Islamic Architecture
Interaction between Islamic and Chinese architecture
I am doing a dissertation about this topic. Would be great if someone have some ideas how this two types of architecture influence the western civilization through architecture.

Are there any evidence in the history that both civilization learning from each other in term of architecture? Since Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said in the hadith:

"Seek knowledge even as far as China".

Beginning my observation, there are similar elements in this 2 types of architecture such as courtyards, fountains, preservation of natural balance (ying and yang in Chinese), geomancy and feng shui and etc.

From researched that I had done, there is a big influence from the Chinese civilization in astronomy and mathematic of the Muslim scientists and physicists during the golden age of Islam in Baghdad and Spain. Are they any evidence or study about architecture that relate to this?

Admiral Zheng He (great Muslim Chinese navigator) had been to many Muslim countries. Accompanied with him in the navigation was Ma Huan (Mohamed Hassan) the writer whom recorded all about his navigation (are there any record about architecture in this navigation journal???). Apart from that, Admiral Zheng He was a very important person for Emperor Yung Lo. He was the person whom in charged of the construction of the Forbidden City. Are they any possibilities that some aspect of the architecture of the Forbidden City was adapted from Arab palaces? (Similarity can be seen in the use of courtyard and spatial expression through water.)

Any opinions or ideas about this topic are almost welcome.

Azfar Yusof
Interaction between Islamic and Chinese architecture
Dear Azfar,

You may be interested in the historic monuments section of the digital library, which documents a variety of mosques built through the centuries in different parts of today's China:

The choice of style (imported Central Asian Islamic styles vs. local Chinese styles) depended greatly on the cultural attitude towards Muslims at the time, which varied from dynasty to dynasty. It was also affected by the local climactic conditions and availability of materials. You may find the following article in the Digital Library of some interest: Islamic Architecture in China. I'm sure you know this, but you may find some valuable information if you focus on commerce and cultural exchange along the Silk Road, which is the reason why many Arab and Persian Muslims came to and settled in China in the first place. (Now their descendants are ethnically distinguished from the Han Chinese as the 'Hui'.) The Silk Road Project is a good place to begin, and so is the Silk Road Seattle website.

When I was in Beijing three or four summers ago, I visited the Muslim neighborhood around the Niujie Mosque and also visited the Dongsi Mosque. They are currently building (Islamic schools, etc.) in a composite post-modern style combining concrete slab structures with token symbolic but not-structural elements, such as domes (why they choose onion domes, I am not sure). It would be interesting to follow the notions of 'cultural interchange' to today and see how it is reflected in the Chinese Muslim's expression of dual identity.

Good luck.
Ozgur Basak Alkan
Interaction between Islamic and Chinese architecture

Thanks for your information about the Mayan architecture. Probably so that the Chinese taught the building construction to the Mayan since history had witnessed that Chinese (Admiral Zheng He) was the first person arrive in the continent of America before Columbus.

I will do more research on this... any information or ideas from historians out there are almost welcome.

Azfar Yusof
Interaction between Islamic and Chinese architecture
Anyone got any idea about the theory of 'psychic unity' in architecture? This theory could be a reason for some elements in both architecture are similar.
Azfar Yusof
Interaction between Islamic and Chinese architecture
Thanks Frank, does it has something to do with the Zeitgeist (spirit of the time) theory too?
Azfar Yusof
Interaction between Islamic and Chinese architecture
Azfar, Yes, any philosophy or ideology (the two words have different meanings) is located in time, space and culture.

For example, when Descartes said "I think, therefore I am" (typical of the French language philosphy of Existentialism). He based his statement on the false assumption that because "all brains of the human species are genetically the same" so therefore (a) "All human human minds think the same way" and (b) "All human languages use the same logic."

What Descartes should have said to be logical is:- "I naturally think in French, therefore I am a Frenchman."

In other words his "Zeitgeist" is the time when he lived, the country where he lived and the culture and therefore the language he thought within.
Frank John Snelling
Interaction between Islamic and Chinese architecture
Dear brother Azfar,

Try to analyze the philosophy behind Chinese mentality, and compare it to the Islamic philosophy. My knowledge about it came from my thesis about the pluralism concept in architecture. It shows that there are many schools and ideas formulate the culture's way of thinking such as: (Monism, Dualism, Material Pluralism, Spiritual Pluralism.)

The pluralism concept explains the way to understand relation between the Unity of the Universe (the Wholeness of the Creator) and the multiple things (creatures.) From this, you will figure out the difference between Western and Eastern mind. For the Eastern mind there is a unity behind all things, and divide the world into separate objects and events. The opposing categories in the world (good-bad, day-night, winning-losing) are ideas interpreted as polar aspects of the same reality, united in one big power, as you can see in the Yin- Yang symbol.

