Friday, 25 January 2013

What's so great about the Cambridge mosque?

There's going to be a mosque in Cambridge, and it will look like this:

01cambridge mosque top

This building proposal has not been universally welcomed. But what else is new?  Proposals of mosques to be built in European cities always generate controversy.

Cologne mosque controversy

Speaking solely from the point of view of architecture, my view is that this building will enhance Cambridge.  And here's why:

Five reasons why this mosque is an architectural win:

1.  Worshipper-win!

Finally, a mosque!  There are 7,000 muslims in Cambridge.

By contrast, worshipper-fail:

Currently, worshippers are crammed into a converted former chapel.

worshippers in old mosque

2.  Welcome-win!

This development is inclusive.  The mosque welcomes people in.  Not just women, but also men.  Not just Indonesian muslims but also Pakistani muslims, Saudi muslims, Lebanese muslims, Bengali muslims, muslims of all backgrounds. 

And not just muslims, but all of us other locals.

The architects propose:

As well as the community garden, the facility will include a cafeteria with a garden terrace, a teaching zone available for everyone in the community, and room for art exhibitions and performances of various kinds. 

cambridge mosque front
04cambridge mosque community garden

So: this mosque is for all of us.

By contrast, welcome-fail:

Many of the most famous Christian places of worship in Cambridge are not inclusive at all.  

For example, unless you're a card-carrying member of the University of Cambridge, you normally have to pay to get into King's College Chapel.

kings college entrance chapel

3.  Urban renewal-win!

In Bilbão (Spain), the Guggenheim Museum transformed the urban space around it.  In London (England), Tate Modern did a similar transformation for south of the river Thames. 

Our new mosque will transform Mill Road (Romsey area).

What the plot used to look like:
Robert Sayle warehouse, Mill Road (Google map streetview screenshot)
Former Robert Sayle warehouse.  Screenshot via Google Streetview.

What the plot will look like:

06cambridge mosque view

By contrast, urban renewal-fail:


Cambridge Leisture Centre

4.  Eco-win!

This is an eco-mosque.  It has heat pumps, water recycling and a sedum roof.

From the architects' proposal:

An innovative feature of the development is its ambition to become Britain’s first significant 'eco-mosque’' A range of sustainable features, including heat pumps, water recycling, natural ventilation and lighting, and a sedum roof, will make the structure a symbol of national excellence in environmentally-responsible engineering.

08cambridge mosque above

By contrast, eco-fail:


5.  Aesthetic win!

It's beautiful, brave and bold.

Every new building should replace whatever's been there with something fabulously more beautiful.  

09cambridge mosque tiles
03cambridge mosque section

By contrast, beauty-fail:

Some religious communities of Cambridge have to put up with some very undistinguished architecture.

This is where the Cambridge Traditional Jewish Congregation meets:

The Cambridge Jewish Student Centre.  Photo: © Ben Harris and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

This is Barnwell Baptist Church on Howard Road (in the Abbey area of Cambridge):


And the Sikh community meets at the Cambridge Gurdwara which is currently based in a former pub (The Grove, Arbury Community Centre, Cambridge):


So, in sum: the promised Mill Road mosque is an architectural win all round!

Posted on the occasion of the prophet Muhammad's birthday (25 Jan 2013).  

Happy Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi!  Happy Mawlid!

I'd love to hear your views on the mosque.  Comment below or tweet me!  

What:  Mosque on Mill Road, Cambridge.
Where: Site of former Robert Sayle warehouse, lower Mill Road.  Purchased by a charity headed by Yusuf Islam (the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens), in 2008. (See Public Arts Strategy, p.5).
Architects:  Marks Barfield

Other projects by these architects include the London Eye.

Garden designer:  Emma Clark. (She specialises in Islamic gardens.)

cambridge mosque garden fountain

Further reading:

Related posts:


  1. What an beautiful, elegant building (plan). Love it. Thanks for posting this!

    1. Thanks so much for commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed this; it was certainly all news to me when I stumbled across all these fantastic architectural drawings.

  2. I certainly agree that it appears the new mosque will be an improvement over the current use of the proposed location. And certainly, a faith community of 7,000 people needs a house of worship adequate to their needs.
    Perhaps win-fail is not the best way to assess the success or failure of the proposed design?
    For example, the other worship sites you described as failing do not have a multi-millionaire pop-star patron to subsidize their buildings.
    Also, I don't know about the UK, but Baptist congregations in the US often start off in store-front churches and build new sanctuaries as their membership grows and donations are accrued. Also, many Protestant denominations, especially evangelical ones, take some pride in store-front locations as a sign of their devotion to the community and of "keeping it real."
    Thanks for the food for thought!

    1. Thank you very much for your long and thoughtful comment. I did think about what you said for quite some time and here is my answer (at the moment! I'll probably change my mind over the coming months and years...)
      Re your point about win-fail: yes, this may sound a bit flippant but then it's a blog post and not an academic article or a newspaper article. And I did try to assess only the 'win' factor of the architecture and the value-added to the community in general -- I don't know enough about the background to make any other comments (so far...)
      I thought a lot about what you said about the other worship sites I describe as 'fails'.
      Re the Jewish Student Centre: the Traditional Jewish Congregation is actually in the process of refurbishing a new synagogue (I will post about that soon!) so they are clearly themselves not entirely satisfied with their present home.
      Re the Gurdwara: I read various reports about complaints that when Sikh events took place in the former pub, the venue smelled of alcohol, and also that the community is seeking another home, so I was thinking the Sikh community also would like a better home.
      Re the Barnwell Baptist Church: There are at least two quite smart Baptist churches in the centre of Cambridge, Eden and Zion churches, so not all of them are storefront. Apart from that, I have to admit I know nothing about the Barnwell church but I just thought that the architecture looked spectaculary undistinguished... :-)
      The concept of 'keeping it real' is very interesting; I'll keep it in mind! Thanks again.


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