A Tour of Islamic Architecture
Islamic architecture encompasses a wide range of both secular and religious styles from the foundation of Islam to the present day, influencing the design and construction of buildings and structures in Islamic culture. The principal Islamic architectural types are: the Mosque, the Tomb, the Palace and the Fort. From these four types, the vocabulary of Islamic architecture is derived and used for buildings of lesser importance such as public baths, fountains and domestic architecture.
A specifically recognisable Islamic architectural style emerged soon after Muhammad’s time, developing from localized adaptations of Egyptian, Persian/Sassanid and Byzantine models. An early example may be identified as early as 691 AD with the completion of the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al-Sakhrah) in Jerusalem. It featured interior vaulted spaces, a circular dome, and the use of stylized repeating decorative patterns (arabesque).
The Great Mosque of Kairouan (in Tunisia), considered as the ancestor of all the mosques in the western Islamic world, is one of the best preserved and most significant examples of early great mosques. The Great Mosque of Kairouan is constituted of a massive square minaret, a large courtyard surrounded by porticos and a huge hypostyle prayer hall covered on its axis by two cupolas. The Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq, completed in 847 AD, combined the hypostyle architecture of rows of columns supporting a flat base above which a huge spiraling minaret was constructed.
The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul also influenced Islamic architecture. When the Ottomans captured the city from the Byzantines, they converted the basilica to a mosque (now a museum) and incorporated Byzantine architectural elements into their own work (e.g. domes). The Hagia Sophia also served as a model for many Ottoman mosques such as the Shehzade Mosque, the Suleiman Mosque, and the Rüstem Pasha Mosque.
Distinguishing motifs of Islamic architecture have always been ordered repetition, radiating structures, and rhythmic, metric patterns. In this respect, fractal geometry has been a key utility, especially for mosques and palaces. Other significant features employed as motifs include columns, piers and arches, organized and interwoven with alternating sequences of niches and colonnettes. The role of domes in Islamic architecture has been considerable. Its usage spans centuries, first appearing in 691 with the construction of the Dome of the Rock, and recurring even up until the 17th century with the Taj Mahal. As late as the 19th century, Islamic domes had been incorporated into Western architecture.
- Persian architecture
- Moorish architecture
- Turkistan (Timurid) architecture
- Ottoman Turkish architecture
- Fatimid architecture
- Mamluk architecture
- Islamic (Mughal) architecture
- Sino-Islamic architecture
- Sahelian-Islamic architecture
- Somali-Islamic architecture
Modern Islamic architecture has recently been taken to a new level with such buildings being erected such as the Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building. The Burj Khalifa’s design is derived from the patterning systems embodied in Islamic architecture, with the triple-lobed footprint of the building based on an abstracted version of the desert flower hymenocallis which is native to the Dubai region. Nature and flowers have often been the focal point in most traditional Islamic designs. Many modern interpretations of Islamic architecture can be found in Dubai due to the architectural boom of the Arab world. Yet to be built is Madinat al-Hareer in Kuwait which also has modern versions of Islamic architecture in its epically tall tower.
Another example of modern Islamic architecture is the King Abdulaziz International Airport’s Hajj Terminal, designed for pilgims on the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. The terminal’s Bangladeshi architect Fazlur Khan received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture for "An Outstanding Contribution to Architecture for Muslims". Khan was also the inventor of the tube structure design used in all supertall skyscrapers since the 1960s.
Elements of Islamic style
Islamic architecture may be identified with the following design elements, which were inherited from the first mosque built byr hall (originally a feature of the Masjid al-Nabawi).
- Minarets or towers (these were originally used as torch-lit watchtowers, as seen in the Great Mosque of Damascus; hence the derivation of the word from the Arabic nur, meaning "light"). The minaret of the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia is considered as the oldest surviving minaret in the world. It has the shape of a square massive tower of three superimposed sections.
- A four-iwan plan, with three subordinate halls and one principal one that faces toward Mecca
- Mihrab or prayer niche on an inside wall indicating the direction to Mecca. This may have been derived from previous uses of niches for the setting of the Torah scrolls in Jewish synagogues (see Torah ark) or the haikal of Coptic churches.
- Domes and Cupolas.
- Iwans to intermediate between different pavilions.
- The use of geometric shapes and repetitive art (arabesque).
- The use of muqarnas, a unique Arabic/Islamic space-enclosing system, for the decoration of domes, minarets and portals. Used at the Alhambra.(Compare mocárabe.) Modern muqarnas designs
- The use of decorative Islamic calligraphy instead of pictures which were haram (forbidden) in mosque architecture. Note that in secular architecture, human and animal representation was indeed present.
- Central fountains used for ablutions (once used as a wudu area for Muslims).
- The use of bright color, if the style is Persian or Indian (Mughal); paler sandstone and grey stones are preferred among Arab buildings. Compare the Registan complex of Uzbekistan to the Al-Azhar University of Cairo.
- Focus both on the interior space of a building and the exterior