Musallah Haseen Pasha, Simplicity and Serenity in a Sacred Space.
Name: Masallah Haseen Pasha
The very concept of the project and foray into design originated from the basic question – What is a mosque?
The scenario being at its pristine best, with the onset of the sacred month of Ramadan a few weeks away, in the locale of Hyderabad, brimming for its transition into the bustling and vibrant city it is, filled with heritage tangible and intangible. The brief required that a small prayer space be designed for the elderly residents living within an old and urban apartment building, to address their needs, since walking to the mosque nearby, to offer the supplemental nightly taraweeh prayers in Ramadan is fairly difficult for them. The taraweeh is prayed in congregation and can last up to two hours or more. The local tradition is to attempt a complete reading of the Quran during the prayer over the course of the month. The taraweeh is one prayer that women and men pray in congregation, which is rare in India. The prayer space was to be designed specifically for the month of Ramadan.
Pertaining to this, three major challenges cropped up, which are, time, space and money. For starters, the space which was assigned for prayer and donated for the cause comprised two parking garages, situated at the stilt level of the apartment building. The approximate area of this space is 240 square feet. Moreover, the project was sponsored on a pro-bono basis, making it necessary for all expenditure to be thoughtful and minimal. Adding to this, the work itself had to be achieved within two weeks, as it had to be finished and prepared for usage before Ramadan began.
Therein, at the initial stage, came the question of what entails a mosque, and what essence should be encompassed within its being, regardless of the extent of space available. As architects, it is vital to look up to precedents for inspiration, and upon doing so, they identified two such similar prayer spaces. The first of these was a musallah (small prayer space) that Aurangzeb built for himself when he succeeded in infiltrating Golconda circa 1687, known as the Fateh Masjid (Victory Mosque to commemorate the Mughal victory), located inside the Qutb Shahi Tombs complex. While there were mosques present in the complex, the emperor, being austere, preferred less ornamented mosques, and as a result, the musallah was built for his prayers, and connect undistractedly with the Almighty. The second mosque studied, while larger, but of similar proportion is the mosque in Chiran Palace, which was constructed by Prince Mukarram Jah Bahadur, the grandson of the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, about 70 years ago. The mosque is free of the customary domes, minarets and embellishments. The waffle roof rests entirely on two concrete columns in the front and back, giving the illusion of a floating structure, resembling twin wings in flight, stark white against the green backdrop of KBR National Park. It is an attempt towards a vocabulary for contemporary mosque architecture in India.
These examples have indicated that the barest essence of a mosque is a space, where the faithful can gather to offer prayers, and the spatiality should cater to congregations. Structurally, a mosque can be recognized as two perpendicular panes, a horizontal surface for prayer, and a vertical barrier (the mihrab) whose orientation towards the Kaaba, in Mecca, guides the prayer. The additional elements observed within mosques, including the ornamentation have been introduced due to the effect of various factors, such as time, need, local climate, aesthetics, craftsmanship, cultural influences and evolving traditions. Shorn of all embellishment, a mosque can become singularly-purposed: not necessarily a contemplative space to spend time in, cut-off from the chaos of the materialistic life, but instead a pitstop to take pause from a busy day and quickly join the congregation to nourish the spiritual self before dissolving back into routine.
Having concluded the components, and formal requirements of the mosque, the design proceeded towards understanding what the appearance of a contemporary urban mosque should be like. The importance of this question lies in ensuring how tradition and times are represented, as it is essential to hold onto culture, tradition for the sake of it should not take precedence over relevance to time and context. The intent, therefore, was to create a bare, serene prayer space devoid of color, with soft surfaces and minimal ornamentation.
The ornate Islamic geometry, which forms the basis for ornamentation, illustrations and relief features has been derived from complex mathematical patterns. Computational tools to simplify and translate geometry into a three-dimensional non-Sinusoidal waveform were used to design the mihrab, which is the only embellished element of the micro-mosque. Softness within this ensemble was introduced by lycra stretched over a geometric metal frame. This formed a tufted surface, supported through the help of upholsterers to stitch the fabric onto the frame, creating dips, tucks, and pleats, which involved application of techniques ranging from tailoring to architecture.
One of the most important aspects within this project is the incorporation of natural as well as artificial. The periodic undulations and fractional variations create an interesting play of light and shadow over the surface. On the other side of the directional wall, a blank white plane is punctuated by a custom-designed black metal wall sconce reminiscent of the Kaaba: a glowing isometric cube in two-and-a-half dimensions.
Musalla Haseen Pasha depicts in its design and execution, the range of expression that architecture itself encompasses. The intended space for the project being merely an enclosure opted for convenience, the design process applied involved thoughts derived from historic examples of architecture itself, ultimately deriving at a design solution which held true to its tradition, and is well suited to its context. It is gratifying to acknowledge that the project was conceptualized and executed within two weeks, in time for the first taraweeh prayer this Ramadan, and now comfortably accommodates 24 men and 12 women, giving them an abode for their daily evening prayers. The generous efforts of the client, Excel Builders and Developers and their CSR arm, the SJA Foundation, should be duly acknowledged for contributing towards this project.
-Devashree Vyas, Volume Zero.