Austrian Islamic cemetery featuring artwork by Azra Akšamija wins International 2012 Piranesi Award

Islamischer Friedhof, Vorarlberg

The Islamic cemetery in Altach, Austria opened in June 2012. Designed by local architect Bernardo Bader, it is the first Islamic cemetery in the region of Vorarlberg, the second of its kind of Austria, and was awarded the International 2012 Piranesi Award in November 2012.

Professor Akšamija designed the Qibla wall-curtain (which indicates the direction of Mecca) and rugs for the prayer room. Constructed of local materials in the context of local craft traditions, the Qibla draws on motifs of Islamic religious architecture, symbolically uniting the cultures of the Vorarlberg region.

The prayer rugs, stylistically in dialogue with the Qibla, were woven by women survivors of the war in Bosnia in the kilim workshop of artist Amila Smajović, professor at the International University of Sarajevo. Kilim are flat tapestry-woven carpets.

Nominators from Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, and Slovenia each have the opportunity to select five finalists for the Piranesi award, named after the 18th century Italian artist and architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi. The project is also nominated for the DETAIL Prize 2012 and the 2013 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture Mies van der Rohe Award.

The cemetery at Altach, which has seven hundred burial plots, has a mortuary and a garden in addition to the prayer room. In an article on the cemetery in the Wiener Zeitung, Fuat Sanac, president of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria “stressed the importance of the new cemetery . . .  ‘In the past we used to say that home is where you are born. Then it was thought that it is where you rest. However, I believe that home is where one wants to be buried, where one finds one’s final peace.'” (“Islamischer Friedhof in Vorarlberg eröffnet”, Wiener Zeitung, 2/6/12). Mr. Sanac’s statement and the Altach cemetery indicate a shift in the way Muslim immigrants perceive and are being perceived in Austria, and more notably, that art and architecture can facilitate such a shift. For many, the cemetery’s openness and its design, grounded in both Islamic and local traditions, embody a constructive dialogue between cultures.


The Islamic prayer space

International 2012 Piranesi Award