Case study: BIG’s Islamic Cultural Centre in Albania

Case study: BIG’s Islamic Cultural Centre in Albania

A team led by Denmark-based architecture firm BIG has won an international competition to design a 27,000m2 cultural complex — including a mosque, Islamic centre and a museum of religious harmony — in the centre of Albania’s capital Tirana.

BIG’s design beat four other finalists, including Pritzker Prize-winner Zaha Hadid. The complex will serve Tirana’s Muslim community and will also educate the public about Islamic values.

The site
Tirana is currently undergoing a transformation with the restoration of existing buildings and the construction of new public and private urban structures. BIG’s project is located on Scanderbeg Square in the heart of the capital.

The concept
The design was influenced by two intersecting axes and formal requirements. Firstly, the city grid called for the framing of the square and a coherent urban identity. Secondly, the main wall of the mosque needed to orientate towards Mecca.

BIG maintained the street wall and eaves line, and rotated the ground floor, so both the mosque and the plaza face Mecca. This creates a series of public plazas, with two small spaces beside the mosque and a large square with a minaret in.

The plazas are semi-covered and serve as an extension of the place of worship. By turning the mosque inside out, the shaded urban space can be shared by all, including non-Muslims. The scheme is envisaged to be a beacon of religious tolerance.

The details
The mosque can house up to 1,000 people performing their daily prayers. Due to the layout of courtyards and public space, the complex can accommodate groups of 5,000 on Fridays and up to 10,000 on special holy days.

Drawing inspiration from Islamic mashrabiya screens, the facade’s rational, rectangular windows will provide shading and privacy while still allowing views out. The qualities of the mosque will change dramatically throughout the day as the light washes across the curved facades.

Thomas Christoffersen, Partner-in-Charge, BIG, added: “In its triangular layout the mosque was somehow tugged in the corner. Now it sits at the end of the plaza, framed by its two neighbours.

The resultant architecture evokes the curved domes and arches of traditional Islamic architecture, in both the mosque itself and the semi-domed spaces around it.”

The complex will also feature a garden which contains all of the plants mentioned in the Quran.

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