Sustainable Design

The Cambridge Central Mosque design was inspired both by Islamic and English religious architectural traditions. Above all, we sought to develop the idea of a British mosque for the 21st century: as Abdal Hakim Murad, chairman of the Cambridge Mosque Trust, remarked, “creating a brand new sacred space has been the main challenge, to bring together something that’s very ancient and timeless with the very latest technologies.” More than ten years of dedicated work has resulted in a pioneering mosque, one that seems to have grown organically out of the landscape and celebrates our shared love of beauty.

In 2009, Marks Barfield Architects won the competition to design the building with their concept of the mosque as a calm oasis within a grove of trees. With the collaboration of UK-based specialists such as the geometer Keith Critchlow, garden designer Emma Clark, and artists Amber Khokhar and Ayesha Gamiet, among others, the final design marries traditional Islamic architecture, geometry and horticulture with indigenous English materials, plants and craftsmanship to create a unique synthesis.

The defining feature of Cambridge Mosque is its timber structure. The columns, or ‘trees’, reach up to support the roof in an interlaced octagonal lattice vault structure evocative of English gothic fan vaulting, famously used at the nearby King’s College Chapel. The timber is sustainably sourced spruce which has been curved and laminated. Roof lights are located above the ‘trees’, bathing the prayer hall in light. The octagonal geometry has strong symbolism in Islamic art, suggesting the cycle of inhalation and exhalation – the ‘Breath of the Divine’.

Worshippers and visitors enter via an Islamic garden before passing through a covered portico and then an atrium, preparing them gradually for the contemplation of the prayer hall, facing Mecca. This combination of gardens with whispering fountains and vaulted prayer spaces has been used to great effect throughout Islamic history – for instance, at the Alhambra – and it reminds us of the interconnectedness of humans and the natural world. The gardens enhance the feeling of an ‘oasis’ that the building as a whole embodies. Even the roofs are green!

“The mosque is committed to sustainability: its advanced eco-design gives it a near-zero carbon footprint, honours natural forms with sustainable timber vaulting, and reminds the visitor of our connection to nature.”

Europe’s first Eco-Mosque

Environmental concerns have been paramount in the design of the new Cambridge Mosque. Muslims feel a strong imperative to protect the environment, as it is a gift from the Divine. Abdal Hakim Murad notes that Islamic civilization has been based on the rejection of waste as an underestimation of God’s blessing, and so in the construction of the new mosque here in Cambridge, we were very much at the forefront of the local environmental movement.

The building is naturally lit all year round by large skylights in the roof, supplemented by low energy LED bulbs, while photovoltaic cells on the roof help generate renewable energy from sunlight. As well as being very well-insulated and naturally ventilated, the mosque is heated and cooled by locally generated energy, by way of highly efficient heat pumps in the basement that produce far more energy than they consume. This type of heat pump extracts energy from the relatively stable temperature of the air or ground water, heating the building as needed and cooling it at times of high occupancy or excess heat gains.

Grey water and rainwater are harvested to flush WCs and irrigate the grounds. The building’s carbon footprint – which is already low – will improve over time as mains electricity from renewable sources becomes more available. Green transport has also been taken into consideration in the design: there is ample space for bikes and its easily accessible by pedestrians, while an underground car park frees up space on site for the mosque and gardens.

At three stories high, with a façade that subtly weaves Qur’anic phrases into the Gault brickwork that is traditional in Cambridge, the mosque complements its neighbouring structures on Mill Rd, while the gardens and café make it a welcoming space for all members of the community. Its emphasis on sustainability and high reliance on green energy make this Europe’s first eco-mosque and a true landmark building for the city of Cambridge and its diverse residents.