Marks Barfield Architects
Corium Brick Cladding
A project that dominated headlines and architectural awards in 2019 was Cambridge Mosque, impeccably designed by London based Marks Barfield Architects, managed by Gilbert Ash and installed by Clarke Facades.
The existing Mawson Road place of worship began to experience capacity issues and in response, a limited international competition was held. The competition encouraged architects to put forward their innovative ideas for a sustainable, 1000 capacity mosque that announced Islam’s presence within Cambridge, a spiritual and cultural centre.
In 2009, Marks Barfield Architects won the competition with their calm, oasis concept of a British Mosque for the 21st century – Europe’s first eco-mosque.
The £23m project, opened its doors in April 2019 and since then has won a host of architectural accolades, including Architect’s Journal (AJ) Best Community and Faith Project 2019, Brick Development Association (BDA) Best Public Building 2019 and four Structural Timber Awards 2019, including Project of the Year. In 2021, Cambridge Mosque won RIBA East Project Architect of the Year, Building of the Year, Client of the Year and a Regional Award and was shortlisted for the 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize.
For the competition, Marks Barfield Architects set about doing lots of research on the architecture of mosques and found that historically, mosques adapt to the cultural and climatic conditions of the environments within which they are built.
In respect of this, the architects chose light buff coloured brick tiles, part of the Corium brick tile cladding system, to reflect the local vernacular of Cambridgeshire gault bricks. Manufactured by Wienerberger, the Corium system also allowed the architects to incorporate bespoke protruding headers to create geometric Islamic patterns, including Arabic inscriptions in the Kufic calligraphy writing style. To reflect Islamic sacred traditions, accent red brick tiles have been arranged to form inscriptions which read ‘One God’. The mosque has been given a consistent and smooth finish, with the tile system continuing throughout the inside of the prayer hall and spanning all across the facade.
In keeping with the Cambridgeshire buff colour palette, external walls have been made from cross laminated timber (CLT) with engineered glulam timber columns.
Overall, the project design is a continuation of the historical tradition of mosque architecture, which has always adapted to the new places that Muslims settled into. This notion of ‘adaptation’ is further reflected in the way the new mosque now ‘fits’ into its streetscape.
The stand-out feature of the mosque is its timber structure and columns; made up of sustainably sourced cross laminated timber (CLT) and glulam. The glulam engineered timber columns, otherwise referred to as its ‘trees’, span all the way up, supporting the roof and delivering on the original architectural vision of “the garden of Paradise” and “a calm oasis for contemplation, under a grove of trees”. Trees themselves are not only beautiful but improve air quality and absorb CO2 emissions. They are a renewable resource, making the timber used throughout this project, an environmentally friendly, sustainable material choice.
The building is described as almost entirely carbon neutral with a series of mixed-mode systems keeping energy use to a minimum, such as static heating, natural ventilation, air sourced heat pumps, a PV array, rainwater harvesting for the toilets and gardens, and solar powered hot water.
A key part of the design was to incorporate as much natural light as possible, with specially designed rooflights that mean no artificial light is required during daylight hours and where required, remaining electricity is solar powered. All of the above means the mosque boasts zero on-site carbon emissions.
The completed eco-mosque consists of a community garden, Islamic garden, atrium, café, teaching area, prayer hall and ablution area.
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