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Umbra Sumus October 30, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Architecture.

The Jamme Masjid mosque on Brick Lane is an amazing example of a building’s dependance on its context. But more importantly, it illustrates the remarkable history of London’s East End as a gateway for successive waves of immigrants. First built as a protestant church by Huguenots refugees after being expelled from France [1743], it was later converted to a Methodist chapel by Irish immgrants [1819], a synagogue by the neighbourhood’s growing Jewish population [1898] and finally a mosque by the latest wave of Bengali immigrants [1976]. Yet unlike other examples of religious appropriations around the world, there was no violent cultural takeover, no grand architectural statements of annexation. The nondescript brick building simply remains the spiritual centre of a community that keeps changing.

A sundial, with the latin inscription ‘Umbra Sumus’ (we are shadows), is set above the entrance. Fitting, isn’t it?

Pictures of the mosque


Masjid 3 Masjid 4

Traces of the old Jewish community

Jewish 1 Jewish 2 Jewish 3

Traces of the current Bengali community

Bengal 2 Bengal 1


Wrap it up! October 12, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Architecture.
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I recently came across a project by German architects Fink+Jocher for a student residence in Munich. That same day, I sat in on a design review for a similar project, a student residence here in England. It was a good scheme as a whole but one thing was missing: none of the windows were operable and no terrasse/balcony space was provided (though there were no lack of great opportunities). Both the architects and the clients (read: mainly the clients) seemed genuinely scared of students, and specifically of students throwing themselves or things off the building at the slightest occasion. Sure, it’s a big liability to be fair and probably a fairly reasonable concern but this is where F+J’s inventiveness lies: they’ve turned what I assume to be similar constraints to their design advantage by… wrapping the entire building in a steel net.

Fink + Jocher - Garching Student Residence 1Fink + Jocher - Garching Student Residence 2Fink + Jocher - Garching Student Residence 3

Circulation is constrained to the outside of a simple rectangular plan, along the net and giving access to the individual rooms. Huge windows looking onto the communal walkway are provided for each individual dwelling. A lack of privacy was my first concern but after some thought, I believe that the standards for housing and student housing just aren’t the same. Frankly, when I was living in student accommodation, we used to sit outside our individual doors in the hallway to chat since there simply weren’t many communal areas. Making friends is the main reason most students choose to start off in a residence and that makes the choice of a wide exterior walkway effective in my opinion. Will it be used like a street is used outside a pub in London?

And it get better: climbing plants will soon be taking over the entire netted fa├žade, turning a very transparent building into a very introspective one. This leaves me with a thought: will the ivy encourage more students to stop along the walkway to socialize by providing some coverage from the street? Plant growth is a very subtle way of providing privacy from the street, and I’m curious to see if this will affect the residents’ habits.

A building in a net; why didn’t I think of that?

The architects’ page

Detail magazine downloadable article