December 5th marks the official grand opening of the new Cambridge Central Mosque. The building is billed as Europe’s first ‘eco-friendly mosque’ as it is heavily reliant on green energy, aiming for a zero-carbon footprint. With climate change becoming an ever-increasing concern, the new Cambridge Central Mosque was built to demonstrate that there is still hope for a greener future: we can all reduce our carbon footprint peacefully and graciously in a sign of optimism that humanity can come together to confront a threat faced by everyone irrespective of creed and ethnicity.
It is the first purpose-built mosque to cater to Cambridge’s diverse community of up to six thousand Muslim inhabitants and has been built entirely from donations.
The Cambridge Mosque Trust is a registered charity and a joint venture of the Muslim Academic Trust (MAT), the Diyanet Foundation of the UK, and the Cambridge Muslim Welfare Society (CMWS). The opening ceremony was graciously attended by President Erdogan of Turkey and world-renowned musician, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), a founding patron of the mosque, who famously wrote anthems for a generation with songs like, ‘Where Do The Children Play?’, ‘Wild World’ and ‘Peace Train’.
The mosque prides itself on sustainability. Each feature of the building has been meticulously crafted with a very specific intention and purpose, for example, the ventilation within the building is supplied via roof lights and grilles, combined with air source heat pumps and airtight insulation helping to naturally regulate the air quality. The solar panels on the roof provide up to 20% of the building’s energy use, and rainwater is harvested and repurposed for flushing toilets and watering the garden. The tree-like columns located in the atrium and main prayer hall feature timber branches that support the roof without requiring additional support from unsustainable materials. The trees are made of cross-laminated spruce, sourced in sustainably managed forests in Central Europe, milled in Switzerland and assembled on site in Cambridge. Moreover, the energy-efficient light fittings are dimmable via sensors which cleverly detect differences in light intensities; swift boxes are also provided in the exterior walls to provide a much-needed habitat for the local bird population.
Visitors embark on a journey from the busy street through a progression of spaces, encouraging them to experience a gradual transition from the day-to-day, mundane world to a reflective, more spiritual one. First, the visitor passes through a community garden, closely followed by a beautifully-designed Islamic garden with a water fountain, through to a portico – the brickwork cladding design makes reference to Romsey’s Victorian architecture – which takes the visitor through to the atrium. From there one can visit the café or the teaching and exhibition spaces, or progress through to the ablution areas and into the main prayer hall.
The ablution areas are where the worshipper prepares for prayer by washing their face, arms and feet – a ritual with both practical and spiritual value. In line with aiming for a zero-carbon footprint, the taps include water saving features accessed via sensor controls. The Prayer Hall displays custom made calligraphy, a mihrab (prayer niche) and minbar (pulpit) by Turkish artist Hüseyin Kutlu, and geometric patterns that symbolise the unison of English Gothic design and Islamic architecture.
The Cambridge Central Mosque is nondenominational, inclusive, open and welcoming to the whole community. It seeks to embed itself with ease into its social context both physically and socially. It is intended to be a meeting place and a cultural bridge where modernity and innovation meet timeless sacred principles. It also hopes to be one of the UK’s leading women-friendly mosques, including features such as a soundproof mother and child section, mobile stands to accommodate for the change in numbers of women present in the mosque, spaces for female worshippers both on the main floor and the mezzanine and a complementary therapy room. In addition, the building is also fully wheelchair accessible and is fitted with hearing loops.
In 2009 an international competition was held calling for inventive and innovative ideas for a mosque proposal that would accommodate up to a thousand men and women whilst also announcing Islam’s presence in Cambridge as a spiritual and cultural asset not only to Muslims but to the wider community. Marks Barfield Architects, designers of the London Eye, were selected by a specially chosen jury which included representatives from CMT, CMWS, University of Cambridge Department of Architecture and the East Mill Road Action Group. The mosque has already received many awards, including Culture and Leisure Project of the Year at the British Construction Industry Awards, Regional Award of the Royal Town Planning Institute, Education and Public Sector category prize at the Wood Award and Best Community and Faith Project at the AJ Architecture Awards. The Mosque is currently hosting tours for members of the wider community to visit the building with the aim of fostering greater community cohesion. Although the building is primarily a place for Muslim worship, it also offers a peaceful sanctuary for anyone seeking a quiet retreat away from the hustle and bustle of daily life – a site for bonding over the deeper pursuit of peace and tranquillity, irrespective of religious belief.
The Cambridge Central Mosque was envisioned by the Muslims of Cambridge, designed by British architects, financed by Turkish stakeholders, constructed by Irish contractors using Swiss-made timber components and Spanish marble. The successful completion of the project is a testament to how we can enrich our world and inspire future generations when we collaborate across borders.
The Trustees of the CMT issued this statement on the occasion of the opening: ‘The Cambridge Muslim community, which brings together local people from over seventy different ethnic groups, is delighted that its longstanding dream to create an ecologically-responsible mosque has today become a reality. We are grateful to all our sponsors, to local residents, and to all who have shown such patience over the last ten years while we planned and built this ambitious addition to the Cambridge skyline. We are sure that its symbolism of harmony between East and West will preside over a hub for peace, prayer, and mutual understanding.’