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ArchNet Publications
 
Islamic Architecture: A Debate in Seven Parts
This is a discussion responding to this publication in the ArchNet Digital Library: Allibhai, Shiraz (ed). 2004. Islamic Architecture: A Debate in Seven Parts
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Islamic Architecture: A Debate in Seven Parts
I'm glad that there is someone who is concerned with Islamic Architecture. The essay has so many varied and poignant opinions, that it will take the work of atleast 3 to 4 generations of Muslim intellectual activity to work it out. This said it is good that the ball is rolling, Aga Khan (and the parties involved) need to be applauded for starting such a crucial issue as Islamic Architecture. All that is needed is hard work and commitment of the Muslim elite to make change happen, hopefully for the good.

In the whole essay there are so many sound arguments and opinions each dealing with crucial issues but in the end I tend to agree with Nasr's stance on the whole issue. He is quoted as saying,

"There is no way of discussing Islamic architecture and
evading the problem of the principles of Islamic architecture and
what Islamic architecture means. There is no way of avoiding
meaning. God is meaning (ma��na). We have to be at the quest of
this meaning. This meaning is impossible to discover, unless
there is enough of a critical faculty within the Islamic world
among architects and artists to be able to appraise what is
coming from the outside and to rebuild according to those
principles with the new conditions which the modern world
presents."

How can we make Islamic Architectue if we don't know our own history and principles. And for that fact how can we make something uniquely Islamic in the present, very modern world we live in. We can't just copy the past (islamic architecture) or simply copy the west(modernity) each don't have true meaning. This work is not an easy task but it is extremely crucial, if we want to define what we truly are, as an Islamic civilization. We have to understand both realities, our past and modernity, hopefully with a proper lense. Nasr understands this fully well, his life and works are a testament to it. It will be the work of people who are just as commited as Nasr for good things to happen to Islamic Architecture and Islamic Civilization. Nasr is an idealist but than again everybody should be, meaning in life is of the utmost importance.

Idealism cannot be implemented perfectly and the world won't stop for the Muslim civilization to work out there problems. What is needed is immediate creativity of the Muslims, we have to solve this problem fast and correctly, and only thru practise of creativity can synthesis occur. The Aga Khan should support more creative projects such as Menara Mesiniaga, Selangor, Malaysia. It shows Muslim architects are creative and can contribute to the world architecture community. Peter Eisenman has the right idea,

��We need a clear strategy for the Award.
Menara Mesiniaga is one of the few projects that contributes
new thinking to the general culture of architecture. Whether 1
like it or not, whether I agree with its symbolism or not, it would
be provocative in any context. That provocation is particularly
contextual, because it couldn��t have come out of Morocco,
Australia or Canada. It came out of a particular set of cultural
intersections in Malaysia which promote this kind of activity. 1
don��t think you could say that about some of the other projects,
which recast western ideas or Islamic motifs without breaking
out of a tradition and showing an alternative strategy. I��m
looking for five or six projects that allow us to make that
discourse.��

Supporting certain housing projects and what not are important but they should go hand in hand with creative monumental pieces of architecture and Art. Islam needs to tell the world that we are part of the seen with these creative, iconic pieces of art. High Art or High culture needs to be promoted and it should have a radicalized viewpoint, even something the Muslim world is not use to. Eisenman states,

��Charles made a very poignant statement to me, and
we ought to consider it. He does not believe that the contemporary
Islamic tradition contains a ��high art�� that is conditioned,
that is high architecture, or that is in the tradition of the avantgarde.
What we are trying to promote, I believe, is, among other
things, a high art, avant-gardist, risk taking tradition. I cannot
vote for projects that are neither high art nor risk taking.��

With these two point of views; Nasr and Eisenman, we can create a dynamic future of Islamic architecture and Islamic civilization. The only thing left is hardwork to achieve it. I'm in, hopefully you are to. Inshallah!

I know my writing and research skills are not upto snuff, I'm working on it but I hope this doesn't stop you from dialogue. As long as there is discourse, we can work our problems out together. I'm new in this Islamic Architecture and Archnet thing, tell me something I need to know. Thank you and hope to hear from you soon.
Abdul Basit Mukri
Islamic Architecture: A Debate in Seven Parts
Dear all,

I did archeological studies before doing preservation and I noticed that there number of points that should be studied. A group of scholars think that the base of Islamic houses plans in urban areas is inspired from the Roman or Middle Eastern archeology. Architectural research shows that in Fes, there are types of houses that are developed from the oldest types of Islamic houses. The architects showed that we cannot speak of styles in certain dates but he is just grouping houses according to decoration. I think that Islamic architecture evolution should focus on structures. I think that If we specify an icon it should be functioning in the way the bearing structures of the building so that we can give a reflection of this architecture. This fact will give a specific reflection to principles to the building. In fact, drawing buildings like the Guggenheim Museum in New York is so inspiring. The Islamic civilization rich and we can choose the right icon that we feel appropriate and translate it through bearing structures and all the part of the building.

Each building may have its own identity and value according to how the design of the structure precision and to how the decoration will be organised in relation to the 'in' and 'out should be examined thoroughly. It is clear that this latest idea is very structured in Islamic architecture. This may have a potential module to orient to intention of the architect. The new materials that we can get today are definitely different from what we had until the 19th century. On top of this we can build memorial sculptures and structures to be against terrorism and to part the Muslims from terrorist so that the definition becomes clear. The intellectual potential of the Islamic world should orient the designer to more clear position of the Islamic world.

I think that the idea of abstraction much so much with the modern architecture. In books of Mies Van der Rohe there is a drawing showing the Islamic cubic houses in the Mediterranean region. Modern architecture is so much more developed therefore there are several orientations.

In my opinion, developing buildings' structures is on of the best ways of developing Islamic architecture. It is not only a matter of decoration but it is also a matter of materials, technic and structures. This can be translated to cities design and urban planning.
Magyda Cherradi
Islamic Architecture: A Debate in Seven Parts
(Continued) A Crisis of Culture, I think, is centered right in Nietzsche's 'ressentiment', what do you think?
Irfan Sonawala
Islamic Architecture: A Debate in Seven Parts
Islamic Architecture: A Debate in Seven Parts
I will try to address one part in each sitting:

Crisis of Culture:
"Cultural crisis", in the form presented, is merely a complex network of factors involved in the building phenomenon of the several cultures within a singular umbrella of 'Islamic'. Calling it a 'crisis' is merely a judgment of the phenomenon from the stand point of a certain approximation of moral and/ or aesthetics 'standards', that has a Darwinian development lineage.

This network of factors definitely needs to be addressed, but the attempt of it is not much at the conscious level of the cultures. In order to address the unconscious, the pedagogy shall not be merely giving the platform to discuss, as Archnet is providing. It helps no doubt! But the main attempt shall be little step ahead. Let's provide a platform where a brick mason in Lahore, or a Nubian, is commissioned. Commission to attempt 'new' in the regular every day of his work! Commission to attempt a new poetics in his work! That constant challenge at the ground level is a big step, as it is against the economical trend. In other words, let's try to make what you call 'Crisis' into small piece meals for the regular doers of the work. When divided into small piece-meals, a philosopher will get a position to explore not the regular relationship between, form and space as is perpetually exhausted in the western hegemony of the so-called architectural discipline inherited in the architectural schools in the cultures of 'Islamic'. But between new relationships, for example, form and Concept, as both have a same root word in Arabic: Surat and tasawwur; happening and place making: kun wa makan.

Let's start some new ideas. We are talking about the same things over and over in every new book on so-called Islamic architecture.
-- Irfan Sonawala, July 6, 2005
Irfan Sonawala
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