Timeless or Timely? Vantage Points of Mosque Design

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Tammy Gaber

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Abstract

Books Reviewed:Azra Akšamija, Mosque Manifesto: Propositions for Spaces
of Coexistence. Berlin: Revolver Publishers, 2015; Christiane Gruber, ed., Islamic
Architecture on the Move: Motion and Modernity. Bristol: Intellect, 2016;
Bernard O’Kane, The Mosques of Egypt. Cairo: American University in Cairo
Press, 2016.
It may seem to some people that writing about the architecture of Islam and
the mosque, the Islamic building par excellence, is an exercise in reiterating
the past and earlier finds – possibly packaging what is already known in an
attractive visual format. What these three books have in common is the effort
to analyze these two subjects in a new way and in line with three very different
methods. Azra Akšamija’s Mosque Manifesto: Propositions for Spaces
of Coexistence is a collection of ten of her original research-creation pieces
framed by ten articles. Research-creation is a hybrid scholarly approach that
“supports the development of knowledge and innovation through artistic expression,
scholarly investigation, and experimentation.”1Although she does
not use this term, one should keep it in mind while reviewing the context and
impact of her artistic work. Trained as an architect, she is also a historian and
practicing artist, a designer and professor. Her productions critically review
and express her proposed ten points of design. This vantage point is clearly
unique, in that the material is primary and generative.
Christiane Gruber’s edited Islamic Architecture on the Move: Motion and
Modernity compiles the voices of eight academics reflecting on specific aspects
of the physical and ideological movement of Islamic ideas and forms. Some
of the contributions rely heavily on previous research; however, three essays
are original research. In The Mosques of Egypt, O’Kane showcases his photographs
of over eighty mosques. His academic expertise and experience in editing
the works of renowned Islamic scholars gives him a unique position, and
his excellent book includes both contemporary and detailed documentation of
well-studied buildings, several lesser known structures, and several modern
mosques.
Tellingly, each book’s structure betrays a great deal about how its content
is to be received, for those who practice and study the arts are well aware of
an object’s power of visual and tactile qualities, even if that object happens to ...

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