The Middle East is considered by many to be the cradle of civilisation, from Greece and Egypt in the west, through the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia and Levant to the Indus Valley and on to China in the East. The tradition of learning and culture as endured in these areas for millennia. The scientists and philosophers of the Islamic, like the Classical world, were deeply involved with the study of maths, geometry and science. Indeed it is the Arabic world that developed the numbering system we all use today.

Throughout their history, Islamic Artists have developed simple geometry into a complex layering of patterns with subtle use of colours, tones and positive/negative space to create sophisticated optical effects. This Art form shows a preoccupation with repetition, rotation, symmetry, and infinite extendable patterns. These patterns are often framed but repeated at different scales throughout buildings, visually consolidating the whole. This approach shows perhaps an appreciation of the fractal organisation of the natural world.

Friday Mosque, Herat, Afghanistan showing a variety of geometric patterned panels

These patterns were used to completely cover many surfaces either in brightly coloured ceramic tiles or in relief patterns formed from brick or carved in stucco. Both approaches come to life in the strong sunlight of the region.

Geometic pattern cut in relief.

Vivid tiled geometric patterns based on 8 pointed star. 

Traditionally made of small pieces of turned wood, assembled into these intricate geometric patterns, pierced screens are also a characteristic element of Islamic Architecture. They developed from a need to provide privacy (particularly for the separate women’s quarters) yet still maintain cooling through drafts in the hot climate. Sometimes they also include niches to contain aromatic plants and earthenware vessels of water that are cooled through the process of evaporation.  Internally they cast amazing patterns of light and shadows.

Mamluk windows in Cairo, Egypt.

Screen at the mausoleum of Shah Rukn-i ‘Alam in Multan, Pakistan.

Pierced Screens, Fatephur, India

The circle is the generative shape of most Geometric Islamic Patterns, being subdivided into triangles, squares, polygons (pentagons, hexagons and octagons) and star-like shapes (6 to 16 pointed). Calligraphy and Foliate patterns are also used extensively and to a lesser extent Figures and Animals. In some ways you can see parallels between Islamic Art and traditional Celtic Art which also has complex geometry underlying its construction but is based on interlacing linear forms either as flowing knotwork, spiral and zoomorphic patterns, or angular key patterns.

Geometric pattern based on circle, forms pierced screen.

Foliate,Geometric and Calligraphic patterns. 

The Shah Mosque at Isfahan, Iran tiled geometric patterns cover every surface.


Islamic architecture shows expert use of 3-dimensionally geometry and structural principles, particularly in domed structures. The structural transitions from square plan to circular dome were sensitively and beautifully solved. One method was to use corner squinches to transform the square to an octagon and then a circle. Another method used tiers of arches to bridge the corners, giving a complex articulated internal surface. This later developed into the stalactite or muqarnas domes. Another element is the piercing of domes to create spectacular lighting effects from above, which were sometimes enhanced by covering the facetted surfaces with glazed tiles or mirrors to reflect the light.

The Great Mosque at Damascus, Syria uses arched squinches. 

Dome of the tomb of  Sitt Zubaida, Baghdad, Iraq, octagonal base transformed into a sixteen pointed star through a sucession of muqarnes. Above the transition zone the oculi are pierced to allow daylight into the interior.  for Islamic Geometric Design for Muqarnas Dome Design


About Frances and Kyle

We are 3rd year Interior and Environmental Design Students at DOJCAD, at the University of Dundee.
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  1. aquapio1629 says:

    Searching about Islamic Architecture is important, but it speaks for the religion rather than the nation. Islamic architecture can be found anywhere in the Islamic world. Arabian Gulf/ traditional houses would be more beneficial and site specific. If you are interested in any particular thing about Qatar, then I will be willing to help. I need to know what you would like to know first! When foreigners visit Qatar for the first time, they don’t really get fascinated by the buildings as much as the idea of having a deasert right next to the sea!! There is more to look for in a non-architectural context.


  2. aquapio1629 says:

    I will post something about old techniques of building. You will find it interesting.

  3. vcuqteam7 says:

    These are some really good pictures. Sums up the Islamic style of art and architecture actually. This isn’t unique to just Qatar. But this research of yours helps us understand the Arab world better too. I have posted photographs of few architectural structures from Qatar. Do check them out and thank you for posting these amazing photos.

    – Fatema Islam

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