Venice Biennale 2021 – Three British Mosques
The 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale explores the way in which cultures collide: how we blend, merge, adapt. The history of the mosque in Britain embodies this process in the way it incrementally reshapes space and the urban fabric with its own language. Any group of people can start a mosque, simply by establishing congregational worship in any space they designate as being for prayer. Most mosques have been created through the adaptation of existing buildings, which range from houses, shops, cinemas, pubs and other former places of worship. It is an organic process of architectural development, highly responsive to the immediate circumstances of the congregation. These mosques are in a continuous state of flux, as the community grows and its needs change, the buildings are continuously adapted to meet these changes. Grass-rooted, designed and in many cases built by its users, the mosque has generated an entirely new architecture for Britain.
Curated by Chris Turner (V&A), Ella Kilgallon (V&A) and Shahed Saleem (Architect), The exhibition Three British Mosques uses different forms of reproduction to articulate an under-represented aspect of Britain’s religious heritage, the self-built mosque. Through the study of three mosques in London; Brick Lane Mosque (built as a French Huguenot church), Old Kent Road Mosque (a former pub) and Harrow Mosque (a converted terrace house), the installation represents the historical layering and adaptations of each mosque. Key parts of each mosque are replicated as 1-2-1 copies visually tying together the fragments of the mosques, suggesting a narrative thread interlinking them. The 1-2-1 fragments are of significant parts of the mosques that have been inserted or grafted into their existing buildings to create this new hybrid architecture.
Plan of the V&A exhibition at Venice Biennale 2021
Fabricators studio – replica Mihrab at Harrow Mosque
My specific role within the exhibition focuses on the social representation of each mosque community through a series of site-specific films and individual interviews. This content has been developed through my current research project ‘Assembly’. Each film is made in collaboration with the congregation, respecting the religious and cultural rules of each specific mosque. A tracking shot, filmed from above is a social record of the congregation as a whole whereas the interviews tell personal stories of individual worshipers. The three examples chosen for ‘the British Mosque’, Old Kent Road Mosque (Nigerian), Brick Lane Mosque (Bangladeshi) and Harrow Mosque (Pakistani) are not only key examples of architectural diversity but also the social diversity within the Muslim community. Detailed 3D scans of each mosque have also been made capturing an otherwise unrecorded stage of the history of Britain’s religious architecture. These digital scans will enter the V&A collection as permanent digital artefacts.
This project had been planned for the 2020 Venice Architecture Biennale, postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19.
Congregational prayer at Brick Lane Mosque Main Prayer Hall.
Congregational prayer at Brick Lane Mosque Female Prayer Room.
Congregational prayer at Old Kent Road Mosque Main Prayer Hall.
Congregational prayer at Old Kent Road Mosque Female Prayer Hall.
Congregational prayer at Harrow Mosque Main Prayer Hall.
Shahed Saleem and I commissioned a series of lidar scans of Brick Lane Mosque and Old Kent Road Mosque to document each site as part of the exhibition. The scans were made by Guy Sinclair from Fab Lab at The University of Westminster.
These 3D scans capture an otherwise unrecorded stage of the history of Britain’s religious architecture. The scans will enter the V&A collection as permanent digital artefacts to create an archived record of sometimes ephemeral and undocumented religious buildings as socially constructed places of worship. Without this research, a significant period in the informal architectural history of religious architecture in Britain would have disappeared without trace.
Old Kent Road Mosque
Brick Lane Mosque