L.E.FT Architects, an architecture firm focused on examining the cultural and political intersections in the built environment, exhibited Jerba: Prototype 366, in the first edition of the Islamic Arts Biennale, taking place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Presenting a historical and contemporary exploration of Islamic heritage, the biennale, curated by Sumayya Vally, was located in the Western Hajj Terminal, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1981.
The island of Jerba, off the coast of Tunisia, sits on the southern Mediterranean basin and faces many social and environmental issues, namely an extremely arid climate. Different ethnic and religious groups reside, including Sunni, Ibadi, Jews, Arabs, and Berbers. This diversity pushed Jerbians to construct a unique territorial ecosystem. Namely, the islanders rejected the notion of an urban center on the island and decided instead to divide their densely populated territory into patches of agricultural land, where each extended family can inhabit, and be completely self-reliant.
An alternative to urban agglomerations that encourage the gathering of the collective, local, small-scale, and family-run mosques heavily populated the entire island. In fact, a known myth on the island explains that the town hosts 365 mosques, for each day of the year. A response to the delicate social and political balance between the different existing ethnicities, all of the Jerbian mosques, shared one thing: deconstructing the Islamic prayer space of worship to its most basic components.
The L.E.FT installation, in collaboration with Iheb Guermazi and Beya Othmani, proposes an extension to the Jerbian myth and architectural tradition with Mosque 366. Prototype 366 presents a mosque corresponding to Jeddah’s locality. The typology of the mosque is one-to-one scale, deconstructing the process of Islamic prayer using the spatial qualities and tonality of a mosque. Circular in form, the prototype is fabricated out of cold-rolled carbon steel. At the center of the circle, lies a pile of basalt rocks, 90 cm tall and 5m in diameter. These rocks have a standalone mihrab, a wash basin, and a seat. The walls of the mosque display steel plates with etchings of representative mosque plans from the island.
L.E.FT Architects have designed many cultural spaces around the Middle East, as well as New York. Their renovation of a masonry cross-vaulted mosque in Moukhtara, Lebanon was another exploration of the firm’s understanding of prayer space. In their native Lebanon, they have also designed a cultural art gallery: Saleh Barakat Gallery. The space used to be a historic theatre and has been re-adapted to be one of the largest galleries in Beirut.