The Islamic Cultural Centre and The London Central Mosque
Heritage Category: Listed Building
List Entry Number: 1452906
Date first listed: 09-Mar-2018
Statutory Address: Islamic Cultural Centre and London Central Mosque, 146 Park Road, London, NW8 7RG
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Statutory Address: Islamic Cultural Centre and London Central Mosque, 146 Park Road, London, NW8 7RG
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
County: Greater London Authority
District: City of Westminster (London Borough)
Parish: Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference: TQ2738582698, TQ2739882714
Mosque and Islamic cultural centre, 1970-1977, Sir Frederick Gibberd and Partners. The job architects were L Siwani and D C Loader. The practice added another wing to the west of the building in the 1990s.
Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the interior of the south and west ranges, and the car park, is not of special architectural or historic interest.
Reasons for Designation
The Islamic Cultural Centre and London Central Mosque (1970-77), by Sir Frederick Gibberd, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* for the simple silhouette and careful proportions of its dome and minaret, the rhythm of its elegant arcaded elevations and its white and gold palette, it has become emblematic of the modern British mosque;
* in its combination of the architectural traditions of British Modernism and historic Islamic forms, it is a representation of an increasingly multi-cultural society and the first Muslim building in England to attempt this bringing together of traditions;
* for its quality of finish, internally and externally, including the impressive, dome-ceilinged prayer hall and marble-floored entrance foyer;
* as a major work by Sir Frederick Gibberd, an important C20 architect and planner.
* for its symbolic role as a landmark of the Muslim faith in Britain;
* as the only mosque to be built at a diplomatic level, its construction after such a long gestation reflected the acceptance of the Muslim faith in Britain by the Establishment.
MOSQUES IN BRITAIN
Whilst records trace the presence of Muslims in Britain back centuries, the earliest Muslim prayer halls were to be found amongst the sea-faring communities of her port cities from the late C19, as Muslim sailors (lascars) created the first settled communities. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 saw numbers increase from the Yemen area and by the early C20 there were around 10,000 Muslims in Britain.
Britain’s first mosques were established in 1889, one in a converted house in Liverpool, the other being purpose-built: the Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking. The history of mosque building continued to be closely related to the history of post-colonisation, trade and Empire. From 1889 up to the Second World War there were only a handful of mosques in the country. It was only after the independence and Partition of India in 1947 that Muslim migration from certain parts of India and newly formed Pakistan increased rapidly, and subsequently so did the establishment of mosques. From the 1960s new migrant communities started opening mosques in the neighbourhoods of the towns and cities where they settled.
The early mosques were usually houses, and indeed these still form a sizable proportion of all mosques that are in existence today. Sometimes a more substantial building would be acquired and converted; in this way many other building types, from former churches or synagogues, to public houses, warehouses, cinemas and shops, were converted into mosques.
From the late 1960s the first purpose built mosques of the post-war generation of Muslim settlers started to appear. Generally, these were modest buildings, with a simplistic use of Islamic motifs. As the number of purpose built mosques increased through the 1970s and 1980s, an architectural language developed whereby the local vernacular was combined with Islamic elements to create buildings that appeared as an assemblage of styles. From the late 1990s and into the C21, new purpose-built mosques have generally sought a more coherent Islamic language by replicating historical styles in a more literal way. This has been countered by a few examples of a fully contemporary approach to new mosque architecture.
In 2018, whilst no definitive figure exists, there are estimated to be approximately 1,500 mosques in the country, of which less than 20 per cent are believed to be purpose-built, with the remainder being formed either from houses or other converted buildings.
THE LONDON CENTRAL MOSQUE AND ISLAMIC CULTURAL CENTRE
The movement to establish a central mosque in London spanned some 70 years and the building’s long gestation was tied-up with the politics, diplomacy and international relations which shaped much of the C20. The idea of a building which would represent Islam in Britain, situated in the capital of the British Empire, was initiated by a small number of eminent Muslims who had lived or settled in London since the late C19. In 1910 the London Mosque Fund was established to raise the necessary funds; it was opened with an initial donation of £5,000 from the Aga Khan, but little progress was made. Another fund, the London Nizamiah Fund, was later established in 1928 by Lord Headley, a prominent Muslim convert. This got as far as appointing an architect and purchasing a site, but eventually stalled.
