Hidden mosques in Budapest —
Different meanings of architectural space
Author: Zoltán Major, Photo: Danyi Balázs, Project year: 2019
Summary of the research
The purpose of the paper was to study the assumption that a building, a space, or an object does not represent any meaning in itself, but the meaning comes from the interactive relationship between the user and the space and from the type of usage. I examined this theoretical proposition through the example of the mosques in Budapest, which, despite they were originally designed for other functions and lack the usual external signs (minaret and dome), can serve as places of worship for believers. In order to understand this phenomenon, it was important to clarify the concept of the mosque. My research work clearly revealed that this concept means something completely different for Islam and for the Western world. While the Western interpretation identifies the idea with external signs, it rather means a mode of operation and use for the Islam. Due to this difference in meaning, mosques in Budapest could be established and operated relatively smoothly. By leaving the external signs and symbols, and with the hiding attitude atypical of public functions, mosques can avoid conflict with the majority society. Surrendering external signals provides protection for Muslim communities in this social environment. The failure of the attempts to build mosques in Hungary, and the debates on reconstructing the minarets from the Ottoman era have clearly shown that there is a great social resistance to Islamic representation. In contrast, hidden places of worship do not change the original meaning of the host building for the majority society, this way they become invisible in the city, giving protection to the users of the building.
Meanwhile, the interior provides all elements and spatial connections that are necessary to perform the prayer. During my study, the concept of the ‘minimum mosque’ was developed, condensing the essential elements that are needed to make the mosque-meaning be formulated. Although in a different way, these essential elements are present at every Budapest site. The existence of these elements can create a place of prayer from former warehouses, office or residential spaces for the Muslims in Budapest. Essential elements are activated by the user's prior knowledge. For a Muslim user, the space is well-readable, and as soon as he gets in contact with the elements in a natural, customary way, the mosque meaning is created.
Case studies are good examples of how the meaning of space and objects is developing as a result of use. At the same time, it also shows that usage depends on the user's prior knowledge. While the examples in Budapest seem to be just some strange sets of items and the situations created are incomprehensible for an average visitor, to Muslims the former warehouse and office spaces represent places of prayer.
The interpretation of architectural spaces can be countless, and this richness of meaning is not resulting from the prior intention of the architect, but from the relationship between users and space. The spaces of the examined hidden mosques in Budapest can be good illustrations of all these thoughts.