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La Biennale di Venezia

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Biennale Architettura 2021

Special Project
Pavilion of Applied Arts

La Biennale di Venezia with the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Three British Mosques
Sale d’Armi A, Arsenale

La Biennale di Venezia and the V&A present Three British Mosques. Responding to the theme How will we live together? set by Lebanese architect Hashim Sarkis, this display marks the fifth year of the V&A’s collaboration with La Biennale di Venezia and will explore contemporary multiculturalism through three adapted mosque spaces in London.

Collaborating with author and architect Shahed Saleem, the Pavilion looks at the self-built and often undocumented world of adapted mosques. Three case studies will examine the Brick Lane mosque, a former Protestant chapel then Synagogue; Old Kent Road mosque housed in a former pub; and Harrow Central mosque, a purpose-built space that sits next door to the converted terraced house it used to occupy. The Pavilion will be carpeted, as in a mosque, and these stories will be explored through 3D architectural reconstructions, filmed interviews and photographs.

Islam is a highly portable religion and in Britain any group can start a mosque, without appeal or approval from a higher religious authority. Most mosques have been created through the adaptation of existing buildings, which range from houses, shops, cinemas, pubs and other former places of worship. Often communities actively fundraise in the aspiration of building new mosques on these sites to better meet their community’s needs.

The first mosque in Britain was created in 1889 by adapting a terraced house in Liverpool, and there are now 1,800 mosques across the country. The history of the mosque in Britain is one of cultural dialogue with different histories merging and presenting new opportunities for our urban fabric to evolve. Designed and in many cases built by its users, the mosque has given Britain an entirely new form of architecture.

Dr Christopher Turner and Dr Ella Kilgallon, curators of the 2021 Pavilion of Applied Arts, said: ‘Shahed Saleem has carried out a comprehensive study of the history of the British mosque and has also designed several. The V&A has worked with him to explore three different case studies that illuminate stories of immigration, identity, and community aspiration. Most mosques in Britain are grass-roots, crowd-sourced, community projects that exemplify creative reuse. As new-build mosques replace these ad-hoc structures, this form of community-led design is being lost. The V&A’s Pavilion is an attempt to record and celebrate this stage of mosque-making in Britain.’

Dr Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A said: ‘Ever since the emergence of the first mosque in Britain in 1889 – created within a terraced house in Liverpool – Islam has generated an entirely new architecture for Britain. For the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, the V&A presents Three British Mosques, an exploration of the creative and cultural exchange that makes contemporary Britain so dynamic. We are proud to continue our innovative relationship with La Biennale di Venezia with this display.’

The Pavilion of Applied Arts Special Project has been made possible thanks to lead support from Volkswagen Group and donors to the Venice Architecture Biennale Fund in memory of Dr Martin Roth.

Biennale Sneak Peek

Image 1 – How will we live together?
3D Lidar scan of the Brick Lane Mosque. Built in 1743 as a Huguenot chapel, the building was then used as a synagogue, and became a mosque for the Bangladeshi Muslim community in 1976.

Photo: Guy Sinclair, FabLab, University of Westminster


Image 2 – Sneak peek of the project
Measured elevation of the mihrab and minbar of the Harrow house-mosque. The mihrab is one of a number of interior elements being recreated at 1:1 scale and displayed in the Pavilion.

Drawing: Leen Ajlan

Biennale Architettura
Biennale Architettura