Islamic Architecture
Space in Islamic architecture versus western architecture
In his introduction to the Sense of Unity, S.H.Nasr describes the way in which space are defined in traditional Islamic architecture: "In modern western architecture, a house is placed within a space and the space is defined by the contour of the material forms it surrounds. In much of Islamic architecture, space is "cut out" from the material forms around it and is defined by the inner surfaces of these forms." (Samer Akkach: the Image of the cosmos order and symbolisme in traditional Islamic architecture part(1), in the Islamic quartery, volume XXXIX,nb 1, 1416/1995, first quarter, the Islamic Cultural Center, London)

Je vous remercie,
Jalel Almawla
Space in Islamic architecture versus western architecture
Is this statement meant to generate a discussion?

Compare the space between the Gothic churches and cathederals with the space in mosques. The former were 'vertical' and awe-inspiring in relation to human scale and were meant to be rising up to the heavens, where man is supposed to be unimportant as compared to God, Jesus and the holy spirit - and then priests in the next tier - as aptly demonstrated in the overall scale of these buildings which do reduce the human into a speck.

However, in mosques, the space was more enclosed, compact and 'horizaontal'. It was on human scale because of common man's importance and equality in Islam, considered the religion FOR the people where there are no priests. There was no attempt to achieve a scale which would belittle the human being.

The only exception to this is the Ottoman mosques which have a space similar to churches and cathedrals. That is partly because of the inspiring presence of Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. Most Ottoman architects tried to compete with and surpass the grandeur of the church and thus all Ottoman mosques have a heavy influence of the "greatest church of the Byzantium".

Please make your question more specific. A statement with a full-stop means a dead-end!!

Hammad Husain
Space in Islamic architecture versus western architecture
Jalel-I have never thought about the structures I have visited in this sense before. However upon reflection, I believe Akkach's observation to be correct. Perhaps this is a result of the concept of privacy in Muslim societies, which is in reality a Mediterranean characteristic and pre-Islamic. However, I think it has more to do with the translation into form of the understanding of spirituality in early Islam and aiming to formalise man's relationship with the Creator.

Mohammed Arkoun, Philosopher of Islam, Sorbonne, wrote: "In the series World Spirituality, Seyyed H Nasr edited two volumes devoted to Islamic spirituality: Volume I; Foundations (1987) and Volume 11, Manifestations (1991). In these works, spirituality is presented as a purely religious quest originating with the Quran and the Prophetic tradition (Hadith); rites are described in their 'inner meaning', and Sufism is named the inner dimension of Islam. Reality itself is reinterpreted in the framework of this constructed spirituality; literature, thought, architecture and the arts are also annexed to this spirituality, which is actually a complex combination of subjective desires, hopes, and representations embodied in rites and words, and projected on to spaces, places, time, cultural works and so forth.

God, the angels, the cosmos and eschatological expectations are simultaneously both sources and objects of spiritual' contemplation, the initiators and ultimate references of the systems of values and beliefs transmitted and reproduced with devotion in each spiritual tradition. All individuals born and trained in such a tradition spontaneously share the inherited 'values' and psychological methanisms of spiritualisation, sacralisation, transcendentalisation of the profane, and the modest realities of their own environments.

It is crucial to make a clear distinction here between spirituality sacredness and transcendence as substantive values used in theology and classical metaphysics, and spiritualisation\sacralisation and transcendentalisation as the products of the agents of social, cultural and historical activities." (Arkoun, Mohammed. 1995. Spirituality and Architecture. In Architecture Beyond Architecture. P.17)

This passage from Arkoun would be well placed in the discussions about Islamic architecture as well.
Shiraz Allibhai
Space in Islamic architecture versus western architecture

The question, I think Jalel is trying to ask is what influences a persons creativity, specifically an architects? No creative expression is not tainted by some outward appearance, the world we live in. A fictional writer takes many of his stories from real life or has been influenced by particular writers and their style. An architect is influenced by existing building types and particular architects. Each human when creating something is trying to associate themselves with a particular philosophy or style and through their art are trying to know themselves.

Studying Islamic architecture is not really important but what is important is to know what influences your creative process. If Islamic architecture expresses beauty, majesty, which it does, than something of this can be learnt and applied in ones own creative expressions. The question that needs to be asked is, what influences your ideas and creative faculty?
Abdul Basit Mukri
Space in Islamic architecture versus western architecture
Abdul- I am not sure if Jalel was addressing the creative process. Actually because there was no question only a statement, I am not sure what he is addressing. In anycase, since you have raised the issue, I will attempt a response. Forgive me for bringing in other thinkers. As I am focussing on many tasks, it is much quicker to take from scholars who have addressed the same questions in a far clearer manner than I could ever do. Forgive my lack of unoriginal thought.

When we look to the past, as we tend to do when describing Islamic architecture, it was the craftsmen that truly shaped the building. Again, I bring in Arkoun who argues that it was through the craftsmen that creativity, artistic inspiration and the spiritual dimension entered a build work. This network of beliefs, knowledge, rites, emotions, hopes and abilities defined each craftsmen's personality and was transposed into the very stone that shaped the building.

"Architecture is inseparable from the main organisms which result in what we call society: political regimes, economic systems, dominant ideologies (be they religious or secular) and educational systems. Like the words in a language, materials of construction serve in articulating syntagmas, discourses whose full meaning is only revealed when we have become aware of the totality of systems which a society has relied upon to establish order and guarantee its existence. It is dangerous, therefore, to rely only upon a technical and formalistic analysis of a construction when it has been taken out of its overall social context, the context in which users define functions and meanings. Architectural activities, during the actual historical period of break up and restructuring of Muslim societies, can only reflect the contradictions of a personality which has no strong hold over the present, is in fact ignorant of its true past, and is essentially maintained by a fervent declaration of its own grandeur." (Arkoun, Mohammed. Building and Meaning in the Islamic World in MIMAR 8: Architecture in Development. P.53)
Shiraz Allibhai


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