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Glenn Murcutt: Architecture of Faith

Six years in planning, four years in construction and all up an epic 10 years in the making, but now the Australian Islamic Centre in Newport, Melbourne is now on show at NGV Australia, Glenn Murcutt: Architecture of Faith.

Annie Reid


August 10th, 2016


Sean Fennessy

Designed by world-renowned Australian architect Glenn Murcutt AO, in collaboration with Hakan Elevli, of Melbourne practice, Elevli Plus, the project has flown somewhat under the radar, but in its partial unveiling is creating a new language for Australian Islam, and revealing the contribution that architecture can make to foster intercultural understanding.

The two architects joined moderator Ewan McEoin, NGV curator of contemporary design and architecture, and a packed house for a conversation on Tuesday night.

For Murcutt, the project provided the chance to challenge attitudes; “as a human race we are one peoples”, while Elevli sees the building as “the first of its kind globally and inclusive to everyone”.

There are no minaret towers or domes here, as is the tradition. Instead, the project is a contemporary Australian mosque and Islamic centre, with a transparent, open frontage to welcome anyone from any faith to utilise the space.

“This is a remarkable country and we love the idea of differences in so many things. But it’s got to be a two-way thing, and I hope that [this building] through its planning and strategy, will be a building that reaches out – and the community will therefore follow,” says Murcutt.

The Islamic references are subtle and inspired, with design elements such as geometry, colour and numbering systems each meticulously custom made to Murcutt’s multilayered design approach.

The highlight is the roof, which features ninety-six three-metre high lanterns, painted gold to illuminate the interior with coloured daylight.

Murcutt was inspired by other colours symbolic to Islam too, with each lantern glazed in four colours to face the four points of the compass – blue facing south, yellow facing east, green facing north and red facing west – in a geometric pattern.

“Each of these colours represents the light quality in the most powerful way,” he says.

There’s also a many columned central prayer hall and bodies of still water, including a naturally illuminated water courtyard.

Despite early opposition, the project has been successfully created with significant consultation with local Islamic architects, Imams and community leaders, with funding provided by the local community. Once finished, the Centre will offer extra amenity to allow for worship, education and recreation.

The exhibition is an opportunity to view sketches, models, plans, footage and photography of the immense 10-year process. The Centre itself is due to open in late 2016.

Don’t miss the Melbourne Indesign special guided tour of Architecture of Faith, as part of Up Late on Friday 12 August. Find tickets here.

The exhibition is on display at NGV Australia from 9 August 2016 – 19 February 2017. Open daily, 10am-5pm. Entry is free.

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