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A Modern Mosque That’s Angering Iranian Muslims

The fate of a beautiful, avant-garde mosque in the Iranian capital Tehran hangs in balance as the city decides what to do with the partially completed structure. The new Vali-e-Asr mosque that was supposed to open last summer has drawn the ire of Iranian hardliners who are refusing to recognize it as a mosque because it does not have a minaret or a dome.

The daring mosque was designed by Iranian architects Reza Daneshmir and Catherine Spiridonoff, co-founders of Fluid Motion Architects, who won the commission for its design way back in 2008. Because the new mosque was set to stand next to Tehran's City Theater—a spectacular tiled circular structure built before the 1979 revolution—the architect couple picked a modern design which they thought would blend harmoniously with its older neighbor. A curvaceous roof sweeps from the ground towards the Qibla, located in the direction of Mecca, while narrow slit-like windows embedded on the wave-like structure allows light inside. The building doesn’t have any of the traditional architectural elements of a mosque, such as minarets and domes.

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Photo credit: Deed Studio

“We tried to create an interaction between the mosque, which has a cultural essence, and the City theatre. We wanted to make it a cultural project that would be in harmony with its surroundings – the mosque should respond to the needs of its own time,” the architects said.

“Our biggest source for this project was the Qur’an itself,” they said. “We tried to design this mosque with modesty, simplicity and good faith, and not a mosque which would get its pride from its structural height.”

Reza Daneshmir and Catherine Spiridonoff are a new generation of Iranian architects who are keen to follow in the footsteps of a pre-revolutionary avant garde, pushing the boundaries of traditional Persian architecture by using traditional elements in modern designs.


Related: The Glittering Mausoleum of Shah-e-Cheragh


The Vali-e-Asr mosque was designed to co-exit with the City Theater and not overshadow it, by making the mosque deliberately shorter than the theater’s height—a fact that religious Muslims are offended with. A conservative newspaper reported that the “mosque was sacrificed for the City theatre”, and described its postmodern design as insulting and “empty of any meaning”.

“The Vali-e-Asr mosque doesn’t have a minaret, nor a dome; neither did the first mosque,” the architects said in a statement. “A mosque is a place for worship, and the Qur’an doesn’t dictate a special structure for it. It’s what it contains that is important.”

But now the mosque might not even be completed, even as it was shortlisted for this year’s World Architecture Festival award. Funding was cut due to the controversy and the interior of the building now lies unfinished. The mosque was supposed to have big prayer halls, cultural centers, and an imam’s residence. Now some media reports suggest that the authorities intend to turn it into an Islamic cultural center, with possible physical alterations.

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The City Theater in Tehran, next to which the Vali-e-Asr mosque sits. Photo credit: eFesenko / Shutterstock.com

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Photo credit: Deed Studio

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Photo credit: Deed Studio

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Photo credit: Deed Studio

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Photo credit: Deed Studio

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