The idea of a landmark of the Muslim faith in the capital of the British Empire was politically sensitive from the outset. Set against anti-Muslim sentiment within parts of the Establishment, was a recognition of the diplomatic benefits that such an undertaking could bring. This became more pertinent in the 1930s with new European allegiances with the Middle East, the struggle for Home Rule gathering pace in India and proposals for partition of Palestine stirring up Muslims in Britain and elsewhere. Finally, in 1944, the government under Winston Churchill gave its proactive support to the cause, providing funds for the purchase of a property known as Regent’s Lodge on the outer circle of Regent’s Park, and offering this as the site for a new mosque. From here the Islamic Cultural Centre was launched, and in 1961 the assets from the Nizamiah Fund and the London Mosque Fund were amalgamated into the Central London Mosque Trust.
A first design for the new mosque, in an elaborate historicist style by the Egyptian architect, General Ramsey Omar, was turned down by town planners, as was a second amended scheme. An international competition was then launched by the mosque trust in 1968, with the brief highlighting the need to respect the early C19 John Nash terraces that border the park and the character of the park itself, whilst consciously expressing itself as a mosque and the centre point for Muslim religious observance in London. A total of 52 designs were received, 41 of which were from overseas. However, the chosen winner was the London-based architect, Sir Frederick Gibberd.
From his early career Frederick Gibberd (1908-1984) was influenced by the European International Style and became one of the architects who fathered the emergence of Modern architecture in Britain. Among numerous positions held throughout his career, Gibberd was the principal of the Architectural Association from 1942 to 1944, where he taught Philip Powell, Hidalgo Moya and Neville Conder, the latter going on to design the Ismaili Centre, Kensington, in 1983. Gibberd’s modernist credentials were impeccable, and these were aptly demonstrated in his other major religious building, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of 1962 (listed Grade II*). It was undoubtedly because of this that Gibberd’s design for the London Central Mosque, complete with dome and minaret, met with considerable disquiet from the architectural press, steeped as it was in modernist orthodoxies. Gibberd nevertheless weathered the criticism, clear that the symbolic language of the building was central to those who would use it.
The building's construction after such a long gestation reflected the acceptance of the Muslim faith in Britain by the Establishment, and the use of familiar architectural devices associated with Islamic culture is an important marker of this. The silhouette of its dome and minaret forms a significant presence on the North London skyline, and the rhythm of its elegant arcaded elevations and simple white and gold palette have made it emblematic of the modern British mosque. It is a landmark building, both architecturally and historically, of considerable national importance as a symbol of Islam in England.
Mosque and Islamic cultural centre, 1970-1977, Sir Frederick Gibberd and Partners. The job architects were L Siwani and D C Loader. The practice added another wing to the building in the 1990s.
MATERIALS: the building is of concrete construction, with the elevations clad in concrete panels with a polished Portland stone aggregate, and glass in-fill held in dark brown anodised aluminium frames. The dome is formed of light-weight pre-cast concrete segments and is clad in gold-coloured copper alloy sheeting.
PLAN: the building is situated on the western edge of Regent’s Park. The site is surrounded by trees and is approached from the west. Four flat-roofed ranges are arranged around a rectangular courtyard which, though not square to the compass points, will be referred to here as the north, south, east and west ranges.
The north and east ranges have two storeys and a lower ground floor/basement level. They are adjoined, forming an L-shaped footprint. A 44 metre-high minaret rises over the east range which contains a large main entrance foyer leading through into the prayer hall. The prayer hall is a double-height space, roofed with a dome; it has a square footprint and projects outwards to the east of the range, away from the courtyard. On the first floor of the east range is a library and access to the women’s gallery overlooking the prayer hall. The lower ground floor contains a lower foyer with access to flexible exhibition and event spaces beneath the prayer hall. The north range contains offices on the ground floor, a meeting hall above, and the canteen and meeting rooms in the basement. The building’s services are on the roof, contained within red-brown pod-like enclosures.
The south range is detached and this contains residential accommodation. The west range is joined to the north range and is a later addition, designed by Gibberd and Partners in the 1990s. This range has offices over a slightly sunken ground floor undercroft car park. The interiors of the south and west ranges*, including the undercroft car park*, are not of special interest.
