Dabbagh Architects Completes the Mosque of the Late Mohamed Abdulkhaliq Gargash

One of the first mosques in the UAE to be designed by a female architect, this contemporary place of worship is quietly masterful in its use of form, materiality and controlled natural lighting to create a sense of calm and spiritual connection

Having debuted in August, 2021, the pared down form of this mosque eschews traditional Islamic typology, with a design narrative to transition the worshipper from the outer everyday world to an inner spiritual experience. Dabbagh Architects, led by principal architect and founder, Sumaya Dabbagh, completes the Mosque of the late Mohamed Abdulkhaliq Gargash (Dubai, UAE). This is a contemporary place of worship that is quietly masterful in its use of form, materiality and controlled natural light to evoke a sense of calm and spiritual connection and transition the worshipper from outer material world to inner sense of being. Dabbagh is one of only a few Saudi female architects of her generation and amongst a handful of women architects leading their own practice in the Gulf region. With a reputation for crafting culturally relevant buildings in dialogue with their surroundings, she places emphasis on the intangible in architecture; seeking to create meaning and a sense of the poetic to form a connection with each building’s user. Her previous projects include Mleiha Archaeological Centre (2016), a curved sandstone structure that rises from the desert in the small town of Mleiha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The project was awarded an Architecture MasterPrize (2020), amongst other award wins, as well as being nominated for the Aga Khan Awards (2018).

As a gift to the community and in honour of the late patriarch of the family, Mohamed Abdulkhaliq Gargash, the Gargash family’s brief was to create a minimal contemporary mosque for the community of the Al Quoz, located in the industrial heart of Dubai. Committed to supporting local industries and in keeping with the practice’s sustainable approach to design, Dabbagh Architects sourced materials from the mosque’s locality: stone from Oman; concrete, aluminium, cladding, joinery and ceramics from the UAE. At the heart of the design approach is the enhancement of the act of worship and a transitional journey throughout the building so that the worshipper is ready for prayer and feels a sense of intimacy with the sacred.

Dabbagh Architects' principal architect and founder Sumaya Dabbagh

“Creating a space of worship was a very particular design challenge. Prayer is a devotional act. It requires the worshipper to be totally present. With all the distractions in our modern busy lives it can be challenging to quieten the mind and find an inner calm to allow for full immersion into prayer,” says Dabbagh. “Through the design, a series of spaces are created that allow the worshipper to transition from the busy outer world and prepare for an inner experience.”

Natural light is used as a tool to enhance a feeling of spirituality, the connection between the earthly and the divine, and to mark the worshipper’s journey through the building. Scale also plays a role in creating this sense of sacredness. Starting at the mosque’s outdoor entrance, perforated shading creates a threshold of perforated light leading the worshipper to the ablution area where physical cleansing invites the clearing of the mind and preparation for prayer. The route continues through to a lobby space where further shedding of the material world takes place through the act of removing one’s shoes. Once inside the prayer hall, the visitor further transitions to a contained space where reading from the Quran may take place before prayer. All the while, the quality of light from one space to another changes to enhance the preparation process, so that when the worshipper finally enters the main hall, they are ready for prayer. “Muslim prayer is performed throughout the day at prescribed timings: at dawn, midday, afternoon, sunset and at night. This discipline creates a human connection with the natural day and night rhythm. The experience created through the design of the mosque seeks to enhance this connection through a controlled introduction of natural lighting,” explains Dabbagh. This is done in three ways: vertically, via the perforated dome to enhance the spiritual connection to the heavens, the shafts of light from the narrow openings on the sides further create a sense of illumination from the divine; indirectly, behind the Mihrab to highlight the point of focus in the prayer hall facing the direction of prayer; and, through a play of light from a series of small openings in the façade that follows the same decorative patterns of the interior.

For the exterior architecture, Dabbagh Architects sought to avoid multiple blocks, simplifying the traditional typology of the Islamic form and stripping it away to its essence. In the process of design development, the main building volume was separated into two: firstly, the prayer block containing the male and female prayer areas, and secondly the service block where the ablution facilities and residence for the Imam (the leader of prayer) and Moazen (caller of prayer) are found. As a result of this division, a courtyard is formed which has a sculptural canopy reaching out to reconnect the two volumes together. With its two arms almost touching, the canopy gives a sense of separation of the functional and the more sacred: the practicality of the ablution ritual and the spirituality of prayer. In further contrast to traditional mosque architecture, the minaret is designed as a separate volume.

The use of pattern and materiality in this project enhances the user’s experience as they journey from the outside into the courtyard and enter the building. Throughout the building is a triangular pattern, a reference to traditional Islamic geometry but reinterpreted in a deconstructed contemporary language. The exterior panelling uses this triangulated pattern in recessed and perforated elements, which gives the building’s skin a dynamic appearance. Internally, these perforations scatter natural light into the areas of worship with great control and care to illuminate the key spaces and create a calm atmosphere and sense of connection to the divine, as well as helping to cool the mosque’s interior. The double skin dome also allows natural light to enter, filtering it through the internal decorative skin, which incorporates the same triangulated pattern as the rest of the building. This filtered light creates a soft naturally-lit prayer space tailoring to the introspective mind during prayer. The reinterpreted Islamic patterns and triangulated geometry harmonise throughout the interior as lines intersecting across walls, carpets and light fittings.

Calligraphy plays an important part in the overall design. A Surah (verse from the Quran) wraps around the prayer hall externally to create a metaphoric protective band signalling the spiritual nature of the space upon arrival and instilling a sacred energy throughout the building. The verse, “The Most Merciful”, is composed entirely in saj’, the rhyming, accent-based prose characteristic of early Arabic poetry and references the sun, the moon, the stars and heavens and many other creations. “At the end of each project my hope is that the building will evoke the feelings and emotions that were envisioned at the outset. There is a defining, magical moment when the building is born and claims a life of its own. For this, my first mosque, that moment was particularly moving. I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to create a sacred space that brings people together for worship,” concludes Dabbagh.

Words: Emily Leung & Nikey Cheng
Photos: Gerry O'Leary
Published on March 29, 2022