Mosques in Britain have come to be hallmarked by literal interpretations of traditional Islamic elements, which have often become dumbed down through the process of translation. The result is that the mosque in Britain has become characterised as a pastiche of architectural styles, assembled in an ad hoc way across a building. The mosque, therefore, has become something of a caricature, and the recipient of architectural and cultural critique.

Whilst this may be legitimate from the viewpoint of high architecture and culture, looked at anthropologically, these same mosques represent a significant social and political phenomenon.

British mosques are grass-roots community projects, they are conceived, designed, funded and procured through the voluntary efforts of their Muslim communities. They are often located in the working class inner city areas where Muslim populations are generally concentrated, and they often represent the most significant civic projects happening in these locales.

Through these mosques, communities that have faced generations of deprivation, discrimination and marginalisation, are altering the landscape of their towns with institutions and architectures that signify their presence, ambition and cultural distinctiveness.

When we started approaching mosque design some years ago we did so in a conventional modernist vein, stripping away decoration and abstracting geometries. However, since conducting extensive research on mosques in Britain as simultaneously social and architectural objects, we have come to appreciate the multiple readings that mosques must respond to, and the manifold languages they must speak. It is undeniable that symbols and motifs are immensely significant to many mosque-users. Consequently we found our own modernist orthodoxies not quite able to respond to the complexities of culture and identity that this building type is embedded within.

We therefore find ourselves at some sort of a cross-roads, wrestling with how to design British mosques which represent the time and place they are in; that is to say a rapidly evolving British and European society, into which similarly fluid issues of Muslim identity and cultural politics are becoming ever more entwined.