Distinctive and designed in a way that connects heritage with modernity and originality, the Education City Mosque – one of the landmark buildings of Qatar Foundation, and of Doha – is a special place as well as a spiritual one.
With the fifth anniversary of the building – now named Minaretein – being marked this month, its architects Ali Mangera and Ada Yvars Bravo returned to Qatar to share their experience of designing an architectural masterpiece that has already won global acclaim.
“What is interesting is that, in Qatar, they have retained a sense of spirituality while wanting to embrace new ideas,” said Mangera. “There are not many places that want to do new things when it comes to a building that must retain the essence and the core of Islam.”
“The project is unlike any other we have been involved in so far. One of the things we wanted to do was to create a very contemporary building in order to illustrate that Islam is compatible with modernity, and reflect this in the building’s identity.
“But we also wanted to ensure we draw in people who have a more traditional outlook, and the way we set about doing that was to use Islamic calligraphy and different verses from the Qur’an which is integrated into the fabric of the building.
The idea is to enable people to associate modernity with these verses and the architecture, to understand that this is a contemporary building, but it has at its heart a message which is at the heart of Islamic tradition.
“I felt it would be inspiring to do a project which is related to faith, but to do something different with it.” Mangera – who, with Bravo, is a director of Mangera Yvars Architects – comes from an Islamic background, which gave him insight into different Muslim societies. But he says that people from all over the world, regardless of their religion and culture, have taken an interest in the idea of faith.
“A place of faith should be embraced and invite people in, and this was our goal when we worked on the Education City Mosque,” he explained.
“This was always was in our minds: what we can do that goes further? How do you make this place more welcoming for people from different religions?
“I think that, as architects, we can make the world a better place, and also create a better understanding between faiths.”
Speaking about the response from people who have visited the building simply to explore and admire it, Mangera says: “I’m really happy and proud of the comments we have received – someone told me it was one of the main tourist attractions in Qatar and it brings in non-Muslims as well as Muslims, enabling them to familiarise themselves with Islam and see it as a contemporary faith.”
He emphasised that this wider audience helps to break down barriers and spread knowledge and understanding, saying: “I believe we can educate people about faith through architecture, and we’ve done a lot already to change the way society thinks.
“The way we set about doing this was to choose to incorporate elements such as calligraphy, and project messages, which are quite subtle.
At the same time, the components of the building have so many stories – such as the five pillars that it stands on, representing the five pillars of Islam. Once people understand these meanings, they will embrace them.
“It’s a modern building based on very established principles: a place for learning and praying, a home for colleges where people can study Islam. The idea was to reenergise existing historical psychology. We unwrapped the learning space and put the mosque at one end, with the courtyard in the centre, and essentially this is the same layout as a historic building, But I feel it’s how the spaces are sequenced which makes it a little bit contemporary.”
Bravo, who is Mangera’s wife and partnered with him to design the Education City Mosque, says the combination of learning and worship makes the building unique.
“It’s not just about going to a mosque, it’s about absorbing knowledge and interacting with people, and what we also aimed to do was design it in a way that ensured it blends it with the universities and the community that surround it.
“It has been amazing to see the building become to reality, and what we really love is how people around QF and Qatar use it, how people around Doha and beyond come here to pray, and this is one of the main achievement for us.
“Part of the architectural language of the building came from the idea of teaching. That’s why the artwork explains the different facets of Islam, so everything about visiting it involves an experience – the experience of Islam.”
As for the emotions the building stirs in those who created it, Bravo says: “Starting from the design and all the way through to construction, I think everyone enjoyed working on this project because it was something different and special.
“It was a mega-project for us in terms of architecture. And it taught us a lot and gave us such an experience as well.”
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