Modern mosques tend to be gaudy or bulky. But, as Anne McElvoy finds, one female Turkish designer is letting in the light
Mosques have long been places of wonder, in which the elegance and serenity of the architecture have enhanced the atmosphere of worship. But in recent years, alas, new ones have looked much less attractive. Either they take the “Saudi shopping mall” approach of enormous dimensions and extravagant bling, or they follow the trend for large copies of traditional Sunni mosques, whose towers and domes try to emulate classical forms such as Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia without attaining its delicacy and exquisite colour palate. They are often inelegantly proportioned, built of concrete or other coarse materials, and have garishly lit yet drearily decorated interiors.
Zeynep Fadillioglu, a 60-year-old designer and the first Turkish woman to build a mosque, has struck out in a different direction with the Sakirin Mosque in Istanbul, marrying scale with lightness of touch. Challenging the conformism of mosque architecture has not, however, proved easy. Six years after its grand opening, the Sakirin (which means “thankful to God”) still attracts heated debate over everything from the role it accords women to the patterning of its carpet.
Not everyone warmed to Fadillioglu’s involvement in the project. One critic fretted that “it might end up like a coffee shop or restaurant”, a jibe at her work on swanky bars and hotels. (She is married to Metin Fadillioglu, a well-known restaurateur, and has decorated many of his enterprises.) Turning her hand to a mosque may have seemed an odd call but Fadillioglu, who is herself secular, cites her family’s influence. Her ancestors were wealthy silk and cotton merchants. Her grandmother introduced her to Ottoman textiles and visited mosques with her to observe their architectural variety. […]