Why are some recent mosques not “beautiful” like many built in the past?
Various answers can be given to this question, but the conclusion we want to draw in a short way is: The problem is that each of today’s mosques does not have a separate design story.
On the contrary, they are mass produced like buildings (apartment, school, etc.) and other products of the consumption and industrial age. However, all public buildings, including mosques, should be the product of a specially designed architectural imagination.
Undoubtedly, Ottoman mosque architecture gave Islam an important image. As it was valid in the pre-Islamic period, he added the minaret form to the dome (for example, basilica domes), which was used to close the large openings of all monumental structures, and also reached proportional simplicity and perfection. In addition to this contribution of Ottoman mosque architecture in general, behind each mosque, there is a design specially designed by an architect for that mosque.
Let’s repeat; Most of today’s mosques do not have a separate design story and identity. Two conditions are required for a building to produce its own “singular and original” stamp of a culture: First, the inclusion of general motifs that distinguish that culture from others, and secondly, a separate and original architectural design that gives a trace to each structure.
The mosque is both a place of worship and a socialization and gathering place, and the identifier of the integrity that the residential areas create together with its other buildings. For example; A mosque defines a village where the Muslim community lives and connects the square and other social spaces. Therefore, the mosque is not just a physical structure, it is a structure that defines civil and social identity and should be impressive. It should guide everyday life like a lighthouse.
On “Modern Mosque’…
Why do our new mosques not affect us architecturally as much as the old ones? What is missing? Why are mosques increasingly worthless in terms of architecture?
The most important feature of Turkish-Islamic architecture is that it has an unfailing proportion. Whether it is called the golden ratio or the conformity to human dimensions (ergonomics), the most important thing is the fundamental role played by this infallible ratio in Turkish-Islamic architecture. For example, when looking at traditional selatin mosques such as Selimiye or Süleymaniye, the main architectural point that affects people is not the mere size of the space, but the order and proportion of the building that surrounds the person. This magnificent balance reminds the ear how small it actually is. Undoubtedly, the ratio has been revealed with great experience and mastery in order to establish a static balance from stone, to solve the acoustic problem and finally to produce an aesthetic value in huge mosques. In addition, the same aesthetic balance can be seen in the unique narthex space opened by the narrow stairs of the Rüstempaşa Mosque, which can be considered a relatively small mosque with a similar splendor, and in the revel of blue tiles inside the mosque. For example; Sabancı Mosque in Adana is big, yes, but not as “big” as a Rüstempaşa Mosque.
We see mosques deprived of architectural proportion and understanding everywhere, from small villages to larger settlements. On the other hand, the requests of associations to build mosques to “have four minarets” or “to have two or even three balconies in each minaret” often do not have justifications based on architectural design. As a result of the decisions that are sacrificed to new construction technologies and customized according to the community’s own choice, mosques that are not “beautiful” result. For example; Requests for two or more minarets in the absence of resources in the association, the decision to make a mosque larger than the previous one at each meeting, or the Istanbul Dolmabahçe Mosque form brought by a familiar architect or journeyman from the association, reproduced by photocopy.
The Mimar Sinan Mosque, named after our legendary sensitive architect, who worked hard to be trained for the 2012 Ramadan in Ataşehir, comes upon you as a gray block that came out of the reinforced concrete mold even when you pass by the car while it is being built. Doesn’t this mosque, which was built in record time and consists of cubic meters of concrete and iron, make you a little sad when compared to Süleymaniye, Selimiye, which is known to be made of massive stone?
Is it possible to reconstruct the classical type of mosque, that the elements such as the dome, minaret and balcony are identical to the Ottoman Mosque, down to its proportions, the workmanship and details are drawn from stone mosques, even if they are meticulously drawn, and concrete is poured into the molds? You should know that it means nothing to most people, it does not bring any innovations or features. How valuable is it to stay true to the rules of classical mosque details, to redraw them with computer programs, to pour them into molds with state-of-the-art fast-setting additive concrete, and to say “We know the classic very well”? It is not very meaningful to discuss the architectural genius of Mimar Sinan. However, avoiding the ease of making copies of Sinan, which is as pointless as this one, is briefly hiding behind Sinan and wrestling on the run.
Too much ornament is murder
Some architects say “too much ornament is murder”. Ornament can only be meaningful if it is based on a reasonable balance between aesthetics and necessity. In general, Islamic decorative arts contain a rich culture in which geometric and organic forms are used. The pursuit of exaggerated ornaments is against architectural depth. Decorating some of today’s mosques with stencils imported by computer is a superficial experiment not only in terms of architecture, but also in terms of calligraphy and illumination arts.
We have settled opinions about the mosque form: “The mosque must have a dome”, “The minarets of the mosque should be like this, the more balconies the better”. However, our main problem is this: What is the new mosque model that we will put forward in harmony with the past, which is suitable for the nature of the world we live in today? Does our conservatism on mosque architecture prevent us from creating new and contemporary mosque forms?
This article does not imply the use of domes, minarets and other heritage items. Searching for the ways of pure and intellectual design values that can use a “humility” such as having a covered and clean place for a Muslim to pray, good designers are concerned about building sustainable, proud and identity mosques by uniting members of tolerant communities.
There is also the danger that something will not happen if we want to build a modern mosque, separate ideas of “fly-and-fly”, and make the mosque different. There is nothing to be gained on that front. The idea that we will build a modern mosque is so much discussed and abused that those who dare sometimes show such ignorant courage that the examples “If it were to be an imitation of Mimar Sinan Mosque, it wouldn’t be so bad.” it says. Again we go back to where we came from.
Some solutions can be suggested to overcome all these problems. The first is that at least the construction of mosques in our big cities is done with architectural project competitions. Competition is a very important method for a building to form its own identity. The construction of mosques with no competition, bespoke or even standard type projects should be prevented. In smaller places, instead of applying to journeymen or acquaintances, it is necessary to work with architects who will work with the community again from the pools of architects and mosque design, who will work with them – perhaps they will become members of that association. The Presidency of Religious Affairs has a great responsibility in this regard.
The second suggestion is to consider the context relationship between mosque and social structure. A mosque in an industrial site and a mosque in a city center should be considered differently. “Where does the congregation come from in this mosque?” The question is important in terms of architectural and cultural identification. Each mosque should be designed in accordance with the social fabric in which it is built.
The short and long term benefits and disadvantages of constructing a 1500-person mosque in a village with a population of 500 should be considered. Mosques should not be energy consumption centers. How mosques will be heated and cooled is an important preliminary decision. There are maintenance costs. Whose right is it to decide that the mosque should have more than one minaret and two or three balconies from each?
The construction, preservation and renewal of the mosque is such an important issue that ignoring them means destroying the total value of the holy places we have. One day, even if we take into account the mosques of Mimar Sinan, the danger of not being able to preserve the total value is at the door.
This article has been translated into English by shortening from Emine MERDIM’s related article.
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