The building's central courtyard is an important aspect of its architecture and plan, although modestly paved in concrete slab. It has some cast concrete benches along the west side and an external stair which gives access to the underground car park (the car park* is not of special interest) which is surrounded by a pierced cast concrete balustrade. A similar feature is found to the north and south of the prayer hall where stairs lead down to the basement and there are further courtyards, including a semi-circular sunken one to the east. These spaces are part of the original plan of the building although have lesser spatial interest than the principal central courtyard.
EXTERIOR: from outside the site the building is partly screened by trees, but its golden dome and white minaret, both topped with a crescent finial, rise above the tree line, signalling its presence and purpose. The minaret here is symbolic, but there is a lift in the centre which gives access to a roofed balcony, pierced with arched openings. Although of concrete, the balcony is suggestive of traditional carpentry work.
The site is entered from the west, through a gated entrance, and the courtyard is then reached through the full-height free-standing arched gateway at the corner between the south and west ranges; this was added at the same time as the west range. The cool, elegant, courtyard elevations of the north, east and west ranges are defined by the bold rhythm of narrow full-height four-centred arches in-filled with bronzed glazing held in brown metal frames. The arched panels are connected at the top by a continuous pre-cast structural beam serving as a parapet. A similar arrangement exists on the outer faces of the ranges, although here some of the arches are blind, faced with small white mosaic tiles, or only partly glazed.
The south range is of fair-faced concrete block with full-height bays formed of cast concrete panels. Part of the ground floor forms an undercroft, giving access into the flats. Windows to the main rooms have four-centred arches, and secondary spaces have windows with square heads. At the east end is a cast concrete external stair.
INTERIOR: the most impressive interiors are found in the east range and prayer hall. In the east range the large entrance foyer has polished stone flooring and stone-clad columns. Three sets of glazed timber double doors open off the courtyard into the foyer, and these are replicated on the facing side of the range, giving access into the prayer hall. A stair with a glass balustrade and polished brass handrail leads down to the basement. The prayer hall has a near square foot-print, its flat roof is supported on four concrete columns set in from the corners. At the centre of the roof slab is a large circular hole from which rises the dome. This is lined in a wide band of tiles with geometric patterns and extracts from the Quran and pierced with small circular blue-glazed windows. The upper part of the dome is painted blue. The mihrab (niche) in the Quibla wall (faced during prayer) has a decorative brass surround, which is a later addition. The ladies' gallery is on the west side, opposite the Quibla wall and there is a pierced wooden screen to restrict views into the space from the main prayer hall.
The library and meeting space on the first floor of the east and north ranges respectively, have distinctive vaulted ceilings, the vaults running between the arched openings of opposing pairs of windows. Staircases throughout the building generally have balustrades of slender square-section steel balusters and flat hand rails. Doors are generally of dark-stained timber, either solid flush panel or with several different configurations of polygonal glazed panels. The interiors of offices and less public spaces are simple, without features of particular note. The male and female wash rooms for wudhu (ritual ablution) have been refitted.
* Pursuant to s1(5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.
Books and journals
Manley, C, Frederick Gibberd, (2017), pp. 106-109
Saleem, S, The British Mosque: an architectural and social history, (forthcoming)
Parham, H, 'Two Faiths: Modernism Meets Islam in London, 1969-1984' in Harwood, Elain, Powers, Alan, Twentieth Century Society - Twentieth Century Architecture 10: the Seventies, (2012), pp 119-129
'London Central Mosque' in Architects' Journal, , Vol. 166, (10 August 1977), pp. 255-269
'The London Mosque' in Architectural Review, , Vol. 162, (September 1977), pp. 144-147
'Just What Nash Would Have Liked?' in Architects' Journal, , Vol. 150, (22 October 1969), pp. 988-990
'East Meets West' in Building Design, (8 July 1977), pp. 8-9
'Islam in Regent's Park; the London Central Mosque' in Concrete quarterly, , Vol. 115, (October 1977), pp. 34-39
'London Central Mosque' in RIBA Journal, (June 1978), pp. 228-233
'Meeting the Brief: Islam Comes West' in The Architect, (August 1977), pp. 27-30
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing