Islam is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion that imparts the fact that there is only one god or in Arabic “Allah” and that Muhammad is the messenger of God. Islamic architecture includes a widespread variety of irreligious and religious styles from the basis of Islam and until our current day, shaping the structure and design of buildings in the Islamic culture. The term Islamic art or Islamic architecture does not characterize the art of the Muslim faith but characterizes the art and architecture that was historically and till this day produced in the land of Muslims or created by Muslim Artists. It is often vivacious and distinct, unlike Christian art Islamic art is not limited to religious work but also embraces all the artistic traditions within its culture. Modernity has changed Islamic architecture in great ways and its history has played an amazing role in building its style and unique language of the art which makes it one of the world’s most celebrated building traditions.
Islamic art was born in the 7th century during the appearance of the prophet Muhammad who was a merchant from the city of Mecca where he was born, and in which is till this day located in Saudi Arabia and highly respected by Muslims. The Kaaba in Mecca was the first mosque ever built in Islam and that is their focus of pilgrimage. Muhammad’s first religious revelation was when the Angel Gabriel came down from the heavens and asked him to recite the Quran (The Holy Book). Then he had become a prophet and began to preach in the name of “Allah” or in the name of God and then did the Kaaba become the center of pilgrimage in Islam and not the main spot for the polytheistic religious traditions. During that time the Arab armies occupied large areas of land in the Middle East, North African, Central Asia, and spread thereafter to the whole world. Of course, there was no such thing as Islamic art back then rather it is a modern concept that has been generated by art historians in the 19th century which took the effort of studying and gathering information of all the arts that were first produced from the Islamic people since the prophet Muhammad was known.
In the past cities in the Islamic world were enclosed by walled fortifications. Almost always you would find cemeteries and public prayer grounds on the outside of these walls. Cities were much more regular in their layout and more rational than nowadays, it is not shocking that limited cities survived in their original form. Most of the time they were either abandoned or rapidly customized to adapt to the burdens and difficulties of daily life. But, the persistence in which they were designed is evidence that Muslim rulers treasured visual order. There were hundreds of cities with Muslims, all more different than each other than similar, all rich with a complex inner life rather than embodiments of a few abstract principles. The Kaaba and The Dome of Rock are two of the most important mosques in the history of Islamic Architecture.
The Kaaba which means cube in Arabic is a granite masonry, covered with silk curtain and calligraphy in gold and silver wrapped thread. It has been modified extensively throughout its history and the area around it has been expanded to fit as many Muslims possible. At some time in its history Kaaba was set on fire and rebuilt in wood and stone and was also rebuilt after a horrific flood. Today, it is unlike any religious structure being fifteen meters tall and ten and a half meters wide, having corners that align with the cardinal directions. The Kaaba’s door was made of solid gold which was added in the year of 1982.
The dome of the rock is one of the most important and oldest buildings in all of the Islamic architecture and has an extraordinarily intense symbolic value on both religious and political levels. It was formed with the obvious purpose of reaching a main artistic achievement. The dome was built so large for it to be seen from far unlike other Islamic buildings which are smaller and less complex. The Dome of The Rock is enclosed by minor outlying structures such as the Cupula of the Chain and the Cupola of the prophet on the left and right sides correspondingly. The official faultlessness of the Dome of the Rock comes from the demanding submission of geometry which was to be the concentration of extensive expansion in the Islamic world. It is also characterized by the richness of its ornamentation which not only transforms what is apparent but may also aid to elucidate its meaning. The mosaics in the Dome of the rock employ a byzantine technique involving an accumulation of small colored or gold-leafed glass cubes among which can be found slices of mother of pearl or gems.
Some of the very important Ornamental motifs in Islamic Architecture that are hard not to mention are; the figure, Plant forms, Geometry, and Calligraphy. The figure ornamentation was present only in the 11th and 12th century usually for the purpose of glorifying power or satisfying their preferences for visualizing images. Although figuration in Islamic Architectural ornamentation can and was obliged to signify control or power, we can also see it as heraldic or zodiacal imagery or totemic or magic beliefs. This definitely clarifies the existence of angels, eagles, lions, snakes, and so much more that usually surround these figurations. The greatest notable illustration of this gathering of images can be found at Qusair Amra which is located near the small city Amman.
Plant forms or vegetal ornament is not considered to be unique to Islam but was given a lot of attention in Islamic art. Most of the ceramic lining, carved stone, and shaped objects carried vegetal patterns. Some historians would deny its importance and would not consider it anything more than as a decoration for Art, yet it does indeed view the connection of Islam to nature and also assures and nurtures the Quranic descriptions of the “Garden of Felicity”. Usually this ornamentation would contain the floral elements or patterns created usually from leaves and stems and such imagery. Geometry is just as important as vegetation with the use of common patterns with complete flexibility.
