Later today the winner of the World Architecture Festival 2013 Best Building of the Year will be announced, and the unusual underground Sancaklar Mosque designed by Emre Arolat Architects from Turkey, is one of the contenders.
One of the most prestigious award festivals in the industry, the World Architecture Festival is being held at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Conference center in Singapore, an impressive structure designed by Moshe Safdie.
The Sancaklar Mosque recognized as the Best Religious Building will go on to contend in the overall prize, which last year went to Gardens by the Bay designed by Williamson Eyre Architects. This remarkable urban reclamation project is also located in Singapore.
Departing from standard mosque designs, the Sancaklar Mosque located in Buyuk Cekmece, a suburban neighborhood in the outskirts of Istanbul, features a cavernous underground worship hall imbued with a special spiritual reverence.
The architects note in their brief that their design “aims to address the fundamental issues of designing a mosque by distancing itself from the current architectural discussions based on form and focusing solely on the essence of religious space.”
Whereas most mosques throughout the Middle East are easily identified by a few defining features, such as the minaret, Emre Arolat Architects dared to step away from the status quo in order to create a magical space free of dogma.
In part they did this by establishing a very firm boundary between the mosque complex and the nearby suburban environment and highway with tall walls; only a long canopy reached from the upper courtyard is visible from outside the park. But the real magic lies below.
A deep cave-like space features slits and fractures along the Qiblah wall which not only enhance the directionality of the prayer space, but also allows daylight to penetrate the prayer hall.
“The project constantly plays off of the tension between man-made and natural,” write the designers. “The contrast between the natural stone stairs following the natural slope of the landscape and the thin reinforced concrete slab spanning over 6 meters to form the canopy helps enhance this dual relationship.”
Cleverly integrated into the topography, this mosque offers calm and tranquility among the madness. It really is one of the most spectacular religious structures we’ve come across (except this mosque in Malaysia, perhaps.) The World Architecture Festival judges are with us, apparently.
“The project captured the spiritual essence of a mosque without being referential,” they said.
Given that it is up against a slew of other really impressive projects, we would be very surprised if the project scoops the grand prize. But no matter. It has achieved worldwide recognition and will hopefully inspire other architects in the region to be more imaginative with their own religious designs.