the new proposed mosque in east London, which is meant to be part of some showcase for the 2012 Olympics. Much as I detest the Islamophobic bigotry behind a lot of the anti-mosque campaigning, I have huge reservations about building a large showcase mosque in that part of town, which already has dozens of mosques. Apart from anything else, the upward pressure on house prices is likely to price a lot of local Muslims out of the market, making it something of a white elephant.

However, yesterday’s article brought up another concern, namely the architecture, which is to be another glass-heavy modernist atrocity. You can see artists’ impressions of it here and according to the Guardian yesterday:

The building presents little in the way of conventional facades, much less the kind of Ali Baba-style domes and minarets Britain tends to see on its mosques. Only from the air will its Islamic identity be overt: its plan, based on Arabic calligraphy, will resemble a prayer from the Qu’ran.

Given that much is being made of the environmental credentials of the new mosque, which is to be built next to the Channelsea river and use its tidal power to generate electricity, I don’t think that having its “real meaning” visible only from an aeroplane is really consistent. And I really detest the way the whole of traditional Islamic architecture is dismissed as “Ali Baba style” and “conventional” as if it all pales in comparison with this proposal for a building, when a lot of Muslims might simply say that the building does not look like a mosque. Traditional styles have evolved the way they have for a reason, and many “iconic” modern buildings have proven less than fit for purpose - often too hot or expensive to heat, and hated by those who have to use them.

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