Brutalist mosque in Punchbowl

Architects: Candalepas Associates
Lead Architect: Angelo Candalepas
Company Bio: Founded in 1999 under Angelo Candalepas, Candalepas Associates quickly became one of the most interesting emerging architectural offices globally. Under the current leadership, the firm has won a significant number of awards both in Australia and overseas and continues to design public and private spaces in Sydney.
Location: Matthew Street, Punchbowl
Client: Australian Islamic Mission
Awards: Sulman Medal Winner (2018)

Punchbowl Mosque
[Image: Guthrie Project]
Completed as a centre-piece of the 2017 Sydney Architecture Festival, the Punchbowl Mosque is a striking mix of brutalism and community religious symbolism. Built on commission by the Australian Islamic Mission and in consultation with the president, Dr Zachariah Matthews, the new mosque stands as a monument to the bridging the gaps between alternate cultures and religions in a Western Sydney suburb.

On first encounter, the building appears tucked away in the back corner of a compound of buildings that form the community’s primary school. Houses, apartment buildings, and a local shopping centre surround the site, which locate it in the centre of a busy suburb. A large underground carpark and an exterior shape that forms a central courtyard and playground designed for outdoor events similarly demonstrate the emphasis on community, connection, and activity.

Punchbowl Mosque
[Image: Brett Boardman]
This atmosphere is juxtaposed with the raw concrete exterior, the primary material used by architect Angelo Candalepas in a continuation of Sydney’s brutalist history. For most modern visitors, concrete can appear harsh and cold but Candalepas explains his decision to use his much-loved concrete:

“This mosque is designed to have within it the sense of all history. Concrete, the material of our time, can be a material for all time. Concrete will bring its present relevance to our collective consciousness through the subconscious delight of such a building. In this way, it may be seen that this building, this ruin, this work of shadows against light, will, I hope, change many people’s present idea that there is nothing more in our lives than what we see.”

[Image: Brett Boardman]
The sheer swathes of concrete create a hard exterior that encourage the visitor to do as the building does, concentrate, invert, and turn your focus inward. Even the minaret or tower conventionally used to herald large groups of worshipers to the mosque is more quiet and humble than one may expect. Instead of a large and imposing structure dominating the entrance, this minaret is not much taller than the primary dome and includes sheer screens. A discrete crescent hangs from this delicate façade and gently touches on the nature of this religious place.

Punchbowl Mosque
[Image: Architecture AU]
Punchbowl Mosque
[Image: Steven Siewert]
Internally, the mosque is traditionally divided into a large open space with a separate mezzanine level near the centre for the women’s gallery. A sweeping dome, stepped and lined with pine, covers the majority of the ground space and allows light to peak through skylights. The truly impressive part of this design is the 99 relief carvings or muqarnas on opposing sides of the dome. These honeycomb-like shapes add a sculptural intricacy to Candalepas’s otherwise simple design. Tiny pinprick skylights in each dome allow sunlight to shine through as an inversion of the tradition of painting starscapes across the ceilings of mosques. In a similarly symbolic touch, the 99 names for God as found in the Qur’an are inscribed in gold Islamic calligraphy at the points of each dome.

The attention to detail and inclusion of subtle religious traditions allows the Punchbowl Mosque to shine as a meeting of Islamic design conventions and contemporary Australian conditions.

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