Designing for spatial equality in Mosques
With mosques being a central space for the Muslim community, it is important they are spaces where all members of the community are considered. Building a community up, begins with ensuring, men, women, and children, regardless of economic and social status have equal access to resources. Through a sensitive design approach, architecture can nurture the foundations from which communities build a relationship with the mosque.
From a woman’s perspective, spaces designated for women in mosques sometimes lack the same ambience and aesthetic as spaces allocated for men. Mosques in the UK sometimes occupy existing buildings such as houses rather than purpose-built new builds. Also, as it is a religious obligation for men to attend congregational prayer every Friday, it could be perceived larger spaces are not necessary for women. Therefore, within the process of integrating prayer spaces into existing spatial constraints, consideration for user experience becomes lost.
This spatial inequality can be addressed through a well-developed design strategy. Women should be involved in the consultation process at the early stages of a design. This provides the opportunity to voice their ideas, activity options, how they wish to use the space, what kind of spaces would make them want to go and the resources they require. Creating purpose-built, approachable spaces for women can be achieved several ways.
- The Approach: The approach to the prayer space is the first spatial experience with the mosque. It should be designed to be easily identifiable, clean, and well-lit, with suitable access for wheelchairs or child buggies and a clear connection to the prayer space.
- Privacy: Through accommodating different levels of privacy to enable some women to see the imam or the imam to be covered in view creates an environment where each visitor feels comfortable. Cambridge mosque provides different screens within the women’s prayer space to allow for this.
- Ambience: Ambience can be created through adequate light, ventilation, materiality, furniture or spatial layout. Regent’s Park Mosque is a beautiful example of this. Large windows, floor-to-ceiling heights, and intricate decoration are cohesive between the men’s and women’s spaces while clearly separated. The double-height space places the women’s space on the first floor overlooking the men’s prayer area. It is spacious, well light and acoustically sound.
- Acoustics: Women should be able to hear the Imam clearly. Whether this is through the shape of the space or technology such as high-quality speakers. This is clearly demonstrated at East London mosque, where the women’s space is separate but does not compromise the ability to hear and feel connected.
The improved design of spaces for women in mosques can result in women feeling encouraged to be active in their communities and provide a safe space of their own to gather, learn and worship.
This also encourages families to visit the mosque together, which can build create stronger communities and strengthen networks. There is communal benefit in this and hopefully what it can achieve in the long term is a society who have a connection to the mosque as an integral aspect of their lives.