x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 September 2017

'Green' mosque hopes for Saadiyat Island

An Emirati architect has designed a concept for a mosque that would use solar energy and recycle water for irrigation.

Suhail Mohammed Suleiman dedicated the design of the mosque to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed.
Suhail Mohammed Suleiman dedicated the design of the mosque to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed.

An architect student is hoping that his design for an "absolutely not traditional mosque" will one day be built and adorn Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island.

Suhail Mohammed Suleiman, 23, a graduating architecture student from Alhosn University, designed the mosque following internships at the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi and General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments.

The novel concept, along with an adjacent Islamic centre, would showcase rooftop gardens and an open courtyard covered with fabric that would provide continuous shading from the sun.

Solar panels on the roof of the "green" construction project would produce some of the building's electricity. The water used in ritual ablutions would be recycled as irrigation for landscaping in and around the building.

Made of white, translucent material, the building, designed by an Emirati architect, represents a visual and environmentally friendly departure from traditional designs.

"Water is scarce here and conserving it is an important issue," said Suhail Suleiman, who developed the mosque concept as part of his graduation project.

Mr Suleiman is dedicating the mosque design to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

Inside the planned mosque, Mr Suleiman suggests the use of special carpet covered by impermeable material, to make cleaning the worship space easier.

Perhaps the building's most striking feature is its facade, made of a special translucent polymer known as Corian. The material would be manufactured by the US chemical company DuPont.

"It is much more environmentally friendly than glass or steel," said Dr Naima Benkari, the assistant professor in architecture and urban planning at the university, who oversaw Mr Suleiman's graduating project.

"This material is not glass but it allows the sunlight to come in without the heat," she said.

The light allowed to come in from outside will reduce the need to use electrical lights within the building. The fact that heat will be kept away also means a reduced reliance on air conditioning. The material is commonly used in interiors and will also be used within the facade of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Dr Benkari said.

The Urban Planning Council has reviewed the concept, with officials advising that the project's green features make it eligible for a two-pearl rating out of a possible five pearls, under the Estidama green building system.

Describing the design, Dr Benkari said: "It is absolutely not a traditional mosque ... it is a quite modern, organic kind of mosque."

The most common traditional features of a mosque are the dome and minaret. While these features have been key elements in mosque design for centuries, the earliest mosques did not have them, she said.

"To have a mosque, you do not need that much," said Dr Benkari. "You need a clean flat area and a pole, column or sign that shows where Mecca is."

The dome, minaret and other features appeared from history and eventually became common features.

While Mr Suleiman's design does not have these traditional features, it does have elements that symbolise them. The building features a large curve, symbolising the dome shape, while the two tall structures pointing towards the sky symbolise minarets.

"I made something very different because our religion is [relevant] for every time and everywhere," Mr Suleiman said.

The young architect is collecting funds for the project's construction and negotiating with the Tourism Development and Investment Company in a bid to see his project built on Saadiyat Island. With its design, the building will be "in harmony" with other modern structures planned for the district, he said.

After some technical adjustments, the building has been approved for construction by the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments in Abu Dhabi. However, it is not yet known whether the project will, in fact, be built.

"It is a developed concept that needs to be presented into construction documents. These construction documents are not yet done," said Dr Benkari, explaining that this step is usually done as a project is readied for construction.

vtodorova@thenational.ae