Cambridge Central Mosque
Civic Trust Awards
Level of Award
Local Authority Area
Information about this scheme
The Abu Bakr Mosque in Cambridge became too small for its growing congregation. In 2009 an international design competition was launched to select a design team.
Research revealed that for centuries and throughout the world, mosques have adapted to local cultural and climatic conditions and adopted the local vernacular. The intention was to develop a contemporary design, of its place and time yet reflecting both the Islamic and British sacred traditions, asking– how should a British mosque be designed for the 21st Century?
The idea emerged of a calm oasis within a grove of trees, inspired by the garden of paradise, with its water fountain symbolising the source of all life. Inspired by elements from both Islamic and British religious architectural traditions – including Cordoba, Spain and innovative fan vaulting in Kings college chapel, Cambridge. The design incorporates Islamic geometric art. The guiding geometry is The Breath of the Compassionate, a historic Islamic pattern evoking the rhythms of life. This was adapted to become an interwoven lattice vaulted structure, supporting the roof by a series of timber ‘trees’. Rooflights above the trees maximise natural light. A dome symbolises the vault of heaven.
The overall impression is of calm, stillness, stability, quiet and focus, with a strong sense of place. The massing is respectful of its residential context, enabling the building to both fit in and stand out. The ablution areas are lower, allowing the building services to be hidden on their roof. The prayer hall, the principal and tallest block, is set deep in the site and turns to face Mecca.
At the rear accommodation for the Imam and visiting scholars are lower and more private. Worshipers and visitors take a journey from the busy street through a procession of spaces, enabling a gradual transition from the day-to-day mundane world to a reflective more spiritual one. First, they pass through a public community garden, then an Islamic garden with fountain, through to a portico, then the atrium where shoes are removed, then ablutions spaces for ceremonial washing, and finally to the Prayer Hall. The brick tile cladding utilises both local vernacular materials, and Islamic sacred traditions. The brick tiles reflect the light buff colour ‘Gault’ Cambridgeshire brick with red accents.
Also taking inspiration from masonry Islamic architecture across the Middle East, the tiles have been arranged to form Square Kufic Arabic calligraphy, with protruding red headers saying “say he is God (the) one”. Stone parapet crenellations symbolise the meeting of heaven and earth.
The mosque will be nondenominational, inclusive, open and welcoming to the whole community. It is a meeting place and a cultural bridge where modernity and innovation meet timeless sacred principles. It also hopes to be one of the UK’s leading women friendly mosques.
Cambridge Mosque Trust
Marks Barfield Architects
Price & Myers
Skelly & Couch
Faithful & Gould
Emma Clark with Urquhart & Hunt
Professor Keith Critchlow
Approved Building Control Inspector
Smith & Wallwork
Primary Use Class
Class D1h - Public Worship