Bait-ur-Rauf; a mosque designed by Marina Tabassum, in 2010 is a simple structure that seamlessly blends in its context. The mosque is devoid of a dome or a minaret as the architect believes that it is important that the religious center must have a spiritual essence. Rather than focusing on its formal articulation to resemble the existing stereotypical image of a mosque.
Symbolism is one of the strongest forms of communication that exist globally, we often categorize certain symbols with meaning. The power of symbolism extends in the realm of architecture as well; a very common example of that could be how a cross sign symbolizes the church. Although in contemporary times once in a while we come across a structure that denies the stereotypical approach yet stands as a successful and functional space. Thus the design of the mosque was more focused on creating an aura of calmness and tranquility that helps the user to connect with the higher power. The architect uses the element of contrast, texture light, and shadow to evoke a sense of spirituality.
Contrast of Material of Bait-Ur-Rauf
The contrast created through the material and the light and shadow keeps the user constantly engage with the surrounding at Bait-Ur-Rauf. Terracotta bricks and concrete were used in a rhythmic pattern that was further amplified with the play of light. When the sunlight washes the terracotta brick, it reflects the raw texture of the material. Almost the purest of its form, that is symbolical to the relation of God to human pure and raw.
The Experience hidden behind the Austerity of the Structure
Purity and simplicity are the two key concepts of Islam, the architect intends to respect them. Therefore the structure on the exterior had no ornamentation, and instead, it appears as a simple platonic form made of terracotta bricks. Platonic form being a contemporary expression while the bricks date back to the Sultanate period. Such a balance of modern and traditional was almost like a metaphor for the placement of the mosque. The mosque was situated on the periphery of a dense urban setting juxtaposed with the rural context.
The cube structure on the exterior never gives away the serene atmosphere that it creates in interior spaces through the play of light and shadow; creating textures and patterns on floors and walls, the movement of light throughout the day, and the flooding of indirect light in the interior spaces. The patterned brick wall and the perforated roof create an interesting pattern of light and shadow in the interior spaces. Further, the pattern is not a static experience, the movement makes it more enticing. The light pattern is continuously transforming throughout the day giving the user a unique experience five times a day. The architect uses a strategy of layering and rotating the forms to create voids. These voids act as light wells that flood the prayer hall with indirect sunlight.
Systematic Layering of Forms at Bait-Ur-Rauf
The structure was created through a systematic layering of a cube rotated at 13 degrees inserted into a cylinder. The structure is shifted towards the northwest and inserted into the cube, which is the exterior layer of the structure. Such layering articulates a journey from profane to sacred; at each step, the user is disconnected and isolated from the outside world yet the anticipation to connect with the god increases. The first layer expands beyond the exterior wall, the structure is surrounded by platform stairs. These stairs act as a hardscape, material distinguishing the platform stairs from the surrounding dirt roads. The platform stairs are the first threshold of the journey, it becomes a space for social interaction. It is a space where people sit together to share religious thoughts, kids are playing, people waiting for prayer, etc.
The second step is when the person enters the larger courtyard that connects to the ablution area on the east edge. The thick wall disconnects the user from the outer world, preparing him for the prayer. Although the courtyard and the ablution area provide the worshippers to have interaction. The third layer gathers people into a communal prayer hall where people pray together. The communal prayer hall opens into smaller courtyards that become the private pockets for prayers. Further, the communal hall opens up to a colonnade at the southern edge; a transitional space that leads the user towards private resting and praying quarters.
Mihrab-A penetrating light
Each typology has its certain requirement similarly a mosque isn’t complete without a mihrab. Mihrab acts as guidance for the worshippers directing them towards the qibla. The rotation of the form wasn’t a random gesture instead it was a conscious decision of the architect; aligning the cube perpendicular to the qibla and framing it through a large opening. Instead of creating a segregated space to mark as the mihrab, the architect used the architectural element of opening to mark it. A long splayed slit opening carved in the cylinder at the center of the mihrab, thus the light filtering in through the opening became a marker for qibla. The thickness of the wall and the splayed edges allowed the light to filter in while maintaining the privacy of the prayer hall.
Dual Construction Technique at Bait-Ur-Rauf
The amalgamation of load-bearing walls and concrete frame structures completes the entire structure. The outer perimeter is load-bearing walls made up of unplastered terracotta brick. The application of vernacular techniques and material was due to historical and utilitarian purposes further it also helped the structure to blend in its context. The concrete frame spans the prayer hall, the requirement of the space was a free floor plan which was difficult to attain with an area of 23m x23m and load-bearing walls. Thus the interior prayer hall was a free floor plan with eight monolithic columns of the periphery.
“Good design is a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our need so well that design is invisible”. Don Norman
The mosque Bait-ur-Rauf designed by Marina Tabassum is the epitome of good design as it seamlessly blends in its context. The mosque lacks any form of ornamentation instead it uses natural light, a basic requirement to create an anticipating experience.
Aqsa is an architecture student and a self-taught writer. With a keen interest in urban planning and cartography. She believes that words are the fourth or the unseen dimension of a space that can enable people to connect to spaces more than ever thus aiming to empower the architecture community through her voice.