Can a Modern Mosque in Copenhagen Settle the Disputes Between Danes and Muslims?

Bjarke Ingels Group has conceived of an island resort out of thin air, kidnapped Denmark’s national treasure to show off at the Shanghai Expo, and designed a library for a Kazakh dictator who makes Ivan the Terrible look like St. Francis of Assisi. None of which compares to the audacity of this: They’re building Copenhagen’s first ground-up mosque, and it looks like a giant minaret.

The design is gorgeous, a sort of patterned ziggurat that climbs 150 feet in the air, before culminating in a dome-shaped skylight; over the sidewalk, a pair of slender minarets preside. But in a country where the right makes no secret of its anti-Muslim sentiment, and where ill-conceived cartoons stoked an international crisis a few years ago, the mosque is bound to stir emotions.

It speaks volumes that the architects felt the need to describe the building in Danish terms. In their project statement, they bill the 150-foot spiral as “the Islamic counterpart” to Copenhagen’s Our Saviour Church, and the skylight replaces a traditional closed ceiling so that the place can be “bathed in Danish daylight.” “Our purpose was to design a Danish mosque as an interpretation of the Islamic architectural and cultural tradition adjusted to the Danish context — the same elements that we know from traditional mosques in the Arabic world, adapted to Danish climate conditions and lighting,” Bjarke Ingels said.

Is this just window dressing? Carefully crafted rhetoric to convince Copenhagen, a city that somehow manages to be both a progressive mecca and a hopeless backwater, to finally build a showcase mosque? If it is, it’s working. The design cleared a big hurdle in the city approval process last month. And as long as the country doesn’t follow Switzerland’s example, Copenhagen may have its mosque yet.SL