Islamic craftsmen and artists – who were prohibited from making representations of people in holy sites – developed an instantly recognizable aesthetic based on repeated geometrical shapes.
The mathematical elegance of these designs is that no matter how elaborate they are, they are always based on grids constructed using only a ruler and a pair of compasses.
Islamic design is based on Greek geometry, which teaches us that starting with very basic assumptions, we can build up a remarkable number of proofs about shapes. Islamic patterns provide a visual confirmation of the complexity that can be achieved with such simple tools.
A step by step example of creating a geometric pattern using circles and lines:
The step by step guide above was made by Eric Broug, one of the most active practitioners of Islamic geometric design working today.
Eric is a Dutchman who lives in Halifax, West Yorkshire.
“Geometry is really a universal language, everyone can – and does – relate to it instinctively,” he says. “There is a joy to be had in starting with a blank piece of paper and to draw lines and circles and end up with a pattern that is recognizable and beautiful. This process connects you very directly to a design heritage.”
(All illustrations in this article are by Eric Broug.)
Tiles inside the Jame Mosque of Yazd, Persia, with geometric and vegetal patterns
An archway in the Ottoman Green Mosque, Bursa, Turkey (1424), with girih 10-point stars and pentagons
Girih tiling in the decagonal pattern on a spandrel from the Darb-e Imam shrine
Detail of bronze door, Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan, Cairo, decorated with strapwork