Cambridge Central Mosque: the tranquil garden of Europe's first eco mosque
In April, mass plantings of bold tulips add a burst of bright colour to the tranquil garden of Europe’s first eco-mosque. Words Alys Fowler, photographs Jason Ingram
Cambridge’s new Central Mosque is something special. Designed by Marks Barfield Associates to be an environmentally friendly place of worship, its interior is a deft use of lightness, the central pillars rising like geometric trees to hold the building afloat. The outer garden does more than merely
add to this outlook, it entices you in.
Beginning on the street, where jasmine twines over the fence, this is a garden that leads you gently away from the busy road, through a community garden to its quieter, more contemplative quadrants. Evergreen yew hedges give a sense of enclosure, while crab apples add seasonal interest and food and shelter for wildlife. At its centre is a fountain, an important feature of Islamic gardens, surrounded by a chahar-bagh, a four-fold garden layout found in many Persian gardens, which is based on the four gardens of Paradise mentioned in the Qur’an. These quadrilateral gardens are divided by flowing water or walkways to represent the four rivers that flow from Paradise.
The gardens were designed by Islamic-garden specialist Emma Clark, working with landscape designers Adam Hunt and Lulu Urquhart, who make up Urquhart & Hunt. Read more about the garden below.
What A public garden surrounding an environmentally friendly mosque. Where Cambridge. Size 312 square metres. Soil Imported soil for the garden, very free draining. Climate Low rainfall. Hardiness zone USDA 9.
Enclosed by evergreen yew hedges, the garden of the Cambridge Central Mosque is a place of quiet reflection, designed using traditional Islamic principles that reflect the sense of lightness seen in the mosque itself. This vast, airy structure, Europe’s first eco-mosque, is held aloft on elegant, tree-like columns.
Fragrant blossom plays a part in traditional Islamic design, serving to awaken the senses. In this garden crab apples, which suit the UK soil and climate, replace the more traditional orange, lemon and pomegranate trees. Their delicate pink blossom complements the tulips while also offering wildlife interest.
Geometrical patterns, such as these surrounding the garden’s fountain, are central to Islamic design and art, and are used extensively throughout the Cambridge Central Mosque both inside and out.
Water is at the heart of the Islamic garden and Paradise Gardens typically have a fountain at their centre. Here four paths radiate out from a water feature, designed in collaboration with water specialist Andrew Ewing, creating a calming focal point that helps to draw visitors in.
First cultivated in Turkey at the height of the Ottoman Empire, tulips are common in Islamic gardens. Here they bring rich colour to coincide with Ramadan in April and May. Later in the season, roses, which also have potent Islamic symbolism, will be grown over the bespoke structures.
Five tulips from Cambridge Central Mosque
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