People, in general, like to hold on to their habits. But for Shah Abdullah, keeping up with his habit of attending the mosque near his home five times a day, every day, changed when Aman Mosque - located inside an industrial complex - opened its door to the locals.
The Aman Mosque was designed around spirituality, inspiring this local to come to this different mosque.
"I have not seen a more attractive and charming mosque like this," expressed Abdullah, adding, "My home has a good view of it. Since the construction of this mosque, I no longer visit the mosque close to my house. I come to pray here every day to feel the spirituality this mosque exudes with its simplicity."
The lives of Bangalees have been interwoven with mosques and Islam since the Sultanate began in this region through Bakhtiar Khilji's conquest of Gauda between 1202 and 1204, during the reign of Muhammad of Ghor. But the true essence of the grandiose architecture of mosques is owed to the grand schemes of Mughal Badshahs, Subahdars and Nawabs.
The Aman Mosque is situated in the Aman Economic Zone, Narayanganj. It was designed by the Nakshabid Architects for the Aman Group and is called the Aman Economic Zone Central Mosque.
The principal architect of the firm, Bayejid Mahbub Khondker, has constructed a unique mosque using simple geometric shapes, which nonetheless stand out boldly. The entire premise is a rectangular outer boundary with a circle in between that holds a square within it. This inner square is the main mosque structure.
The design language
Architect Bayejid believes that the core job of an architect is to enable better habitation using whatever is available in the surroundings, without harming them.
"The idea behind this design was to adapt to the surroundings, which is an industrial area. Since we are professionals, our inspirations come from the intended context and the purpose of a structure. The context was to build a mosque that fits its surroundings, without disturbing the landscape," explained the lead architect.
The cubic mosque structure stands in the middle of a circle, which works as a boundary to keep industrial disturbances out.
"The design language of the mosque was partly based on the most important mosque for all of the Muslim community: Masjid al-Haram [the Kaaba]. In the centre of Masjid al-Haram is the Kaaba, a rudimentary cubicle shape. If you look closely, our design is similar to that," said architect Bayejid.
"It also separates the mosque from the elevated ground. The circular buffer zone being under the open sky, this area also lets in light into the main structure and helps the air coming down from the rooftop of the mosque to escape," he added.
The elevated ground is made out of soil on which grass and trees have grown. This grass-covered elevated ground extends to the perimeter of the establishment.
Right underneath the elevated ground is the lodging room of the Imam, washrooms and the ablution zone. This simple technique helped the architects keep the layout neat.
The architectural ingenuity of Aman Mosque
Generally, the inside of a mosque is more like a hall rather than a compartmentalised area. So columns or supporting beams are needed to support the roof. In the Aman Mosque, the architects have used no columns in the centre.
Without a supporting structure, the entire weight of the 40 feet high building should have come down crashing. But what the architects did was install arches inside the building.
Bayejid explained: "The arches were placed inside the building to serve multiple purposes. It is as much a dome, as it is the columns of the structure. An arch is a natural shape that can withstand a lot of compressive force from above, simply by distributing the weight on the part of the floor it is grounded to."
However, for extra support, four supporting beams were installed in the four corners of the building, hiding the columns in plain sight. This tricky bit again helped them to keep the praying floor as one continuous plane.
Simplicity is elegance
Aman Mosque bears proof of that statement in more than one way.
"In the very early days of Islam, mosques were made to serve more functional purposes. So they were simple rooms with an occasional balcony. But when Islamic nations got wealthier, so did the complexity and intricacy of their mosques. Mosques are still made gaudily. I wanted to do something differently," said Bayejid.
The structure conforms to absolute basic geometric shapes, like circles, squares, rectangles and triangles, which not only helps the structure blend into its environment but also helps it stand out from how almost every mosque is made. There is nothing wrong with making prayer zones extravagantly, but the aim of doing this one in particular so simply was to take a different approach.
Triangles of different sizes dot the facades of the mosque building that let light in. The formation of these triangles on the facades resemble a poly-geometric pattern.
An opening is visible through the centre of Aman Mosque ceiling, which however, is square. Magnificent beams of light enter and bounce off the white marble floor of the mosque while the sun is right on top of the sky.
"Inside the mosque, there is no fan or air-conditioning, as one would expect in any other mosque," an employee from Aman Packaging Industry said. He added, "even though it has no cooling system, we experience no discomfort, even during the sweltering summer heat. It is a blessing for everyone."
Through the passage of time, technology determines what goes and what stays. Mosques back in the very early days of Islam had a towering minaret from which Azan was called out. The Muezzin (an official who calls from the minaret when it is time for Muslims to pray) had to use their bare voice. The heightened minarets helped ferry the sound of the Azan further away. The use of minarets however has varied vastly across cultures and time.
The Aman mosque too has a minaret. The minaret conforms to the form of the main mosque structure in shape and layout and, of course, its historical relevance.
Sustainable materials and techniques
Cross-ventilation is when two opposing ends of a structure are kept open, and natural air can enter and leave unhindered. As there is abundant air coming into the area from the adjacent river, applying cross-ventilation did the trick. Air pours in through the roof and the other outlets strategically curved into the building.
On the ground-level three facades are left open. Folding sliding glass doors cover these openings when not in use. These doors can be easily bunched up in one corner of each three of the facades, except the west-facing one, letting air come in through the roof and easily escape through them.
The entire building is also made using concrete. The cement used in making these concrete slabs was sourced from the adjacent cement factories. The stark concrete walls look good without any kind of paint whatsoever, further adding to its simplistic elegance.
The mosque employs every technique known to modern architecture. However, modern and self-sufficient architecture does not also have to make compromises with superficial designs. Very showy designs can also be made while still maintaining low carbon footprints. But the Aman Mosque stands out as the right combination where both form and function complement each other. That in and of itself is quite rare.