Case Study: Mosque of Light, Dabbagh Architects

hospitality and hotel photography

Architectural photography is a crucial element in the completion of any building project. Some might say that the architectural project is incomplete if it hasn’t been captured through a lens. Architects and designers need images that showcase their building, in order to apply for awards and to add to their portfolio.

When the Mosque of Light, also known as the Mosque of the Late Mohamed Abdulkhaliq Gargash, was ready for photography, Sumaya Dabbagh reached out to me. We’d previously collaborated on the Mleiha Archaeological Centre in Sharjah, which had garnered fantastic media coverage and collected several awards including the Public Building of the Year at Architectural Masterprize 2020.  Sumaya knew I could capture her stunning white mosque ‘in the best light’ and we had great synergy.

Mosque of the Late Mohamed Abdulkhaliq Gargash- – copyright Gerry O’Leary
Mosque of the Late Mohamed Abdulkhaliq Gargash – copyright Gerry O’Leary

Designed by a female architect

Extraordinary architectural masterpieces such as the Mosque of Light don’t happen quickly. The project spent a few years on the drawing board, ensuring the design was right and another few years being built. This commitment from Dabbagh Architects needed a considered eye to appreciate the detail in the work and to showcase it for an international audience, as well as those who come to worship.

The first mosque in the United Arab Emirates designed by a woman (Sumaya Dabbagh), the white stone of the Mosque of Light appears luminescent against the blue skies and it stands in marked contrast to the industrial landscape that surrounds it in Al Quoz. Sumaya has described it as a ‘jewellery box’, which is an apt description for the remarkable building clad in white stone sourced from Oman.

The  Mosque of Light , an Extraordinary architectural masterpieces
The Mosque of Light , an Extraordinary architectural masterpieces – copyright Gerry O’Leary

Architectural photography brief

I was tasked with capturing the unique architectural merit of this dazzling new addition to the Dubai cityscape in May 2021.

Before I lifted my camera, I took time to appreciate and understand the design of the mosque and the distinctive architectural elements. I studied the layout, the intricacies of the architectural detail and the symbolic motifs and triangles that adorn the walls of the mosque. My understanding of its design helps me recognise the thought and intention behind its creation and this serves as the foundation for my photographic approach.

The Mosque of Light; an oasis of calm - copyright Gerry O’Leary

Mosques are significant places, and this particular architectural jewel offers an oasis of calm amid its neighbouring industrial buildings in Al Quoz. I decided the concept of the images should promote its serenity, staying minimal and calm in the spirit of the design as Sumaya intended. My goal was to convey the spiritual significance of the mosque, evoking a sense of awe and reference as well as depict the beauty of its form.

Unforeseen challenges in public photography

I’ve become accustomed to overcoming the hurdles that arise unexpectedly in the photography of public buildings. In this case, there was a carpark in front of the mosque that was busy on weekdays, even though the mosque wasn’t officially open. Keeping that factor in mind, I chose a Friday during Eid to photograph the mosque, knowing that people would be visiting their families to celebrate the holiday.

I observed that artificial ‘façade washing’ night lighting highlighted some uneven surfaces and was careful to avoid shooting images that would not flatter the building.

Unforeseen challenges in public photography

The mosque in sunlight

When planning the photography shoot, I selected the time of day when the mosque is bathed in fantastic sunlight. The interplay of light and shadow adds depth and dimension to the architectural elements of the building, emphasising the intricacies of the patterns and calligraphy of the mosque’s exterior.

I also suggested adding some models in traditional Emirati dress to help bring the story to life, enhancing the mood and highlighting the scale of the building. Sumaya was one of the volunteers, which adds beautifully to the story.

Enhancing the mood and highlighting the scale of the building - Gerry O'Leary

Architectural and photographic awards

Millions of people globally have seen these images of the mosque – from Brazil to China. They were part of Dabbagh Architects submission for international awards, helping secure the Best of the Best in the Architectural Masterprize 2021, and Project of the Future at the Identity Design Awards 2021.

I have also been recognised for these images, winning Photo of the Year 2021, ALPALMANAC, and the runner-up for Project of the Year 2021 at the same competition.

Hiring an accomplished architectural photographer is part of the process for every major architect. They understand that a series of excellently composed images present their project in the best light possible.

Enjoyed this blog? Please share on LinkedIn, Facebook or your preferred social media. Reach out if you have any questions on interior or hotel photography.

Read more in my earlier blog about Architectural Photography here.