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'MEGA-MOSQUE' CHANGES HANDS

AGENDA

Allies and Morrison Architects has usurped Mangera Yvars Architects on the £300 million Abbey Mills ‘mega-mosque’ project in east London.

 

The 12th-largest practice in the UK, Allies and Morrison confirmed it was working on the project, but declined to comment further. The move pushes out the smaller AngloSpanish firm, which has been on the scheme since it won the competition in 2005.

 

Zaha Hadid, who turned down an opportunity to take on the project, backed her former employee, practice partner Ali Mangera.

 

Hadid said: ‘I felt it inappropriate to say fiyesfl to a project if there was already an architect on board.

 

‘There was land there for masterplanning, and [Mangera Yvars] was given the mosque to work on. We were then approached to look at the site, but when we learned that they were working on it, we turned it down, ’ she added.

 

It is understood that Allies and Morrison was appointed after a design competition was held in December, despite Mangera Yvars still being under contract to work on the scheme.

 

It is now thought that the AJ/ Corus 40 Under 40 - rm is seeking legal advice.

 

The original scheme - located in West Ham, a stone’s throw from the Olympic Park - attracted a mountain of negative press coverage.

 

Dubbed the ‘mega-mosque’ by the London Evening Standard, the Abbey Mills Islamic Centre was said to have a capacity of 70,000, making it nearly 20 times larger than Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral.

 

A growing media storm, coupled with criticism from local residents, Christian groups, and even other Muslim leaders, forced the Abbey Mills Trust to change its strategy, claiming it had no intention to build a mosque of that size.

 

Part of the reason behind the mosque’s change in tack was an increasing number of newspaper reports claiming that the trust’s primary supporters, Tablighi Jamaat, had links with terrorism.

 

On 17 July 2006, the Evening Standard published the headline ‘Terror link group to build London’s biggest mosque’, and used pictures of 7 July 2005 tube bombers Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer to illustrate the piece.

 

Speaking to the AJ in May ( ajplus 01.05.07), Abbey Mills trustee Abdul Sattar Shahid said: ‘In the last few years we have, perhaps naively, pursued options to bring our vision for a new mosque to fruition with those who describe themselves as friends.

 

‘We have never intended to build a mosque the size that has been suggested in the media.

 

Our vision is for a development that enhances the area of West Ham and provides a mosque and complex that will support our work in the Muslim faith.’

 

The trust radically reduced the size of the mosque, claiming it would provide worship space for no more than 12,000, and even then would rarely host more than half that number at any given time.

 

Mangera Yvars continued to be involved with the design process until, despite claims that it had stuck to the brief, the young practice was dropped in favour of Allies and Morrison. It now seems likely that the firm has been used as a scapegoat with the trust distancing itself from the bad press.

 

Allies and Morrison, which has a good track record of using smaller practices, is likely to start the design process from scratch, as a new planning application will have to be put forward.

 

The local authority, Newham Borough Council, said the site is occupied by a ‘makeshift mosque’, which is still using temporary planning permission that has now expired.

 

A spokesman from the council said it was not expecting a new planning application for a permanent mosque until early next year.

 

‘MEGA-MOSQUE’ TIMELINE

September 2005 Mangera Yvars unveils designs for new International Islamic Centre, dubbed the ‘mega-mosque’ July 2006 Newspaper reports link mosque with terrorist groups November 2006 Petition with 2,500 signatures issued against scheme February 2007 Further newspaper reports claim the government plans to block mosque May 2007 Mangera Yvars denies it has been dropped from the project July 2007 Allies and Morrison takes over as lead designer, with new planning application expected in 2008

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