Gothic revivalists worked hard to reverse Wren’s argument. They said it was Greek or Roman neoclassicism that was the suspect foreign import. However, Wren was historically accurate.
Islamic influence also appeared in other design elements. The interior of London’s Crystal Palace, built for the 1851 World’s Fair to celebrate the global reach of the British Empire, was indeed painted in bold colors borrowed from the Alhambra in Granada, Spain by designer Owen Jones. He considered the Islamic palace to be the most beautiful architectural expression in the world. Jones’ choices were initially controversial, but his homage to Moorish styles and polychrome buildings of the East meant that these were fully integrated into English architecture.
(Read why this ancient Sultan city is a 21st century wonder.)
The impact of sacred and public spaces soon extended to the world of commerce. The English department store so central to the luxury Victorian shopping experience has also been taken over by the covered markets and bazaars of the Middle East.
The ongoing interplay of East and West
The creative dialogue between East and West continues to the present day. The beautiful Central Mosque in Cambridge, designed by Marks Barfield Architects, was shortlisted for the 2021 Stirling Prize, one of the UK’s most prestigious architectural awards.
The wooden roof beams above the main prayer hall spread out like tangled branches. It is perhaps an echo of Bishop William Warburton’s fine theory in 1760 that the ribbed ceilings of Gothic churches descended from “Northern men accustomed to worship the deity in groves during the darkness of paganism”. This was pure speculation as the roof ribs were from Eastern building solutions.
This modern mosque design, like the neo-Gothic church, points to the underlying truth that many architectural forms are products of intricate interchanges between different cultures. These patterns of mutual influence lead to ingenious fusions and hybrids. Ideologues would place East and West in inexorable opposition. But so many of the spaces we traverse each day reveal a very different and much more optimistic story.