LONG after political and social turmoil passes, the architecture of a city remains to tell the stories of the past.
Bendigo has many examples of this. The Bendigo Bank building reminds the city of its past financial prosperity. So, too, do William Vahland’s Victorian buildings.
Sacred Heart Cathedral speaks of a past steeped in faith and tradition, while the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion is a reminder of the peaceful and diverse people who call Bendigo home.
In the coming years, another piece of architecture will be added to the list of those with stories to tell: the Bendigo Islamic Community Centre.
At the heart of its design is a spacious courtyard with stripped roofing allowing natural light to pass through, while the surrounding woodland and neighbouring buildings are also visible through its wall design.
For Asher Greenwood, of GKA Architects, it was crucial to create a building that not only integrated into its surroundings, but was also open and inviting for all.
“The idea is to create a central community space for people to meet, not just a prayer space, whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim,” he said.
“Instead of the prayer hall being the main part of the building, it’s actually the central courtyard that’s the main part.
“The brief was not to create a mosque. The brief was to create a community centre with a mosque inside it.”
The design was years in the making.
First, the architects studied Bendigo’s past to create a building that would take its place in the city’s history.
They then researched the site itself, with regenerated box iron bark in the middle of a typical Bendigo industrial estate. The panelled design of the courtyard lends itself to the sunlight that passes between the trees.
The architects studied mosque designs around the world, and Australia, before drafting their plans. Whether it was the Marree mosque built in 1882 in outback South Australia, or the modern Sunshine mosque, Mr Greenwood said each had been adapted to suit their local environments.
Bendigo’s first mosque would be no different.
“The moment you’re on the site, you look through the forest, you can see the glimpses of the industrial buildings in the background,” Mr Greenwood said.
“So we’re trying to do the same thing, trying to make the building fit in.”
Ideas of acclaimed Bendigo architect William Vahland, who designed the Bendigo Town Hall, Alexandra Fountain and other iconic structures, were also incorporated into the mosque design.
Vahland was acknowledged as the inventor of cast iron work in early Victorian buildings. The Bendigo Islamic Community Centre will include cast iron Islamic patterns, in keeping with the style of other buildings in the city.
The walls will be made from sandstone, the roof panelling from corrugated iron. The minaret is designed to replicate a chimney next to a mill.
The openness of the plans fit the brief for Bendigo’s Muslim community of about 300 people from 25 different countries.
They wanted the city’s first mosque to reflect their desire for a welcoming space for all.
Mohammad Helmy, of the Australian Islamic Mission, said the final designs showed a building the entire community could be proud of.
“Its construction will be built around one thing: the Bendigo community,” he said.
“There will be no fences, easy access, and the centre of focus of the development will be a bright, open community area.
“The Bendigo Islamic Community Centre will be the most open Islamic facility in Australia. The centre will contribute to the image of Bendigo as an icon of mutual respect and inclusiveness.”
At the moment, the site remains as it was – a collection of box iron barks and shrubbery on Rowena Street, East Bendigo.
The Muslim community is still raising money to build the $3.5 million mosque, and it could be years before works are complete.
Bendigo Islamic Community Centre president Sameer Syed said in many ways, the journey had only just begun.
“Most of us Muslims in Bendigo are young working families who have made Bendigo home,” he said.
“We have chosen to live here because of the opportunities this wonderful city provides and its laid back lifestyle.
“However, at the moment, there is a void. There is something missing. There is absence of a place where we can all come together.”
The Bendigo Islamic Community Centre is designed to fill that void.
It has a capacity of 150, apart from Eid and Friday prayers, when the capacity is lifted to 375. Calls to prayer will be sent out via text message, without the need for broadcast.
The upper floor includes a family prayer area, family room and library – all looking down into the courtyard.
The prayer hall and sports centre are on the other side, separated by an open corridor leading to a small main entrance.
But the main entrance will be through the courtyard – a shared space where the community is always invited to meet and mingle.
Mr Syed said Bendigo’s Muslim community was confident of moving forward into a peaceful future.
“I am hopeful, as long as we stand together, the future is bright for all of us who call Bendigo home,” he said.