Striking structure

A mosque in Australia: Candalepas Associates Architects have built a new place of worship for the Muslim community in Punchbowl near Sydney
by Anna Moldenhauer | 8/15/2019

A mosque that unsettles our viewing habits with its architecture: No minaret and just a flat dome positioned off-center on a concrete structure that looks surprisingly simple seen from the outside. With their colors matching the dark grey of the façade, even the typical star and crescent are hard to make out at first glance. Angelo Candalepas at Candalepas Associates has designed a place of worship for the Muslim community of the city of Punchbowl outside Sydney that combines the traditional elements of Islamic architecture with modern ideas. The result is an exciting ensemble of curves and edges rising up from a square footprint.

Inside the building the architects have re-interpreted the traditional muqarnas, the stalactite vaulting that makes up an element of Islamic architecture, in concrete. On two sides of the prayer room the small half-domes continue up from the walls to the ceiling dome, in this way arching over a part of the hall like a honeycomb structure. Each of them has been fitted out with a small round window that allows daylight to enter the space, creating a myriad of tiny dots of light in the main prayer hall that rise up to the dome, which is in turn adorned with a large round window. The wood paneling used in this large dome gives the incident light an especially warm hue that continues into the deeper spiral turns made of concrete. The vaulting further lends the high-ceilinged hall a cave-like feel that greets the visitor with a calm atmosphere. To round things off, one of the 99 names of Allah is written in gold in calligraphic letters in each of the semi-domes: These names stand for different characteristics of God, such as “the compassionate” or “the holy”.

The architects have solved the issue of the traditional division of the believers by gender by adding a mezzanine floor to the interior of the mosque, which is clad in vertical wooden slats. The slim gaps between the rounded pieces of wood allow the interplay of light and shadow from the main dome to carry forward into the corners of the prayer rooms. Before entering these, the believers traditionally prepare themselves by performing ritual ablutions. Instead of opting for the common practice of placing the ablutions area in the mosque courtyard, Angelo Candalepas has made it part of the building and consciously pared it back: Fair-faced concrete dominates the elongated spaces. Just like in the main hall, here the architects have again moderated the coldness of the coarse material with light wood accents: This provides a visual counter balance as paneling for the seating cubes, the shelf space and door knobs. The rigorous lines of the water drainage on the floor and the rows of taps are contrasted by the vaulted ceiling. After the mosque is completed, further buildings are to be created for the community on the premises. Visitors to the mosque need not worry about where to park, either: A generously sized car park was built underneath the mosque.

Boral's "Envisia" Concrete at Punchbowl Mosque, Sydney