Al-Aqsa (JERUSALEM) Beyond the Wall

20 May

Beyond the Wall

 I. Introduction Al-Aqsa Mosque lies on the south-east corner of Jerusalem (The Old City), and covers 1/6th of the total city area. This mosque is also known as Al-Haram Ash-Sharif, which means ‘the Noble Sanctuary. Originally constructed in 711 AD, the mosque has not experienced any significant changes in terms of plan or size since the twelfth century. The client for the proposed extension of the mosque’s perimeter wall is The Islamic Waqf Trust, the organization responsible for administration of the mosque. In the 1960s, at the time the first renovation work was proposed, the neighborhood of the Al Aqsa mosque was not in a good state. Most noticeably, reconstruction of the mosque’s dome has been done in concrete and coated with anodized aluminum, rather than the initial ribbed lead sheeting. The extensive conservation program started with the ruined domes and paintings, while the outer ribbed aluminum coverings were replaced using lead to resemble the original. Similarly, the dome interior’s painted decorations of the 14th century were entirely reconstructed using trateggio approach. Although the current architectural expression of the mosque is admirable, modern urban neighbourhoods are calling for modern transformation including innovation of space use, optimizing functionality, maintaining overall aesthetics of the structure and considering urban lifestyle changes. This has resulted in a rather new concept known the urban mosque, which is a new kind of institutions that displays a particular image of public space use, spatial diversity as well as urban design. The same consideration has to be applied to Al Aqsa mosque, which is a vital infrastructure to the Islam community in the Old City of Jerusalem. Moreover, Jerusalem has a compact urban setting so expansion of the mosque’s perimeter wall must be considered in terms of vertical development within the boundaries of its proposed capacity, population needs and sustaining the infrastructure functions while preserving its traditional and aesthetic style. This architectural and urban planning brief evaluates modern urban architecture of Al Aqsa mosque in a compact setting of Jerusalem city so as to address important matters that will further improve its optimal use. II. Contextual Information A. Brief historical background Considered as the 3rd holiest Islamic site after Median and Mecca, the al-Aqsa mosque was originally built by Umar, the caliph of Rashidun as a small prayer house, 40 years after construction of al-Haram mosque in Mecca. In 705 CE, the mosque was reconstructed and expanded by Abd al-Malik, the Umayyad caliph, and finished by al-Walid, his son. However, the current mosque dates back to the era of Umayyad rule in Palestine. Many Muslim scholars like al-Muqaddasi, Mujir ad-Din and al-Suyuti claims that the al-Aqsa mosque was expanded and reconstructed in 690 by caliph al-Malik. At this time, the mosque’s dome was topped with lead, but renovations and extensions were done in the following centuries by the Ottomans, Jordan, Ayyubids, Mamluks and the Supreme Muslims Council. The mosque’s façade was constructed in 1065 CE under the instructions of al-Mustansir Billah and comprises of 14 stone arches, most done in Romanesque style, but the outer arches were done by the Mamluks. The façade was damaged by the Crusaders and later renovated and restored by the Ayyubids. In 1922, the first 20th century renovation was done after Amin al-Husanyi, who was the head of the Supreme Muslim Council, commissioned Ahmet Kemalettin Bey, a Turkish architect, to restore the mosque and monuments in its neighborhood. Moreover, the council commissioned local officials, British architects and Egyptian engineering experts to take part and oversee the additions and repairs that were done by Kemalettin between 1924 and 1925. Today, the city of Jerusalem is under the control of Israeli, but al-Aqsa mosque is still administered by Waqf, an organization that is led by Palestine and Jordan. The mosque site is near historical sites like the Second Temple, which is considered as the holiest place in Judaism. B. Local architectural character The mosque is divided into 4 different levels; · Dome of the rock: this level includes the decorative domes that beautify the mosque’s highest plateau and its surroundings. · Underground level: This consists of water canals, wells as well as some other buildings. · Subterranean level: Includes the Ancient ‘Aqsa’(2 massive corridors below the Al-Qibly mosque leading to Umayyad palaces), Marwani prayer room in the south-eastern corner, Golden Gate, Buraq prayer room, and closed gates (the triple gate, double gate, single gate, lower Chain Gate and the Buraq’s