A Great and Historical Lighting Installation
The Great Mosque in Cairo, also known as the Alabaster Mosque, is stunning. Robyn and I went there on our honeymoon in 1994. According to the photojournal we have of our trip, the mosque is located in “the Citadel of Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi…located on the slope of the Mukattam Hills overlooking Cairo. Built by Muhammad Ali during the early 19th century, the walls of the mosque, both inside and out, are covered in alabaster.”
I recently started thinking about the mosque while working on a residential project whose major feature is a double-height living room. I was having a conversation with the lighting designer, batting around ideas for lights in the living room. Double height spaces can be a challenge. In order to illuminate a plane three feet off the ground, which is roughly table height, fixtures 18 feet off the ground need to be pretty bright.
Hence the alabaster mosque. This gorgeous building, which I only visited during the day, has vaulted ceilings that are probably thirty or more feet off the ground. The ceilings are beautiful, as one might expect in a holy building built by a wealthy ruler. I was blown away by the lighting installation. The lights are about nine or ten feet off the ground, and they do not point up. They do not illuminate the ceiling. There are dozens of them. The lights themselves form a plane at a typical ceiling height, while the actual vaulted ceiling is much higher up.
It may be that the lighting designer, realizing people need to read at night in the mosque and that his lights were not that bright, made the practical decision to hang the fixtures on 20-foot long cords. What I immediately saw was a thin plane of light fixtures separating the area inhabited by humans and the area above, inhabited by the divine. I imagined this partitioning of the human and the divine would be even stronger at night with the lights on.
Houses of worship are unique buildings. There is clearly a need to accommodate two inhabitants: the human and the divine. It occurs to me every building could benefit by having spaces that are somehow beyond the ordinary. A lighting installation that recognizes this can be a powerful way to reinforce a building's architecture.