Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mosque Inspiration

Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran. Photo from Jim and Sim out on a Limb blog.

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco. Photo from

I have oft said that if I were to choose my faith based on religious edifices, I would be a Muslim.

Walking into a mosque, particularly in a crowded, dirty, loud city like Cairo or Casablanca can be a profound experience. When traveling in a mosque-filled city, I like to find a quiet corner on a rug to read a Lonely Planet, take a breath, and plan for the next move/meal. Sitting down on the cool tile, worn rugs, and listening to the soft fountain trickle fixes nearly everything.

Aesthetics dictated by various interpretations of Islam - no human imagery, decoration only above eye line (not to distract from prayer focus), water for ritual washings - have led to some of my favorite design elements. In lieu of human imagery, Muslim artists designed mosques with geometric and floral designs on tiles and rugs. They often feature central fountains for ritual ablutions and clean, simple walls with only Arabic calligraphy lining the tops.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey. Photo from

The Great Mosque of Aleppo, Syria. Photo from

So what, you may ask, does this have to do with Los Angeles? Well, luckily for Californians, the aggressive course of history has found us surrounded by mosque details. After a long brutal journey from Saudi Arabia to Syria to Morocco to Spain to Mexico to California, we have been awarded with the very long end of the design stick. A stick that is decorated with Persian rugs, lush enclosed courtyards, elaborately painted geometric ceilings (been to UCLA's Powell Library lately?), and tiles. Oh my God, tiles galore.

What impresses me about most mosques is how they are simultaneously ornate and sparse. The effect is deeply calming. It is no surprise why these structures have often welcomed weary travelers crossing literal and metaphorical deserts and why it seems like a no-brainer to incorporate mosque details into my Los Angeles hotelito.

UCLA's Powell Library. The Best Days blog.

Los Angeles Public Library. Photo by Candice Montgomery.

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