gate). · Southern Qibly Mosque & the expansive courtyard: includes platforms, trees, corridors and open gates among others. C. Climatic conditions The City of Jerusalem has a daily average temperature of about 27 degrees C, making it one of the warmest regions in Israel. Most months throughout the year experience warm to hot temperatures which usually range between 25 and 33 degrees C. During the months of October, May and April, the average temperatures range between 20 degrees C and 25 degrees C. Precipitation usually falls in the months of December, March, February and January, which experience the highest precipitation. D. Site Al Aqsa mosque was constructed on the top of Temple Mount, which is also known as Haran esh-Sharif or Al-Aqsa compound. It is situated on the far southern side of the mount that pointing towards Mecca. The entire Al Aqsa compound, including platforms, open courtyards, buildings, mosques and prayer rooms, located both under and above the ground, covers a total area of about 114,000 sq. m and has more than 200 historical monuments from different Islamic eras. The Islamic jurisprudence and creed demonstrates that all these courtyards and buildings have the same level of holiness since they are constructed on the holy grounds of Al-Aqsa. Therefore, the holiness is not restrictive to the physical buildings are designated for prayer like the structure with a large silver dome (Al-Qiby Mosque) or, the Dome of the Rock. For this reason, worshipers get the same reward, regardless of where they pray at in the mosque, even I the open courtyards. E. Topography The mosque lies on a manmade platform that is bolstered by arches that were built by Hed’s engineers to deal with the severe topographic conditions caused by the southward extension of the wall into Kidron and Tyropoeon valleys. III. Program A. Who is the project’s architect and specialists? The Islamic Waqf Trust commissioned Esam El Badri to be the head architect of the perimeter wall expansion project of Al-Aqsa compound. The architect will then choose the structural engineer, the construction company and any other specialist needed for project implementation. B. General project objectives The main objective of the project is to expand the perimeter wall of the Al Aqsa compound and it will be funded through the modest means like contribution from donors and community members. Expanding the compound’s perimeter wall will provide for development of more facilities in the site and improve the quality of space for people visiting the mosque. This will provide additional space that can be used to build other facilities like; an Imam’s office, ablution area, prayer hall for 450 thousand people and toilet facilities. IV. Description A. Evolution of design concepts Considering physical constraints The perimeter wall design will handle the physical constraints since the perimeter wall will take up the shape of the site. However, for the side facing Mecca, the architect and engineers should come with an elegant design solution. Urban planning requirements Since Al-Aqsa is in a urban setting, the design of the project has to consider the city’s requirements. This will ensure that design works well for the city of Jerusalem and its residents. Landscaping This urban roject is purely an expansion project, so it doesn’t involve any landscaping. Besides, the mosque already connects the site and its elements to the natural landscape in an interesting way. B. Technology, Materials and Structure Construction technology The technology that will be used to implement this project should be ideal for the local conditions and the environment. It should be labor intensive and use skills that are sourced and available in the local community. Structural systems This project will involve 2 structural systems- the load-bearing wall that will form the outermost perimeter of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, and the reinforced concrete frame system that will add structural strength to the wall. Materials Load-bearing stone walls Stones that will be used in the perimeter wall expansion project will be obtained from local quarries. Infill materials Concrete materials will also come from local manufactures, vendors, merchants or suppliers. Rendering & finishes • Terracotta brick: jalis, steps, coping. • In-situ reinforced concrete: Building services and site utilities These are not necessary since it’s an expansion project, not a new project! Architect: Esam El Badri V. Bibliography List of Publications A. Papers/Publications Kahera, A. I. (2002). Urban Enclaves, Muslim Identity and the Urban Mosque in America. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 22(2), 369–380.ém

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