Calligraphy is the beautiful written script that attained a major ornamental role in Islamic Architecture because of its significant meaning to Muslims and the different artistic ways of presenting the Arabic language or the verses from the Quran. It comes with passion and is considered the only art that has universal respect and acknowledgment. Mosaic writing is an example of this unique written script that presents angular calligraphy with perfectly calibrated letters that follow each other on a strictly parallel path. Kufic is another interesting type of script that was elaborated in Iran where its form of writing elaborates with the geometric form of brick which is very fascinating and brings beauty to the eye. Last but not least. Cursive script that emphasizes the strokes and whose various sizes are extremely exaggerated which created a dense rhythm above the lower letters that are tightened together in small loops.
After world war one expressions of modernity were introduced without much difficulty into the Islamic societies along with the new technologies such as photography and motion pictures and communicating through images and sounds. As modernity came it caused disruption since it did not seem to conflict with traditional values and even seemed to offer improvements in comfort and efficiency. Modernism brought industrialization, efficiency, and the improvement of living standards so most of the values in societies were being overlooked and, in most cases, suppressed or denied. Architecture played a major role in this transformation where it went from rural to urban migration that affected nearly all third world cities and the transformation of the Islamic world. Buildings became more widespread and squatter settlements and unlicensed or informal building added a harsh new reality to the rapid transformation of the urban fringes even as their historical cores were being destroyed from within.
Modern Architecture brought strength, good plumbing, electric lighting, and conveniences to buildings in the third world. Contemporary architecture in the Arab of Islamic world has not been studied carefully It can be very difficult to find a Muslim Arab Architecture such as Zaha Hadid that represents modernism in such a way that she does and the fact that she is a woman from the Arab world just makes it more astonishing because of general gender inequality attitudes of the society that we hear about. While the Muslim Arab States share so many values, there are also many divisions like for example the Arabic language varies from state to the other. They are considered separate countries but I will call them states for now just because of the relevance they have to each other in this topic and because they are all Islamic countries rules by Muslim rulers. Such as Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and many more.
Besides religion, their unifying force is Islam, which is the dominant religion in all these States and the reason for the adaptation of different cultural values and diverse regions. Tradition also has a huge impact on contemporary architecture, whether it is manifested in buildings by arab architects or by non-Arab architects. Tent architecture was also very famous in the Arab countries and one of the oldest forms of architectural systems that were used back in the day because of its flexibility and easily moved from one place to another. A modern example of Tent Architecture used this day is the Raleigh Arena (1950-1953) designed by the Polish architect Matthew Nowicki. Till this day we still have a huge range of Tent Architecture that used technology in its creation and look completely different than the Tents we would see ages ago. There are new designs that are automatic, provide more privacy, and more security.
Zaha Hadid was the First woman to be awarded the distinguished Pritzker Architecture Prize In 2004 because of her techniques that proved that she is presenting a new form of architecture. She is internationally known for her Thirty-Year experience of theoretical and academic work that got her to build projects that challenged the traditional geometry of especially modern buildings. Hadid was born in Baghdad in 1950, and pursued architectural studies at London’s Architectural Association where she began to gain an awareness of the languages of the visual and constructive arts and to cultivate identity in these disciplines.
The quest for a multiplicity of places, materials, surfaces, and hallows defining Hadid’s adventure in architecture is fully affirmed where the tension is directed toward a space without rules, which favors dramatic effects and a monumental proliferation of hallows and materials. Hadid disturbs the linearity and volumetric of the space. Her work represents modernism in a mode where she does not invent new forms of construction or technology as you would think; she shows us a world in new ways by representing it in a radical manner. She finds the roots of modernism in the dissolution of both subject and object, and draws them out onto the stage of the modern landscape, where she reshapes as a place in which we can boldly go wandering
In her career Zaha worked on three of the most brilliantly advanced mosques of our time. These designs got her into a competition for the Grand Mosque of Strasbourg in France (2000), the contract for the Avenues Mall Mosque in Kuwait (2009), and her admission to the competition for the central mosque in Pristina, Kosovo (2013), which has been so weakly announced as to prevent any visual analysis. Rational, graceful, and traditionally unassociated, her first two projects expose a thoughtful understanding of the value of Islamic rituals and show the willingness to carve out new and challenging forms that capture evocative nuances of the act of prayer. In fact, they were so unashamedly modern that they have remained unbuilt most undoubtedly for that purpose. But they should be known for the garden-fresh thinking they injected into an ultraconservative subfield of design.
In 2008 it was said that Zaha Hadid and Norman foster (a British Architects) were in contact to take one of the most high-profile projects on earth which is the redevelopment of Mecca. Islam’s holiest city was going under a top-secret plan which was considered to be a multi-billion-pound project that will eventually be able to hold about a million people. Hadid was also asked to work on the expansion of the Haram mosque which surrounds the Kaaba.
Although Islamic Architecture has experimented with various stylistic orientations from diverse regions throughout its history and dealt with the modern revolution after, it has always conserved its features that differentiate it from any other architectural tradition. Islam is more than a faith, it is a new way of life. Islamic Architecture is the embodiment of the precepts of the faith of the Muslim Ummah and of the perspectives of its historical ethos in the lands where Islam flourished. Now that we have an idea of the history and modern views we can say that it would be best if the present-day models for training architects in Muslim Traditions have both symbiotic relationship with the essence of what architecture has been about in its historical context and a global perspective on architecture as a living phenomenon in the world of today.