The British Mosque: An Architectural and Social History by Shahed Saleem – review

The architect and academic’s thoughtful survey explains why mosque builders in Britain generally stick to the tried and tested

“Mosque design,” says academic and Muslim convert Tim Winter, “has historically reflected the local cultures of the Muslim world. A mosque in Java bears no resemblance to a mosque in Bosnia, or a mosque in Senegal.” The question underlying The British Mosque, by the architect and academic Shahed Saleem, is, then, what one should look like in Britain.

There are an estimated 1,500 mosques in Britain, most of them built in the last decade or so. Some have become landmarks, their domes and minarets rising above the brick terraces of old industrial towns such as Blackburn and Sheffield, or cathedral cities like Gloucester and Peterborough, wherever there is a Muslim population large enough to support them. They are objects of speculation and debate, their interiors mysterious to many non-Muslims, ...

The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand by Geoff Dyer review – supremo of the 60s sidewalk

A series of discursive essays, inspired by 100 Winogrand images, make for a playful and astute tribute to a hugely influential street photographer

Garry Winogrand was an obsessive New Yorker with attitude who, in the 1960s, defined street photography to such a degree that nearly every example of the genre since looks like imitation. For all the apparent spontaneity of his images, Winogrand was acutely attuned to the ways in which a photo altered what it captured, often imposing a formal, and thus transformative, symmetry on the unruly drama of the everyday. “Photography is not about the thing photographed,” he once said. “It is about how that thing looks photographed.”

In many ways, Winogrand’s work is the perfect conceptual starting point for a series of short essays by Geoff Dyer, whose nonfiction writing merges discursive scholarship with personal flights of fancy. The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand takes its cue not ...

Muse, lover, lifeblood: how my grandmother woke the genius in Picasso

As the Tate’s thrilling new show opens, Olivier Widmaier Picasso remembers his grandmother’s secret life with the great artist

On Saturday 8 January 1927, in the late afternoon, my grandfather noticed a young woman through the window of the Galeries Lafayette in Paris. He waited until she came out, then greeted her with a big smile. “Mademoiselle, you have an interesting face. I would like to paint your portrait.” He added: “I’m sure we shall do great things together. I’m Picasso,” pointing, by way of introduction, at a large book about himself. “I would like to see you again. I’ll meet you at 11 o’clock on Monday in Saint-Lazare Métro station.” Marie-Thérèse Walter, my future grandmother, had just met the love of her life. And Picasso had been reborn.

She had ...

Building and Dwelling by Richard Sennett review – how to build people-friendly cities

The answer isn’t regimental planning or an abhorrence of plans. Stimulating ideas from a veteran of urban thinking

According to the Dutch architect Reinier de Graaf, the people – planners, utopian environmentalists, sociologists, quango soldiers, free-range urbanists, demographic strategists, “place makers”, soi-disant visionaries, soothsayers and, of course, architects – who attend portentously entitled, quasi-academic conferences on, say, The Final Favela, The Shapes of Sprawl to Come or Agglomerative Control Theory are “united through the frank admission that we do not have a clue”.

Cluelessness has done nothing to inhibit a thriving cottage industry publishing countless tracts and manifestos wrought in the deadening locutions of conference-speak. Urbanist shall speak unto urbanist. And only unto urbanist, because any passing civvy or “lay person” can only improbably be bothered to decipher what’s being said. The ideal of the open city is described in closed terms that unwittingly emphasise the gulf between those who ...

Building and Dwelling by Richard Sennett review – sharp insights

With more than half the global population living in cities, the author’s observations on urban planning and street life are timely and engaging

There is a thriving line of business, in publishing, architecture and academe, in talking about something called “the city”. It entails thick tomes, conferences in interesting locations, meetings with mayors and power-brokers, events posing as public debates that are in reality diplomatic rituals. This industry draws strength and publicity from the facts that more than half the world’s population now live in cities and that the proportion seems set only to increase.

These same facts also dissipate and confuse. If so much of humanity lives in cities, then to talk of them is to describe, almost, the whole world. “The city” becomes a term so extensive and multiple as to be meaningless or useless. What, for example, might a prosperous, static, historic city in northern Europe have ...

Pilgrim’s Progress to London luxury | Letter

The Puritan preacher John Bunyan dreamed a famous dream – but can hardly have imagined that his statue would end up inside an exclusive hotel

Martin Luther King wasn’t the first person to have a significant dream (Big business is hijacking our radical past…, G2, 9 February). Nor the first to have it hijacked by commercial interests. The opening of the Puritan preacher John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678, written during his years in prison for his dissenting religious views) is inscribed under his statue on the outside of the former Baptists’ headquarters in Southampton Row, near Holborn station in London: “As I walk’d through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a Den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a Dream.”

The building is now a boutique hotel. While it was being ...

The Pixels of Paul Cézanne by Wim Wenders review – director as (generous) critic…

The film-maker’s short essays on the artists who have inspired him are overly reverential but not without insight

“It’s only when I write that I can see things through to their conclusion,” Wim Wenders states in I Write, Therefore I Think, the opening essay in The Pixels of Paul Cézanne. For him, as with many of us, writing things down is a way of seeing clearly, but it is also somehow related to “being reliant on seeing and having sharpened this sense more than any other”.

As a film director, Wenders’s way of seeing tends towards the poetically enigmatic, often imbuing the quotidian with a luminous beauty, as evinced by his most famous film, Paris, Texas. On the page, he is more matter-of-fact, employing a low-key, almost conversational style which moves from the anecdotal to the often keenly descriptive, but always with Wenders’s own, often singular thoughts on the subject foregrounded. Thus, in Getting to ...