Turning the page

As I researched information for May's feature on mosque architecture, I found myself feeling torn. First, I was fascinated by the ancient architectural principles that have guided Islamic architects for millennia.

COMMENT, Design

As I researched information for May's feature on mosque architecture, I found myself feeling torn. First, I was fascinated by the ancient architectural principles that have guided Islamic architects for millennia.

I was amazed by the intricacy with which Islamic architects were able to carve stucco, clay or timber into endless shapes and patterns. I was awestruck by the richness of the coloured tiles and the complexity of the calligraphy that so often accompanies Islamic architecture.

I was stunned by the inventiveness of the stonemasons and the variation of their brickwork. And, I was surprised to notice the subordinate place of metals-be they iron, brass, silver or gold-in the building's form.

I felt dejected because these concepts, the very principles that served Islamic architects for millennia, are being overshadowed and undercut by ballooning budgets and programmes calling for cutting-edge modernisation in the form of evermore bizarre or iconic structures.

In Architecture of the Islamic World, Ernst J. Grube said: "At all times and in all regions of the Muslim world we can find 'hidden architecture'-that is, architecture that truly exists, not when seen as monument or symbol visible to all and from all sides, but only when entered, penetrated and experienced from within.

Despite the fact that exceptions do exist, 'hidden architecture' may be considered the main and dominant form of truly Islamic architecture."

Hmmm...hidden architecture. Is anything being built in the Middle East today even attempting to be understated or hidden? Are clients seeking anything that is not monumental or iconic?

And, as long as we're on the subject of "symbols being visible to all and from all sides", is there some honour or privilege bestowed upon the builder or holder of the world's tallest tower?

In my research for this month's feature, I stumbled upon a cornucopia of architectural beauty, elegance and tradition. I realised that what Grube calls "truly Islamic architecture" is, in fact, architectural genius.

While I enjoyed page after page of truly Islamic architecture, it worries me that more and more clients, developers and architects seem to be closing the book on it.

Jeff Roberts is the editor of Middle East Architect.

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