For the new Preston mosque, we have adopted a “land art” approach unifying landscape and architecture to create a powerful and iconic gesture that culminates in the mosque, a contemporary landmark that abstractly distils the essence of Islamic religious spaces.
The project is conceived as a dome-shaped steel lattice structure and shell that covers the various programmatic spaces of the mosque and embraces the exterior lush gardens surrounding the prayer hall. Whereas the intertwining steel members are topped with composite steel panels above the interior spaces, they are clad with white steel sheets, laser cut with an abstract geometric pattern, reminiscent of ancient Islamic arabesque designs. Other than a cladding, they allow natural light to filter through while maintaining a sense of privacy. The rectangular shaped main prayer hall, adjoining the peripheral gardens, is enclosed with transparent glazing. This visually extends the space further till the edge of the dome, enhancing the experience of the worshippers immeasurably by merging the sacredness of the prayer hall with the primordial elements of Nature. The mihrab, minbar and muezzin’s platform, however, are all treated as a marbled niche, with the mihrab in the middle, as the focal point of the prayer hall.
Geometrically the design is derived from a square (encompassing the areas of both male and female prayer halls) inscribed within a circle. The double volume space is articulated with arches along its edges as well as its ceiling. The resulting intersecting arches are reminiscent of a “muqarnas” detail in traditional Islamic architecture. They also provide rigidity to the structural envelope of the building. Situated on a mezzanine level, the female prayer hall overlooks the space below through a patterned stone screen.
The main prayer hall’s floor level is raised 1.5 meters to accommodate beneath it a multi-purpose hall giving onto an external sunken garden. This arrangement enables the communal space to function as a venue on its own while elevating the prayer spaces for privacy and away from the noise. The entrance to the mosque provides a transitional experience by removing the worshippers from their external worlds. A sculptural staircase hovers over the sunken garden and crosses underneath the perforated steel screens to reach the foyer of the prayer hall. This monumental vestibule, part building part landscape, ushers the faithful through an exceptional ephemeral experience towards the sacred duty of prayer.
On the urban scale, the mosque achieves its prominence by its simple formal quality. The circular shaped plan contrasts sharply with the linearity of the M55 overpass creating a dynamic composition that varies from its context while being easily perceived from its surrounding. Conceptually the dome reverberates in concentric ripples on the whole site by defining first a “sahn” (courtyard) around the mosque, an ambulatory space fit for public consumption and informal meetings. The parking arrangement extends this layout radially outwards, using the same basalt pavers. When empty, the car park is indistinguishable from the “sahn”, and presents itself as a malleable extension of the public forum, which can be appropriated by the community as it sees fit.