Cambridge Central Mosque wins 2021 People's Choice and Client of the Year Award
15th October, 2021

At this year’s Stirling Prize, both the People’s Choice Award and the Client of the Year Award have been won by Cambridge Central Mosque. The project, completed in 2019 and designed by architects Marks Barfield with structural engineers Price & Myers and timber specialists Blumer Lehmann, provides a striking new home for Cambridge’s Muslim communities.

Partner at Price & Myers, David Lockett wasn’t surprised by the recognition, particularly the Client of the Year win. ‘When we were asked to be involved in the Cambridge Central Mosque project it was immediately apparent that it was going to be something special,’ he enthused. ‘But it was only when we got to know Tim (Winter) and Sohail (Bhatti) from the Cambridge Mosque Trust that we fully understood their vision for the building.’

“Cambridge Mosque Trust, spearheaded by Dr Timothy Winter… demonstrated personal commitment and tenacity to deliver a highly sustainable work of contemporary architecture, which is culturally embedded in the history of those who use the building but also appropriate and generous to the civic life of the city. Cambridge Mosque Trust is a worthy winner of RIBA Client of the Year 2021.” 

Jo Bacon, Jury Chair and Partner at Allies and Morrison.

Lockett was thrilled to be a part of the Stirling Prize-shortlisted team, but also said the project was an enjoyable one to work on. ‘It was an absolute pleasure! We worked closely with Marks Barfield to refine the design to ensure an honest, economical and elegant structure,’ he explained. The structural engineer was full of praise for the architect and their approach. ‘They refused to settle for anything that didn’t meet exacting criteria. They pushed us and inspired us to go to great lengths to ensure we were delivering the best possible solution.’

The engineer highlighted the contribution of Marks Barfield’s founding partner, architect David Marks. ‘This was David’s last project before his death, and it’s such a fitting legacy to a great architect,’ Lockett explains. ‘He studied mosques all around the world to prepare for this project, and he was very focused on creating a British take on a traditional building form.’ David Marks passed away in 2017.

Price & Myers joined the project after planning had been achieved. The brief called for a large, awe-inspiring timber super-structure above an elegantly detailed but utilitarian car park. The brownfield site for the new mosque, to the east of central Cambridge, had historically served several purposes. Its former uses included a cement and lime works, a sawmill, a foundry, a petrol station, and most recently a warehouse. As a result, there was some contamination which had to be removed as part of the basement excavations or contained at depth below the landscaped areas.

The beautifully detailed timber structure and basement carpark are supported on concrete piled foundations. The perimeter piles hold back the ground around the basement and support cross-laminated timber external walls and masonry cladding. The internal piles provide support to the basement floor slab and columns, which in turn support the ground floor and the timber columns which form the striking ‘trees’ of the superstructure. Lockett also paid tribute to the work of Swiss timber specialists Blumer Lehmann and their engineers SJB Kempter Fitze who were responsible for the project’s signature motif.

‘They worked with Marks Barfield’s concept and refined it to just 145 different component parts. Their precision manufacturing technique allowed some of the members to be doubly curved, producing the inspiring representation of trees holding up the roof,’ David noted.

Significant structural design challenges on the project included working out how each element would behave under different loading conditions and temperature variations, and how the blend of materials would respond to each other. ‘Any differential movement of the foundations would have led to uneven movement of the timber ‘trees’’, David explains. ‘Uneven movement would cause the joins to open and the joinery to look untidy. It was absolutely necessary to determine how much deflection of the ground slab could be tolerated by the timber wall panels, and whether this would cause issues with the masonry cladding and the glazed curtain wall.’

A huge benefit of this meticulous approach from the structural engineer was the ability for the Cambridge Mosque Trust to invest more of their money in the show-stopping timber forest. ‘We were able to find an economical and elegant structural solution where every element has a function and nothing is purely decorative,’ Lockett points out. ‘This approach allowed the client to spend the budget where it mattered most to them.’

The 2021 Stirling Prize was won by Grafton Architects for their ‘Town House’ at Kingston University, London.

Ph: Morley von Sternberg