The new Cambridge mosque will be a stunning piece of design

Cambridge's controversial new ‘super-mosque' promises inspiring architecture that assimilates, rather than rejects, its surrounding influences, says Adam Thelwall...

This city has a troubled religious history, but a colourful architectural one. So when the Mawson Road Mosque began exceeding its capacity (leaving locals praying on the street), the Cambridge Mosque Project stepped in with a suitably ambitious plan for a new ‘super-mosque' on an old brownfield site.

This was the natural step forward; however there has been a notable backlash from an anti-Islamist platform, especially the English Defence League, with the main (stated) reservation being predicted congestion problems.

This new mosque, however, actually fits right into Cambridge's long architectural tradition, and promises, from the building's newly-revealed designs, at least, to be a positive addition to the city and its culture.

A quick internet search directs you to a stunning animated video of what the mosque will look like: a line of trees running up to a two-story porch supported by great wooden columns, which branch and fan out into a knotted wooden canopy. This impressive naturalistic style is continued into the prayer room, topped with a small but traditional golden dome.

This is in addition to its practical benefits: the new ‘eco' building is hoped to include teaching and research facilities, a library and even a restaurant, which certainly plays to the strengths of an international research city.

As an example, trees have deep roots in Cantabrian architecture - take the foliage-topped Corinthian columns which grace Pembroke chapel and the Fitzwilliam Museum.

The city's Modernist mid-20th century architecture which also attempts to mimic trees, this time in straight concrete supports.

All are very much in the same vein of bringing nature to man-made structures, and nowhere have I seen such a bold and vivid semblance to this as in the plans for the new mosque.

Furthermore, it soon becomes apparent that the mosque's design assimilates rather than rejects its surrounding cultures, particularly in its Western influences. The prayer room walls are white and are missing the colourful mosaics of eastern Islamic architecture. The knotted wooden ceiling (that mimics the ceiling of an orchard so well) ends up looking very much like the ribbed vaulting seen in traditional gothic architecture. Something the mosque will have in common with King's College Chapel.

This is one of the many reasons why the EDL's protests against the mosque seem absurd, even ridiculous. Their argument that Islamic assimilation is not taking place does not translate architecturally. This is not to suggest that the mosque necessarily should emulate the architecture around it, but the fact that it does shows just how insubstantial the EDL's opposition is.

The building seems to be a stunning and well-balanced Western-Islamic piece, which nestles quietly into its surroundings. Half of the building faces Mecca and half of it follows the lines of the road on which is sits. By contrast, King's College Chapel is a towering gothic structure that sits, very proud and conspicuous, on the parade. I know which I find more intimidating.

In fact, gothic architecture is said to have been initially inspired by Eastern and Islamic designs. With this in mind one could even argue that the city would be incomplete without a mosque – since Islamic and Easter architecture has provided an important influence to some of the old gothic parts of Cambridge.

But although the council rejected claims that the dome is "needlessly provocative", campaigners and vandals alike have continued to protest the construction on political grounds.

In reality, the biggest barrier still left is a financial one: with millions of pounds left to raise (the total cost of the project will be £17.5 million), the Cambridge Mosque Project is still asking for small donations by text to raise the money, ‘brick by brick'. Each brick is £1.40 by the way.

But I say, watch the designer's video. The plans are a new and interesting development for Cambridge, and suggest that the institution will fit into, embrace, and contribute positively to the city as a whole, whilst allowing us all to celebrate the fact that Cambridge continues to attract such exciting architecture.

Adam Thelwall is a second-year Natural Scientist at Fitzwilliam College.

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