The origin of the mosque

  • Johan van Ee / master architecture / architecture and interior

Johan van Ee (Master of Architecture) designed a mosque for North Amsterdam. “The rise of the Islam as part of ‘Dutch’ culture has been a much debated topic over the past years. Although the Netherlands has a strong bond with the Islam through its colonial past, and for some time was one of the largest Islamic countries in the world, the topic of the ‘homeland’ remains a sensitive issue. The mosque, a physical representation of the Islam, has become the ultimate symbol of this struggle. There are very few building projects that have caused so much commotion and have given rise to so much association and emotion.

 

Over the past years, this public attention has also brought about a debate in the world of architecture. However, instead of gaining more depth this discussion, as I see it, has mainly led to deterioration and dogma. There appear to be only two options: a Western-oriented mosque that conforms to Western ideals or a mosque that evokes nostalgia for the homeland and corresponds to the origins of the different communities. The word mosque, which is derived through Spanish from the Arabic masjid, literally means ‘place of prostration’. But very little consideration is given to this background and the distinctive function, and thereby the religious origins of the building.

Not a Western variant or ‘nostalgia mosque’

So the problem isn’t the translation of a classical representation into a contemporary ‘Western’ variant, but rather the creation of a new awareness about the meaning and function of the building. And based on this awareness, to design a building that is embedded in contemporary society and thanks to that awareness can enter into dialogue within its social and architectural context. After analysing the Islamic origins, the Qur’an and Sunna, I put together a document outlining the essential principles for a mosque. This yielded a number of distinctive themes, such as the familiar references, but also themes such as accessibility and zoning, which have quite an impact on the plan.

 

I hope that this study can offer an alternative frame of reference. Culture and architecture, but also certainly religion, need to remain in dynamic dialogue with the present. Without this interaction, culture crumbles, architecture crumbles and religion crumbles and becomes an empty shell. An empty collection of rituals and formalities, without or with forgotten meaning. Whereas this meaning is precisely what constitutes the essence of faith.”