On Monday 17 September 2018 two of our committee members (and one ex-member) were honoured to have a guided tour of the new, nearly-completed Cambridge Mosque in Romsey Town.
The new mosque was designed by the late David Marks, a Jewish architect who, along with Julia Barfield, invented and designed the London Eye. One has to say that Dr Winter, being the son of an architect himself, has recruited a professional who has created a stunning gem for Cambridge.
The most stunning aspect, at ground level, must be the structural supporting timbers manufactured in Switzerland and erected in Cambridge by a joint team of Swiss craftsmen and Irish construction workers.
To each side of the main entrance, which will look out onto gardens, into which the whole community will be welcome, will be a community meeting-room (to the west) and a café (to the east).
The timber deliberately – and effectively, in the view of this honoured visitor – evokes trees in a forest.
Natural daylight floods the main prayer hall from the ‘forest canopy’ of the structural timber trees. This is in tune with the desire to create a world-class eco-mosque of which all of our communities – Cambridge’s Muslims of many traditions, the wider Cambridge community, and the Mill Road ‘community of communities’ can be justifiably proud.
Whilst female and male worshippers pray separately, in practice the degree of separation in different traditions has considerable variation, explained Islamic scholar and academic, Dr Winter. Some sisters do not want to be on view by the brothers whilst praying, others wish to be in the sisters’ own area but feel no need to be obscured. Whist there will be a sisters’ gallery, building permanent physical separation in the main prayer hall, would take no account of variations in different Islamic traditions, nor of potential future variations in the proportion of sisters vis-à-vis bothers worshipping.
The Cambridge Mosque Trust will not follow or expect adherence to any particular school of Islam and will welcome worshippers from every part of the Muslim family, of both genders. [from Cambridge Mosque Trust’s Mission Statement]
The solution? A beautiful, intricately-carved, moveable wooden screen will be constructed, which will delicately taper from above 2 m in height by one wall to reach ground level at some point across the prayer-hall. Any sister, from any tradition should, thus, be able to find a prayer-space with which she is comfortable.
The octagonal windows, high in the wall, and the arched windows of the dome will have an extra layer of coloured glass in islamic patterns.
We even speculated whether Cambridge City Sightseeing bus tour might, in future, run via Mill Road.
Well, the dome, clad in gold-effect copper-anodised zinc, would look spectacular from an open-top tourist bus.
On the less-visible parts of the roof will be eco-friendly, sustainable energy equipment – photovoltaic arrays and air-source heat-pumps* – together with rainwater harvesting apparatus.
[*Whilst ground-source heat-pumps have some advantages over air-source – particularly at low air-temperatures – the large underground car-park and the height of the water-table on the site ruled this out as an option, Dr Winter explained.]
One can see how the sustainable energy installations will go a long way towards fulfilling the plan to be Europe’s first eco-mosque.
Reflecting Islam’s contribution to contemporary debates over sustainability, the mosque will incorporate significant design features which will minimise carbon emission and emphasise the role of faith in promoting responsible management of the earth’s resources. [from Cambridge Mosque Trust’s Mission Statement]
The edges of the roof will be finished with crenellation stones cut in an English quarry, to be fitted by an Irish company.
The international sourcing of the mosque will be completed inside with marble flooring from Spain, and oak panelling from Northern Ireland, whilst service access grilles will be comprised of wooden decorative panels.
Exterior walls will be finished off with tile cladding evoking Cambridge’s Victorian bricks – whites with red detail – and the alternating red and white brick and stone elements of (eg) the Mosque of Cordoba, in beautiful patterns of Islamic calligraphy.
Site Manager Stephen Rodgers remarked that a number of Belfast construction workers are about to become the province’s leading experts on Islamic calligraphy. He probably wasn’t joking: any tiling errors would need to be dismantled and re-clad!
The mosque is due to open in January 2019. (This visitor was relieved that this would be well before the Brexit deadline caused any potential hiccoughs – or worse – to supply chains and the availability of specialised workers.)
If you are equally impatient to see the wonders of the new Cambridge Mosque. Take a look at the Cambridge Mosque Trust’s photographic gallery.