Basuna Mosque is not an alien structure that landed on earth from outer space. On the contrary, for three hundred years, the site was reserved for the Abu Sait Mosque, serving as the only place of worship in Basuna village. It was built and renovated several times. The last time was seventy years ago when it had to be taken down, because of the flash-flood and soil subsidence caused by the surrounding buildings as it was marked unsafe.
In 2019, the Basuna Mosque was built on the same site as the old mosque by Dar Arafa Architects. It is in a small village called Basuna in Suhag in upper Egypt (South), where it covers an area of 4843 ft2. Also, it is considered one of the best examples of vernacular architecture in Egypt. Dar Arafa Architects focused on four main aspects while developing the mosque’s design: the religious features, problem-solving strategy, adaptable construction, and sustainability.
Firstly, it is a religious aspect as they emphasized the architectural expression to connect between physical and metaphysical. Accordingly, designers defined the mosque as the space that hosts all rituals of worship for the one who is beyond time and space. Moreover, various spiritual elements such as Qibla, 99 God names, a cube of cubes, and perfection of space, were implemented in the design. These elements are embedded in the natural order and scientific laws. They form an interrelation between verticality and horizontality, earthly and heavenly, and bodily and spiritual. Finally, to lead into a strong connection between the worshipper and God through the building.
The second aspect is problem-solving through design strategy. The site had many challenges that made the architects think and come up with the most suitable solutions without compromising with any of the spirituality or functionality of the design. The first problem was the noise, as the mosque is facing the road where cattle are frequently moving and a weekly market facing the mosque’s entrance. All of that leaves the site with dust, noise, and crowdedness. Meanwhile, such a place of worship needs to be quiet and peaceful, so their users perform their rituals in a sacred and tranquil environment. Therefore, the designers decided to leave the mosque with only one opening that faces the cemetery, which is a calm area with the least frequency of movement.
The second problem was the climate. Egypt is widely famous for its hot and dry climate. As mentioned before, they had to make only one opening to achieve noise control. Thus, the only option left was to make openings through the roof system to allow a northern breeze into the mosque space and let the glare-less sunlight naturally illuminate the interior. Finally, the last problem was the scarcity in budget and inaccessibility of machinery, which lead to leaving all the mentioned solutions to the labor force and simple tools. That was only possible through choosing a simple construction method and local materials, which takes us to the third aspect.
Materials and construction played a vital role in the design, especially for the hybrid roof system that is bordered with concrete beams, gridiron, cast in situ, forming a central square of 6X6 m with 108 square openings and a pendentive-dome resting on the roof. The dome is the main iconic feature that distinguishes the building. It was constructed out of Egyptian light blocks made of sand, lime, and air. The single block is (100X200X600 mm), which accordingly decreased the building’s passive weight and the required dimensions for reinforced concrete elements. Moreover, the dome consists of sixty-four circumambulating blocks, arranged in thirty-five vertical courses. Besides, a customized steel compass was devised to guarantee the positioning of each block to mimic the Hajj counter clock circumambulation. It is also taking Cordoba Grand Mosque’s Dome as a reference with slight differences, embracing the potential of historic architecture in architectural discourse and construction innovations.
Finally, the fourth aspect is sustainability, which was taken into consideration through two approaches, the environmental approach and the social. The environment sustainability was achieved through the climatic control by the roof system and materials since it acts as windcatcher and skylight. Also, it collects rainwater to be reused for cleaning and watering plants. Furthermore, the light blocks are serving the thermal and sound insulation of the building. Secondly and most importantly, social sustainability. Basuna Mosque is not only a ritualistic place for worship, but also it is a service center for both Muslims and non-Muslims. The multi-shell hall accommodates different events and the frequent increase of worshippers for both men and women during Fridays and the holy month of Ramadan, as the older mosque had a worship space for men only. Moreover, it hosts medical clinics, after-school, and tuition classes to reduce illiteracy. Nevertheless, the mosque has four entrances, where two of them are accessible for special needs and allows free and independent movement.
What makes the Basuna Mosque that special and distinctive is not just the technical aspect but in my opinion is also the value it gives to the locals and to the context. The designers were not only concerned about the climate, noise control and budget, but they gave great attention to society by building a physical icon that unlocks all the intangible gates.