Some weeks ago the Sakirin Mosque opened in Istanbul, Turkey. Sakirin Mosque is the first mosque in the country to have an interior designed by a woman, Zeynep Fadillioglu. An interior designer known for jet setting ways, she nonetheless won a commission to redesign the religious structure in Istanbul. She even recruited women to help in the construction. Begun last year, the project was just recently completed. It’s a fairly impressive building, subtly blending modern techniques and materials into what might be the world’s most conservative design vernacular.
One thing that is notable in the Şakirin Mosque will be the women’s area. In traditional mosques, this is often a very small, dark and apathetic place at the back. Although many believe that this is what “Islam” ordains, it is actually a relic from the culture of the medieval Middle East. No wonder ultra-Orthodox Judaism has a similar tradition of male-favoring seclusion. In Fadıllıoğlu’s design, women will still be separate, but the upper-level designated for them will be open, lighted, and beautifully decorated. A mosque designed by a woman, as she proudly noted, will be more welcoming to women.
The mosque will also have a small museum showcasing works of Islamic which is plans to opart. Among these might be the overlay of the Ka’aba of Mecca, the holiest Muslim shrine, which the Şakir family recently bought at an auction at Sotheby’s for about a million dollars. The total expense for the mosque is unknown – but it is estimated to be very, very high.
Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu is a Turkish designer known for creating some of the most stylish lounges and nightclubs in Istanbul. As a winner of the Andrew Martin International Designer of the Year award, her fame, and that of her husband, restaurateur Meto, has gone beyond Turkey. ”For almost 25 years, this glamorous pair have been creating sophisticated hot spots that are the number-one destinations for Turkey’s glitterati,” wrote The Independent in 2004, in a review of the couple’s then newly opened restaurant in London. “Zeynep manages to make her passion for all things Oriental and European sit together in easy, informal arrangements.” Yet, probably none of the projects Fadıllıoğlu has undertaken before were as passionate as her current one in terms of combing the Orient and Europe: the design of the most modern mosque that Istanbul, and Turkey, has ever seen.
The project was commissioned by a London-based wealthy Arab-Turkish family in the memory of their deceased mother, Semiha Şakir, whose name is recognized by Turks from the quality schools she founded. Her children, Ghassan, Gazi and Gade, have decided to name the mosque “Şakirin.”
It obviously is a reference to their family. But it also has the literal meaning, “Those who are thankful (to God).”
The Şakirin mosque seems to be a combination of traditional elegance and modern austerity. It has a dome; but unlike those on traditional mosques, this metal sphere looks like a space ship. The architect, Hüsrev Tayla, built Ankara’s magnificent Kocatepe Mosque before, which is in the old Ottoman style. This time, in collaboration with other artists such British designer William Pye, he has taken a whole new direction.
Fadıllıoğlu’s job is to design the interior. Different artists are working for her on the altar, calligraphy and pool in the courtyard. Every detail, from the carpets to tiles, is designed anew. She is also planning a system by which the worshippers, after taking their shoes off to enter the mosque, will wear galoshes. Hygenie, she notes, is as important as aesthetics.
Admittedly, I have not been inside a lot of mosques and don’t know much about how light and open space is supposed to work in them, traditionally. I just know that this has a crazy gorgeous interior, with a lovely soaring, open feel to it. It’s got lots of gold in the color scheme, but it manages to be tasteful and elegant, instead of looking like Trump Mosque. The unfinished wood accents contrast nicely. And I love how the “dripping chandelier” catches and magnifies natural light. I want that thing in my house!