Islamic Religious and Cultural Centre by Bevk Perović Arhitekti, is a new complex for the Islamic community in Slovenia to come together - a space that the community has been striving to build for almost 50 years.
After 40 years of fruitless, often politically thwarted attempts, and following an international competition, it took another 9 years for the project to be built. The ‘specificity’ of the new location for the Islamic Religious and Cultural Centre is precisely its complete lack of ‘specificity’ – an area that is near the city centre, but abandoned and forgotten, in a fragile undeveloped state, with an uncertain urban future. Much like its historical predecessors – the case of Sarajevo mosques during 19th century being a nearby example, where mosque complexes – built by rich donors – were the starting points, the ‘seeds’ for the development of the new parts of the city, the new complex becomes one such thing for this part of Ljubljana.
The complex combines a collage of programs: mosque, school, library, offices, living units, sports hall, restaurant, all gathered around the main square and park. It is therefore by default a collective space, it’s openness and the diversity of programmatic structure showing its collective ambition, its attempt to include all different user populations within its limits.
On the other hand, the project is also very much about a personal place - a contemplative atmosphere of the complex stressing the basic intimate nature of one’s relation to religion, of being ‘alone’ with it within the walls of the complex. The spaces of the mosque, the intimate corners one finds oneself within the elements of the project – an empty patch of the square, a corner of the park, all point towards the idea of quiet intimacy, to be experienced by oneself, on one’s own.
The mosque, sitting on and opening fully towards the square to allow for extension of the prayer space on the outside during large gatherings of congregation, is the central element of the new complex. Rather than following obvious historical precedents, as well as the recent iconographically obvious examples, it is conceived as a steel structure – a 32/32/24 metre box constructed of 1-meter (45cm) deep and only 2 (8cm) centimetre thick steel latticework, filled with white concrete on the lower part, and transparent glass on the upper part, allowing for the sun to flood the interior space.
The cupola – the central element of the mosque – rather than topping the space, hangs suspended within its interior. As a representation of the sky in historical examples – it is made of transparent blue textile, the flimsiest and most fragile of materials, the material which in Islam has a long and rich history – starting from the Kiswah of Kaaba to the portable tent-mosques of Iran.