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  • 04.06.10

Can a Modern Mosque in Copenhagen Settle the Disputes Between Danes and Muslims?

Given the local tensions with Muslim immigrants, the Bjarke Ingels Group mosque is either ingenious or outrageous.

Can a Modern Mosque in Copenhagen Settle the Disputes Between Danes and Muslims?

Bjarke Ingels
Group
has conceived of an island resort out of
thin air, kidnapped
Denmark’s national treasure
to show off at the Shanghai Expo, and
designed a library
for a Kazakh dictator
who makes Ivan the Terrible look like St.
Francis of Assisi. None of which compares to the audacity of this:
They’re building Copenhagen’s first ground-up mosque, and it looks like a
giant minaret.

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The design is gorgeous, a sort of patterned ziggurat that climbs 150
feet in the air, before culminating in a dome-shaped skylight; over the
sidewalk, a pair of slender minarets preside. But in a country where
the right makes no secret of its anti-Muslim
sentiment
, and where
ill-conceived cartoons
stoked an international crisis a few years
ago, the mosque is bound to stir emotions.

It speaks volumes that the architects felt the need to describe the
building in Danish terms. In their project statement, they bill the
150-foot spiral as “the Islamic counterpart” to Copenhagen’s Our Saviour
Church, and the skylight replaces a traditional closed ceiling so that
the place can be “bathed in Danish daylight.” “Our purpose was to design
a Danish mosque as an interpretation of the Islamic architectural and
cultural tradition adjusted to the Danish context — the same elements
that we know from traditional mosques in the Arabic world, adapted to
Danish climate conditions and lighting,” Bjarke Ingels said.

Is this just window dressing? Carefully crafted rhetoric to convince
Copenhagen, a city that somehow manages to be both a progressive mecca
and a hopeless backwater, to finally build a showcase mosque? If it is,
it’s working. The design cleared a big hurdle in the city approval
process last month. And as long as the country doesn’t follow Switzerland’s
example
, Copenhagen may have its mosque yet.

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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