The Western mind sees them as separate but equal in power, and for them it is either this or that (beautiful or ugly, soul or body) and they believe in no unity, but only in that a the balance between the two opposites will keep the universe work. And they are still searching for the reality in many concepts (Monism, Material Pluralism, New Pluralism).

If you compare Eastern and Islamic Philosophy you will find it meet in this point: There is one big underlying metaphysic power, it controls all the physical opposites, variety and plurality in the concrete world. And this is the Spiritual Pluralism, which means the wholeness invisible unity behind the world's plurality.

Read the great book by Chris Abel "Architecture & Identity", page 118.

Good Luck,
Susan al-Nasiry
Interaction between Islamic and Chinese architecture
Susan, "Pluralism" is either dependant upon enlightened government or affluent economy. The Mongol Empire allowed complete freedom of religion and so there was spiritual pluralism. Today the Western sphere has a number of affluent economies allowing for both material and mental "pluralisms".

As regards todays' search for spiritual relief in the West, please remember the West has collectively had its brains turned into mush by two hundred years of political ideologies which deny anything and everything spiritual.

In fact, the dual-opposite concepts of "Good / Evil" and "Beauty - Ugly" are dead in the West today because of the amoral "pluralistic" non-spiritual political ideologies which assume that(a) all forms of art are equal, and (b) all forms of behaviour are equal.
Frank John Snelling
Interaction between Islamic and Chinese architecture
Frank, the problem with western mentality is, they don't believe in spiritual concept without interpreting it into physical image as symbols to this mental concepts and connotations.
If you follow the western architectural movements through history, you find the rule of mandatory orders to be followed to coop with spirit of era. As the classical forms and styles used to lead the architectural products for ages, to express the "Human aspect of the creator". Then the Modern Movement when it refuses this common forms and replace it into structural principles and abstract forms, what happened is they used certain forms of these modern buildings to express the "Modernity" and then these certain forms became traditional and common also. That leads to the Post Modern Movement.
Now a days Deconstruction is attacking all these traditions, just to liberate Architecture from the restriction and limitation of this communal frequent traditional forms and styles.
These problems is not that strong in Eastern Mentality, especially Islamic Architecture, it has no Paradigm that it should follow, Islamic Architecture follow syntactic and structural principles with respect with privacy and identity of each environment.
Susan al-Nasiry
Interaction between Islamic and Chinese architecture
Thanks for all the information.

How about the Islamic architecture in the avant-garde? Have u heard about a Strasbourg mosque proposal in France by Zaha Hadid? Has it got anything to do with the immerging of deconstructive architecture into Islamic architecture?

How about the work of Paolo Portoghesi whom designed Rome mosque where the lighting idea of the mosque was interpreted from the Surah An-Nur in the Quran and the one who won the competition on Strasbourg Mosque in France? Does this shown the Islamic principle and spiritual in building design has influence and give a big impact into most of the contemporary western architects?
Azfar Yusof
Interaction between Islamic and Chinese architecture
The current publication used to classify Zaha Hadid's works under the deconstructionist architects, but I remember reading an old interview with her where she clarified that her architecture is not deconstruction, since she is not following the western roles and she doesn't need to break it as the deconstructionist announce.

I think this building a unique interpretation for the Mosque idea, an outcome of a creative Iraqi architect, not a result from breaking classical roles.

I agree with you in using the expression "Islamic principles" since the word "Islamic Architecture" limiting the principles of Islam into certain traditional forms, and as we know Islam refuse to have any symbols.
Susan al-Nasiry
Interaction between Islamic and Chinese architecture
Susan, I agree with you. What you call the Western mentality (I would call the Continental European mentality) is hung up and mesmerised by concrete images, icons, etc. Deconstruction, etc is meaningless because (a) it is typical of the self-destructive, narcissistic nihilisms pervading Western thought and because (b) I am a cultural nomad tuned to the spiritual and conceptual. :)))

Architectural principles (concepts) are better than than the concrete of icons, because "principles" allow for design of infinite complexity, whereas, iconic pastiche rehashes are self-limiting.
Frank John Snelling
Interaction between Islamic and Chinese architecture
Just a quick clarification on the analysis of Descartes. The statement was in latin COGITO ERGO SUM and was about certainty of self among other things.

A counter-position from Voltaire would be: "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd."

A logical counter-proof is the, A BRAIN IN A VAT thought experiment, which refutes Descartes assertion of certainty.
Jesse James
Interaction between Islamic and Chinese architecture
Brother Azfar Yusof,
Try looking for a book 'Islam Arts & Architecture' by 'Konemann'. It has chapters on the links of Islam in the Far East as of Mongolia and China.
Haseeb Siddique Shaikh


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