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The Baqi Project
The First Architectural Design Project on the Rebuilding of Jannat al-Baqi
The Baqi Project is the first architectural project to focus on the design and rebuilding of the mausoleums at al-Baqi' cemetery. This initiative originally commenced as a thesis for architecture school in 2015 but since then it has grown into a phenomenon for the restoration of Islamic heritage. Not only does this initiative paint a roadmap in efforts to rebuild the mausoleums of al-Baqi', but it is an opportunity to reinterpret mausoleum architecture.
Every piece of exemplary architecture designed takes into consideration how visitors navigate through it whether it's an enclosed building or an outdoor garden. Architects constantly bounce ideas back and forth in order to envision how visitors will enter and use a space. The experience is important because it can have such a profound impact on the visitor as each has been carefully calculated through the usage of various elements such as color, material, shapes, size, and light. Al-Baqi’ is the first mausoleum that can be designed from the ground up and the possibilities are endless.
During the design process, there was a need to create spaces that consisted of a continuous dialogue between the architecture and the visitor. When visitors enter the mausoleums housing the tombs of significant personalities in Islam, most of the time the ornamental design is what leaves each person in awe. Whether they look at the walls or the vaulted ceilings, the geometric nature, mirror work, and intricate arabesque patterns are what captivates one's attention. And while this is an integral part to mausoleum architecture, there are opportunities to experiment and enhance the experience of the visitor. The possibilities with light and water alone are able to have a unique and special effect on the pilgrim. With the right balance, this can easily be achieved by capturing the poetic dialogue between these elements and the architecture. Similar experiences like this can be found in other religious denominations and houses of worship.
With this project, there were many opportunities to create something unique which isn't available in other mausoleums around the Islamic world. Architecture has the ability to affect us on so many levels and the most influential approach is through a symbolic gesture. Reflection pools were incorporated surrounding the area of the sanctuary chamber where the Dharih (gilded enclosure above grave) would sit. As the visitors make their way in, they are welcomed by water which establishes a sense of purity, calmness, and sanctity within the space.
Light is synonymous with guidance and this metaphor has been used throughout the Quran in many contexts. This metaphor has been embodied in a variety of ways especially in religious architecture. One can regard light as the most important factor in appreciating architecture because of the impact it has within a design. The light within a space can invoke emotions in us in such that we walk away in astonishment. Renowned architects such as the likes of Louis Khan, Alvar Aalto, Frank Lloyd Wright, and others have used this element to their advantage to create buildings that have left a lasting impression on humanity.
One of the first observations I made about al-Baqi’ was the direction of the walkways for visitors to navigate throughout the cemetery. One set of pathways appears random as they connect from one point to another while others are tilted on an angle which point towards the direction of Mecca. This begs the question of how the mausoleum would sit on the Baqi’ site. Of course it makes sense for it to align with the facing the Kaaba but in this lay an opportunity to reach even further.
A set of design rules were put in place to conduct how the mausoleum would come together in order to mesh with the existing site in a cohesive manner. This was done by creating the ‘Sacred’ axis and the ‘Profane’ axis. Any part of the mausoleum which had a strand of divinity or sanctity associated with it, such as prayer area, it would align with the sacred axis. Every other area which didn’t necessarily associate with divinity would align on the profane axis. This act gave the spaces in the mausoleum hierarchal significance so that one could differentiate the two. Furthermore, the sacred axis became a constant reminder to the visitors about the importance of God in all affairs. No matter which part of the mausoleum one stands in, all acts of visitation are associated with the direction pointing towards the Kaaba, and therefore God.
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