The mosque that wasn’t

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Everyone knows that competitions are a bittersweet thing, at best. This one was a heartbreaker—an open two-stager for a new mosque in Punggol, in Singapore. Our team (Lekker as design consultants, with Ong Ker Shing Architecture as architects) made it as far as the final round, but no dice. The sweet part, and the bitter also, was that we really loved the scheme. In fact, we think it was one of the best projects to have come out of our office, ever. It imagined a mosque that was totally open to the elements: in effect, a cluster of small towers covered by a roof. The view above shows the elevation at the main approach. The area around is rather blank, so the scheme was meant to read as as having a strange, localized density. It was a kind of urban microcosm—so we built it up quite dramatically at the perimeter.

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This view shows our approach to the main space. One of the many amazing design traditions of the mosque is a kind of causal-ness, which grows from abstraction. The sacredness of the prayer hall is not emphasized in a Western way. While focused toward the Qiblat wall, it need not be symmetrical or “centralized” in the tradition of, say, Catholicism. We wanted to try to capture this quality of the best mosques, which establish a powerful spiritual presence through abstract means. Note, also, the strangely assertive presence of the trees; we wanted this mosque to be highly ambiguous about being either an interior or exterior space.

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A lot of design attention was paid to the “touchpoints” of the mosque, especially those furnitures which are part of the preparatory process for worship: for removing and storing shoes (above), as well as shelving for the Quran and the spaces for ablution (these are shown below).

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The upper levels of the blocks contained many support spaces, classrooms, and community facilities. These were connected via a series of bridges that overlook the prayer hall.

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Elevation showing rain-screens in an evolving Arabesque pattern.

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This view captures the feel of the prayer hall. The ceiling was lifted from the surrounding blocks by a beam system, designed in collaboration with Web Structures.

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A section through the prayer hall and qiblat wall.

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The shelving system for the Quran was made for accessibility, for the young as well as wheelchair-bound visitors.

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Ablution spaces were a focus of the design. These were intended to be materially intricate, and simple in a way that would encourage a meditative atmosphere. These were understood, in both symbolic and practical senses, as a transition to the experience of prayer.

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A plan of the ground floor, showing the organization of towers and open spaces.

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Project title: New Punggol Mosque Competition

Design Consultants: Lekker Design

Architects: Ong Ker-Shing Architecture

Location: Singapore

Project year: 2013

Project Team: Ong Ker-Shing, Joshua Comaroff, Shunann Chen