Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies

Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies

Research and study centre (Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil, 2017)

Marston Road frontage

Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies

Research and study centre (Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil, 2017)

This building had a long and controversial gestation period in Oxford, starting in the mid-1990s. Approved on its present site in 2000, it was many years in construction. While it is not part of Oxford University, as an educational charity it has associate status as a ‘Recognised Independent Centre’.

From Marston Road, first impressions of the Centre are dominated by the mosque and minaret and the Islamic-influenced architectural details. According to the Centre’s website, the complex includes “a lecture theatre, seminar and teaching rooms, exhibition space, library, offices for Centre Fellows and staff, a dining hall and accommodation for students and visiting fellows, all set around quadrangles and gardens in the Oxford tradition. The complex also includes a mosque which is open to the public for daily prayers.” Its architect, Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil, who has designed some 15 mosques in Saudi Arabia, favours traditional (i.e. pre-16th Century) design, construction and craftsmanship. At the Centre, this is evidenced in the use of load-bearing masonry instead of concrete, including masonry arches and a dramatic 10m-wide brick dome, and extensive use of traditional stone- and wood-carving. Inevitably, finding suitable skilled craftsmen proved very challenging, and construction costs were exceptionally high.

The distinctively Islamic style of the complex, which otherwise bears some resemblance to a traditional college, is underlined by the two stone courtyards and the gardens. As a whole, it can be seen as a blend of Islamic and western traditions. It is well-regarded by enthusiasts for traditional architecture, and enjoys the patronage of the Prince of Wales.

References: James Meek, ‘Islamic centre shifts its ground’, [WWW] The Guardian, 14 August 1999; Eleanor Young, ‘The history man,’ [WWW] RIBA Journal, 1 Nov 2012 (interview with Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil). (The architect does not appear to have a website.)

Awards: OPT Award 2017

Marston Road, Oxford OX3 OEE

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