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Mimar Sinan was one of the world’s best architects of religious buildings

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Black Box: The architect of many of the most beautiful mosques in Istanbul

It would be strange not to consider Mimar Sinan in an AJ devoted to places of worship, because the 16th-century Ottoman is among the most prolific – and best – architects of religious buildings the world has known.

He designed many of the most beautiful mosques in Istanbul, most famously one for Suleyman the Magnificent, as well as supervising constructions across three continents (the Ottoman Empire was at its peak during his lifetime), including one of the oddest buildings you will ever see: a Gothic cathedral mosque conversion in Nicosia with two towering minarets grafted on to its craggy facades.

Nevertheless, few British architects seem aware of his name or his buildings. And this despite the attention given to the aforementioned Suleymaniye mosque by Le Corbusier in Vers une architecture, alongside Frank Lloyd Wright’s proclamation that there were only two architects in history worth talking about: himself and Sinan. So who was he? And what’s all the fuss about?

It’s not hard to find out. Sinan even published a biography in his lifetime, probably inspired by Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists. (There was a huge amount of cross-cultural learning during this period.) It is a surprisingly good read, informative, funny and boastful. And you can buy it on Amazon too.

Through his own writings then, we learn that Sinan was born in Agirnas, which still exists today, and was drafted into the Janissaries, the elite corp of soldiers drawn from the Christian subjects of the empire (it was against the law to draft Muslim citizens). Following his conversion to Islam, he trained as a carpenter before embarking on a military career that took him all over Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, before being appointed the Sultan’s chief architect in 1538 (and forgoing better salary prospects) after nearly 30 years of military campaigns.

Sinan writes: ‘This humble servant actually felt sorrow at the thought of abandoning my career path, but I accepted after considering that this would be a pretext to build many mosques through which my wishes in this world and the next would be granted.’

There’s a very funny passage in the biography which architects today will surely relate to. Sinan recounts the anger of his client, Sultan Suleyman, the most powerful man in the world at the time, at his fussing over marble details instead of perfecting the dome. ‘Why don’t you restrict your attention to my mosque and not waste time with unimportant things? When will this building reach completion?’ the Sultan fumes. Sinan was no slouch however. The mosque, one of the largest in the world, took just six years to build.


Lyndhurst Baptist Church

This is Design Engine’s Lyndhurst Baptist Church in the New Forest, Hampshire.

Director of the Winchester- based practice Richard Rose- Casemore says that unlike the archetypal Baptist church, which has a decorated west facade in an otherwise austere exterior, this one has been designed in the round - a response to the numerous pedestrian approaches through glade-like setting.

The image shows a thick curving wall, peppered with coloured glass windows, embracing a baptismal pool.

The nave opens to a foyer and community rooms with large sliding doors and a strip of rooflighting, and glass end-walls further dissolve the boundaries with the forest beyond. It’s been Rose-Casemore’s ‘lifetime ambition’ to design a church. He’s no doubt praying it gets planning permission this summer.

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