What are Melbournian’s perceptions of urban spaces with Islamic thoughts - from public to private?
Abstract: Melbourne is a modern secular society with a high population of migrants, where a range of approaches exists in making urban public spaces. Yet, distinctive structures, design elements and dedicated areas representing the ethno-religious diversity that characterises the city are less common and even scarce in public spaces and across the landscape, especially for non-Christian religions. Material representation in urban spaces is important for facilitating and nurturing a sense of place and belonging for cultural and religious minorities (Mansouri, Lobo & Johns 2016). However, the presence of religion in the urban environment can also be discomforting, as public discourses about Islam indicate. Therefore, this paper investigates responses to religious expression in public spaces, with a specific focus on Islam. It asks, ‘what are Muslims’, non-Muslims’ and planners’ perceptions and experiences of religious features, and their level of acceptance for using Islamic design principles in three sites in Melbourne? Each site represents a different aspect of Islamic expression in the urban fabric: a mosque (semi-private spiritual), an Islamic museum (semi-public educational) and a mall (commercial public). The results show that using Islamic design principles in urban spaces is ‘conditional’, suggesting religious expression in the built form is acceptable when it is tightly controlled, does not contest people’s notions of secularism, focuses on cultural rather than religious plurality, and does not appear to dominate the surrounding area.