Italian artisans in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

In Memory of Architect Rocco Magnoli

This project was elaborated under the supervision of the Italian architects Rocco Magnoli (who died on 20 April 2007) and Lorenzo Carmellini, both appointed for the design of all the interiors. The 'Mosque of the Flowers' is how they referred to this project and the flower theme is indeed its main inspiration. Initially, the choice of decorative syntax originated from proposals that emerged during the formulation of the concept, with its underlying theme of images and symbols: the five-pointed star representing the cosmos and the palm representing nature or the palm of the hand that writes the Book. Later on, the client expressed a desire to introduce a floral element to the decorative design: a pentagonal pattern, redefined with curved lines generating floral motifs giving rise to a complex weave of materials and finishes using different colours, materials and forms. The internal walls of the prayer room are embellished with this pattern, a decoration consisting of white marble, polychrome marble and glass mosaics in shades ranging from dark to light. The floral pattern is repeated on the qibla wall, but with no colour modulation as it was believed that this would reduce the worshippers' concentration during prayers. The central partition, twenty-five metres long, represents an open page in a book, with Allah's ninety-nine names cut into the marble and backlit: inserted in pentagrams and linked to each other by naturalistic sprays composed of white gold mosaic inlays, they bring to life the metaphor of the transition of prayer towards Mecca. There are four areas in the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque where Fantini Mosaici worked with its multicultural team.

Grand Mosque: Main Prayer Hall

The main prayer hall interior was created from nearly 2,500 panels measuring 250 x 250 cm each, with different shapes; flowers, some with five petals, derive from the pentagram. Based on the five-pointed star or pentagram, geometry was used primarily to develop the wall patterns, as requested by the client, and traditional Islamic patterns using the pentagram became the main theme. The modern interpretation of this was achieved in a complex juxtaposition of materials and finishes: the marble was polished, sand-blasted and bush-hammered, while marble and glass mosaics were created in a variety of shades ranging from dark to light. Thus the enormous surface became a delicate tapestry created by the interplay of natural and artificial light. (Source: Italian Excellence, The Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, Abu Dhabi, ed. Salma Samar Dambuji, Fantini Mosaici, Milan, 2009.)

Grand Mosque: Qibla Wall

The wall extending along the qibla was designed in two lateral sections fifty metres long reflecting the pattern of the opposite wall, but without emphasis on colour in order not to distract worshippers during prayer. The central part forms an open page bearing the ninety-nine names of Allah. In the centre of the wall is the mihrab, with inlaid gold mosaic. The entire wall is covered with backlit openwork marble panels with an intricate inlay of white gold mosaic. The perforation and transparency provided by the wall suggest a metaphorical passage in the direction of Mecca. (Source: Italian Excellence, The Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, Abu Dhabi, ed. Salma Samar Dambuji, Fantini Mosaici, Milan, 2009.)

Grand Mosque: North and South Entrance and VIP area

One of the special features of this mosque - and something that immediately strikes those entering it - is the transparency of the glass contained in the large doors. Traditionally, entrances to religious buildings are made of wood or metal, giving a feeling of protection or even defence, but they do not encourage people to enter. In this case, maximum transparency and visibility were required. The design of the big doors reflects the patterns characterizing the decoration of the interior and the structures in steel and aluminium are adorned with flowers in transparent glass mosaic with different colour tones. The lower part of the wall has been clad with engraved marble, while the upper part, which is the most impressive, involves a new technique in which the inlaid flowers in precious stone and marble are inserted in a jointless marmorino stucco wall. With different techniques and variations on the same theme, the results are an expression of the excellent quality of Italian design. (Source: Italian Excellence, The Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, Abu Dhabi, ed. Salma Samar Dambuji, Fantini Mosaici, Milan, 2009.)

Grand Mosque: Open Prayer Hall

The interior wall finishes continued the pentagram theme, the five-pointed star motif used in the main prayer hall. The scale, design and texture were specifically designed to create the required harmony and proportion of this space. (Source: Italian Excellence, The Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, Abu Dhabi, ed. Salma Samar Dambuji, Fantini Mosaici, Milan, 2009.)

Grand Mosque: Sahan (Courtyard)

The British artist Kevin Dean created the conceptual scheme for the sahan (courtyard) in accordance with the client's brief for a floral courtyard pavement. Fantini Mosaici worked on the design of this with the artist and prepared the detailed drawings. With its surface area of 17,500 square metres in plain marble mosaic, the sahan comprises intricate flower inlays water jet cut in marble. Adorned with marble and precious stones, the finished floor area is the largest mosaic surface that ever been made. (Source: Italian Excellence, The Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, Abu Dhabi, ed. Salma Samar Dambuji, Fantini Mosaici, Milan, 2009.)

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