It began with a brief prayer blessing and ended with civic blessings, too. After hearing a Muslim benediction and design description from Durriya Tyabji, a member of the sect planning to build a mosque in South Palo Alto, the city's Architectural Review Board unanimously expressed approval.
"It makes me proud to be in this community," Board member Judith Wasserman said at the preliminary, feedback-only review. (Board Vice Chair Grace Lee was recused from the discussion.)
At the 998 San Antonio Road site, the current church — now used as a mosque by the Anjuman-e-Jamali nonprofit — would be torn down. A 40-foot-tall prayer hall with a 58-foot decorative minaret would be built in a style fusing modern and ancient touches.
The current design from architects John Barton — a City Council member — and Tony Carrasco shows a prayer hall with an intricate entranceway carving, arched windows, a roof parapet and subtly patterned cement blocks. It was inspired by the North African Fatimid mosque style, taking cues from existing medieval mosques in Egypt, Tyabji said.
Adjacent to the mosque would be a second, attached structure consisting of ground-floor parking, a second-story community center and second-floor apartments for imams (Muslim preachers) and visitors. Excluding parking, the complex measures 10,122 square feet.
Board members' main concern was ensuring the prayer hall and attached community spaces didn't look too different. Architect Carrasco introduced the design by noting religious traditions holds that the prayer hall stand out, while other buildings blend into the background. The current drawing shows the community space and living quarters with a plain facade of wood slats, distinctly subdued alongside the prayer hall.
But board Chair Clare Malone Prichard asked that the design for the two spaces somehow match, in materials, colors or otherwise.
Board member David Solnick said the community space would likely look like an addition — but perhaps that wasn't too bad. Solnick, who has chided architects for designs he dislikes or feels are inappropriate for a given site, even called his personal opinion irrelevant.
"I like it, although I'm not sure liking it really matters. It's guided more by traditions than likes or dislikes," he said.
Some of those traditions, as described by Tyabji, include that the mosque face Mecca; contain a minaret, separate spaces for male and female worshippers and windows; and have a community hall.
The site sits alongside an offshoot of San Antonio Road near U.S. Highway 101, far from houses but next to a preschool.