Islamic Cemetery 2012
Altach | Austria

Philippe Rotthier Prize 2014 – Nomininated
The International Architecture Award – Prize
Farbe-Struktur-Oberfläche von Caparol und AIT – Prize
European Public Space Award 2014 – Finalist
Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2013
Österreichischer Bauherrenpreis der Zentralvereinigung der Architekten 2013 – Prize
7. BTV Bauherrenpreis für Tirol und Vorarlberg 2013 – Prize
best architect 14 Award 2013 – Prize
European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Nominated Mies van der Rohe Award 2013
DETAIL Preis 2012 – Nominated
Piranesi Award 2012

Task: First cemetery for Muslims in Vorarlberg
Client: Association Islamischer Friedhof | Municipality Altach (Mayor Gottfried Brändle)
Tender: Competition 1st prize

Architecture: Bernardo Bader Architects
Team: Sven Matt, Philipp Bechter
Art oratory: Azra Aksamija
Process: Dr. Eva Graherr
Site manager / project control: Thomas Marte
Structural engineer: MerzKley Partner
Photos: Adolf Bereuter, Marc Lins, Nikolaus Walter
Plot area: 8415 m²
Floor space: 468 m²
Structure: Concrete

The final resting place

The Islamic cemetery in Altach is open to all Muslims from all the municipalities of Vorarlberg. To meet specific requirements, a specially appointed working group and imams from Vorarlberg were consulted during the planning phase. Apart from orientation toward Mecca and the ritual wash, grave burial is mandatory in Islam.  Burial itself is a very simple ceremony. It is not customary to frequently visit the deceased because Muslims are expected to let go and have faith that the dead will be well in the afterlife.

The chosen design offers an open and clearly structured layout. The cemetery is pragmatically nestled into the landscape and displays only sparingly used symbols. Regardless of religious orientation, what all burial sites have in common is that the cemetery was the first garden. As the “primordial garden” it is characterized by the cultivation of its soil and its clearly defined layout. When creating a garden for the first time, a piece of land is marked out and clearly delineated against the wilderness. A delicate weave of wall panels of various heights frame the graves and the built structure. The ‘finger-like’ grave plots blend the cemetery with the surrounding pristine alluvial landscape.

The required facilities are developed from the theme of walls, producing a front befitting the entire complex. The space where the mourners bid farewell to the deceased opens to the inner courtyard and features a large concrete block onto which the casket is placed. Next to the entrance in a long outer wall, the visitor is welcomed by an inlay in the wall which connects the inner and outer world as a subtle filter. The wooden ornamental opening in the wall (Mashrabiya), bearing an octagonal motif, sets the tone of the congregation space with a lively play of light and shadow as a symbol of the theme of impermanence. This wall leads the visitor into the prayer room (mescid), where a prayer nook (mihrab) contains a window facing toward Mecca.  Three metal-mesh curtains are arranged in a staggered layout in front of a whitewashed wooden wall, with wooden shingles having been woven into the curtains. The curtains follow the principle of the prayer wall (qibla) and prayer nook (mihrab). The shingles are partly plated with gold and spell the words “Allah” and “Mohammed” in Kufic letters. The six rows of monochrome prayer rugs, ranging in delicate hues from dark to light, were handwoven by women in Bosnia.

The subtle simplicity of the cemetery design and the dialog with the natural landscape create a serene and dignified place for spiritual contemplation, burial and mourning. Architecturally, it offers a new, culturally sensitive aesthetic that is both Islamic and Alpine – simple in expression and poetic in form.

PDF: Dokumentation Islamic Cemetery