Sacred Architecture

Australian Islamic Centre

The Mosque which forms part of the Australian Islamic Centre in Newport, western Melbourne, has recently been completed and is open for prayers.

It is an extraordinary outcome from an extraordinary collaboration. This Mosque is the first contemporary Australian Mosque and is the result of the vision of the Newport Islamic Community, who wanted the Mosque to welcome and be accessible to the wider Australian community, which is a departure from the introspective nature of many Mosques. The Project has been funded by the Newport Islamic Community. As the Community aspired for the building to be a fine example of Architecture, they approached Australia’s most decorated Architect, Glenn Murcutt, to design and supervise the construction of the Mosque. Among the many architectural awards that Glenn Murcutt has received is the international Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2002, which is the architectural equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Fortunately Glenn Murcutt accepted the commission. From the outset, he researched traditional Islamic Architecture so that he could respect this heritage, whilst also placing the Centre into its Australian climatic and contemporary community context. The house of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and the large walled courtyard added to it in Medina, is considered to be the first Mosque (after the smaller Mosque established by the Prophet at Quba). Two covered sections were formed from palm tree trunk columns to provide shade. This formed the precedent for the early Mosques, that were formed by many columns to create large covered spaces.

What is striking about the Mosque at Newport is it’s simplicity, which is a result of the Architect’s understanding of the building’s and the community’s requirements. The approach to the Centre is through a courtyard, which is formed from a triangular wall with a golden crescent on top, that protects the courtyard form the cold winds to the south, whilst providing a sunny northerly aspect to the courtyard. Glenn Murcutt questioned the need for a minaret, pointing out that the earliest mosques, including the Prophet’s Mosque, didn’t have a minaret and that nobody was actually going to call the faithful to prayers. The triangular wall provides the height of a minaret, often used to identify Mosques.

This courtyard leads to an undercover, outdoor foyer, where the male members of the congregation can do ‘wudu’ (purification washing before prayer), remove their shoes and place them in the racks provided. This covered area is most welcome on rainy and hot days, being formed by the ladies prayer area above. The ladies prayer area is a beautifully conceived space being formed by a ‘veil’ of glass fins, that allows light in and views out, whilst being open inside to the men’s prayer area below.

The men’s prayer area is contained by a glass wall, which is entered from the covered foyer. This provides a transparency to the Mosque and is most welcoming to non-Muslim members of the community to enter. On entering the men’s prayer area, you are facing the wall that is oriented in the direction of Mecca, which contains the alcove from where the Imam leads the prayers. Either side of this alcove are glass walls that look into outdoor secluded alcoves containing ponds and plants, providing light into the prayer area and an atmosphere suitable for prayer and reflection.

As in the earliest Mosques, the roof is supported by columns located throughout the prayer areas. They have funnels at the top, collecting rainwater from the roof and carrying it through the columns to underground storage tanks.

The design negated the need for a dome on the roof by the inclusion of ninety six, three metre high, lanterns on the roof. These gold painted lanterns illuminate the interior with coloured daylight. Glazed in four colours, the lanterns face the four points of the compass, according to a complex geometric pattern. Glenn Murcutt studied the symbolic meaning of colour in Islamic culture, explaining as follows, “gold is the colour of paradise. Green symbolizes life and nature, spring and rebirth, compassion and goodness, moderation, peace and hope. Red is the colour of our blood, representing strength, vigour, vitality, emotion and a sense of joy and beauty. Yellow is the colour of the sun, warmth and vitality, unity, the collective, and intellectual serenity. Blue is the protective colour representing goodness and hope. In the sea it represents calmness. Navy blue is the colour of the systems of the universe and a symbol of survival. White is the colour of snow, cotton and milk and clouds, representing innocence, purity, cleanliness, clarity and stability.”

The most extraordinary aspect to arise from the excellent efforts of the Newport Islamic community and their Architect, is that a community born from migrants that travelled half way around the world to Australia, using an Australian Architect, have produced a Mosque that is so close to the spirit of Islam. Part of the beauty of Islam is its simplicity, its transparency and how each of its parts fit together economically, seamlessly and beautifully – just like the Mosque that Glenn Murcutt has produced. Although built so long after and so far away from where the Prophet first established his Mosque, this Mosque and Community have captured the spirit of the Prophet’s Mosque and the beauty of the religion that emanated from it. Consequently, the Mosque at Newport is an excellent place to perform the Muslim prayers and reflect upon the God that sent us these blessings.

The Australian Islamic Centre is located at 23 Blenheim Road, Newport. Victoria. 3015.