The Complex Geometry of Islamic Architectural Design and How They Can Be Created With Just a Compass And a Ruler

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The basics of geometric Islamic design 


. compas and rulerIn Islamic culture, geometric design is everywhere: you can find it in mosques, madrasas, palaces, and private homes. And despite the remarkable complexity of these designs, they can be created with just a compass to draw circles and a ruler to make lines within them.




This video covers the basics of geometric Islamic design.



Islamic architectual design

The Islamic Mosques are known not only for their sacred significance, but also for their breathtaking architectural designs. With geometric patterns and an astonishing use of color, these spiritual locations are among the most beautiful creations of man.

The beauty of these mosques is captivating inside and out, but it is the mesmerizing detail in the ceilings of these exquisite sanctuaries that will truly amaze you. Even more interesting is the visionary quality to each of these gigantic works of art. Reminiscent of the brightly colored, kaleidoscopic effect that many report from intense spiritual or psychedelic experiences.

Here are some examples:

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Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran

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Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran

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Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran

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Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran

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Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran

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Fatima Masumeh Shrine, Qom, Iran

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Fatima Masumeh Shrine, Qom, Iran

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Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran

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Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran


Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

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Grand Mosque of Isfahan, Isfahan, Iran

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Wazir Khan Mosque, Lahore, Pakistan

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Vakil Mosque, Shiraz

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Al Soltan Qalawoon Mosque, Cairo, Egypt

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Jalil Khayat Mosque, Erbil, Iraq


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Shah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran

When and how did geometry penetrate Islamic architecture? 



Time chart of the evolution of Islamic geometrical patterns throughout history.

The expansion and development of geometry through Islamic art and architecture can be related to the significant growth of science and technology in the Middle East, Iran, and Central Asia during the 8th and 9th centuries; such progress was prompted by translations of ancient texts from languages such as Greek and Sanskrit (Turner, 1997). By the 10th century, original Muslim contributions to science became significant. The earliest written document on geometry in the Islamic history of science is that authored by Khwarizmi in the early 9th century (Mohamed, 2000). Thus, history of Islamic geometrical ornaments is characterized by a gap of nearly three centuries—from the rise of Islam in the early 7th century to the late 9th century, when the earliest example of geometrical decorations can be traced from the surviving buildings of the Muslim world (Table 1).

Types of Islamic geometrical patterns.


Evolution of Islamic geometric patterns

Fig. 1

For centuries, the compass and straight edge were the only tools used to construct polygons and required angles. Therefore, all Islamic geometrical patterns originate from the harmonious subdivisions of circles and are based on templates of circle grids. Some researchers stated that the use of the circle is a way of expressing the Unity of Islam (Critchlow, 1976 and Akkach, 2005). According to this doctrine, the circle and its center is the point at which all Islamic patterns begin; the circle is a symbol of a religion that emphasizes One God and the role of Mecca, which is the center of Islam toward which all Moslems face in prayer.

Most Islamic geometrical patternsare based on constructive polygons, such as the hexagon and octagon. Star polygons, which are fundamental elements of Islamic geometrical patterns, are created by connecting the vertices of constructive polygons. From this category emerged the first level of Islamic geometrical patterns classification (El-Said et al., 1993 and Broug, 2008). For instance, all patterns whose main elements are from a hexagon or a hexagram are classified as 6-point geometrical patterns; a star is called a 6-point star. Accordingly, patterns are labeled as 8-, 10-, 12-…point geometrical patterns. Fig. 1 shows that at a certain level, the sides of the two adjacent rays of the 6-point star become parallel or divergent, thereby creating a deformed hexagon (i.e., rosette petals). Interestingly, the evolution of Islamic geometrical patterns follows a difficult path of construction, in which polygons are built from the most easily formed shape (i.e., hexagon) to more complicated polygons and stars.

Read more


A brief history of religion in art

Before we began putting art into museums, art mostly served as the visual counterpart to religious stories. Are these theological paintings, sculptures, textiles and illuminations from centuries ago still relevant to us? The following video describes the evolution of art in the public eye and explains how the modern viewer can see the history of art as an ongoing global conversation.


More info

Islamic Architecture wiki
Evolution of Islamic geometric patterns
Evolution Of Abstract Vegetal Ornaments On Islamic Architecture

Islamic Arts and Architecture Website
ARCHNET Open access, online resource on architecture and art of Muslim societies, globally and throughout history to our times
Architecture of IRAN during Islamic times
ARCHITECTURE OF ISLAM by Takeo Kamiya (Half in English and half in Japanese)


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