The Ayesha Bint Alsayed Ibrahim Mosque
Contemplation and community come into focus through an architect’s collaboration with nature.
In the central open-air courtyard, fragrant frangipani trees cast a web of dancing shadows across the white marble floor while the heat in the air is appeased by meandering breezes that pass with a suggestion of nearby corridors cooled in the shade of concrete and stone. A single bird’s song twirls into a momentary waft of incense, interrupted by the rhythmic padding of the Imam’s footsteps as he makes his way to the prayer hall in time for midday zuhr.
The Ayesha Bint Alsayed Ibrahim Mosque, located in the quiet residential neighborhood of Al Warqa’a, was designed with community and the elements of nature in mind. “The idea was to create an oasis in the desert,” says Wael Al Awar, chief architect at the IBDA Design architecture firm in Dubai. “The mosque was designed as a place of comfort, a place to sit and meditate, to pray, and enjoy. We wanted it to be a space where a person feels they want to stay, where they want to spend time. And the way we thought about this was through the elements, through the sun, the trees, the wind; all were very important.”
The most prevalent style of mosque design in the UAE is Ottoman: grand, iconic, ornate, imposing, and characterized by a large central dome. The architects at IBDA looked instead to the simple Arabian hypostyle, which is based on the Prophet Mohammed’s own home. The historically significant residence is widely considered to be the world’s first mosque and was a wellknown place for meeting, eating, reading, and engaging in conversation as well as in prayer. “The last time I went to the Ayesha Bint Alsayed Ibrahim mosque,” says Al Awar, “I saw chairs with cushions, and a table had been set up in one of the outdoor corridor spaces. This was amazing for me to see because that is exactly what I had wanted to build, a community space. The narrative we wrote for the mosque is taking place.”
Light, a thoughtfully considered priority, provides the visitor with an experience of nature and the calm and contemplation it can offer. “For me the heavens, light, God, and spirituality are one. Light is a spiritual element,” says Al Awar. This belief is evident in the design of the harem (prayer hall), which is illuminated via natural light with skylights and periphery windows that allow for a subtle connection between people and the seasonal changes to the position of the sun, which affect prayer times. In another example of the architect’s harnessing of the element, the façades of the mosque and its solitary minaret have both been covered in an all-white raised relief of abstracted floral patterns at three differing heights, which are in a constant conversation, via the shadows cast, with the ever-changing angle of the sun.
When I started designing the project, the roads in that area had not yet been built. We were off-roading to the site. We had to travel through the desert to get there. So from the beginning, the idea was that the site is a desert, a calm and serene place, not a busy urban environment, and maintaining that calm was very important.
Wael Al Awar, chief architect at IBDA
The façade that wraps the building from three sides is punctured generously by five different sizes of parabolic arches. “One of the most important things about this mosque is that we have no boundary wall,” says Al Awar, referring to the building’s accessibility on account of the façade design. “There’s no fence—the mosque is open to the community, and you are welcome to come in at any time. It’s not controlled that you can come only when the gates are open. The gates are always open!”
The arches in the façade create a series of welcoming entrance points while also introducing an element of playfulness, something that the attentive visitor slowly discovers is present throughout and works to further unravel the architects’ intention of making the space easily approachable and welcoming. Why the parabola? “It’s like a musical note,” says Al Awar.
The mosque’s sahn (courtyard) is one of the only spaces of its kind in Dubai. Cooled naturally by a wind tunnel incorporated into the design, the enclosure is decorated by sculptural frangipani trees specifically chosen by the architects. Whether one is passing through this enclosed area to reach the prayer hall or spending time beneath the wide green leaves of the trees, the space has a decompressing effect on the mind. “When I started designing the project, the roads in that area had not yet been built,” says Al Awar. “We were off-roading to the site. We had to travel through the desert to get there. So from the beginning, the idea for me was that the site is a desert, a very calm and serene place, not a busy urban environment, and maintaining that calm was very important.”