A 99-domed mosque opens for Sydney Architecture Festival

A new mosque in Sydney’s west, designed by Candalepas Associates, is nearing completion and Sydney Architecture Festival is offering the public a chance to tour the building.

Architect Angelo Candalepas received the commission from the Australian Islamic Mission for the mosque in Punchbowl a decade ago, after a member of the congregation had seen the practice’s All Saints Primary School project in nearby Belmore, which won Sulman Medal for public architecture in the 2009 NSW Architecture Awards.

Candalepas was initially unsure about the commission. “It is an alluring sort of brief nowadays but 10 years ago it wasn’t that seductive,” he said.

“I remember praying at night thinking maybe I’m doing the wrong thing. Within a week of that I was receiving commissions left, right and centre for religious buildings. Something I hadn’t done for years.”

“I asked someone in our church if I should be doing them […] and he said, ‘You must do it. We’re all the children of god and we all have to live under that umbrella and you must do every one of these commissions.’ Now I’ve got religious buildings coming out of my ears!”

Interior of the mosque in Punchbowl by Candalepas Associates.

Interior of the mosque in Punchbowl by Candalepas Associates.

Image: Brett Boardman

The mosque is part of a larger complex on the site at Matthews Street, which will also include a number of other buildings making up a primary school for the community.

The buildings hug the boundaries of the site, creating a central courtyard, with the mosque situated at the west corner at the rear of the site.

Made predominately of concrete, the mosque includes a minaret structure at its entrance. Traditionally, the minaret is a tower attached to mosques and serves as a visual focal point and a call to prayer. As Candalepas says, in many Middle Eastern countries where mosques serve a large population, minarets can result in tall, oppressive structures.

The minaret of the Punchbowl mosque, by contrast, is designed to break down its scale. Its partially open screens create a delicate facade and a welcoming entrance.

Inside, the mosque is topped with a stepped dome that also incorporates a series of skylights.

The mosque contains a single, “all inclusive” space with a mezzanine floor for the women’s gallery.

“That has been designed such that the women are right at the centre of the dome so they’re, in a way, placed in a more powerful position than the men who are below them,” Candalepas said.

Adjacent to the dome, the ceiling features 99 dome-shaped relief carvings, each with a small opening to the sky.

The mosque by Candalepas Associates feature 99 dome-shaped reliefs in the ceiling.

The mosque by Candalepas Associates feature 99 dome-shaped reliefs in the ceiling.

Image: Steven Siewert

“The Muslims imported the knowledge from their navigational science into their buildings to describe the night sky,” Candalepas explained.

“We’ve placed that idea within the entire building. Very small she-bolts that hold the concrete together are also skylights such that the building can be lit from the outside [like] a series of stars in the concrete.”

Below the “stars,” the building will be inscribed with the 99 names of god in gold Islamic calligraphy. This text on the building is, as Candalepas said, akin to “people putting tattoos all over their bodies.”

“That’s the last touch that will make the building extremely traditional, which I’m very much looking forward to.”

The Meet the Aussie Mosque tour and talk will run on Saturday 30 September. Angelo Candalepas will be joined by Dr Zachariah Matthews (Australian Islamic Mission), Anjali Roberts (City of Parramatta) and Husnia Underabi (Western Sydney University) to discuss the history of mosques in Australia. The event is free by registrations are required.

For more Sydney Architecture Festival highlights, click here.

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