Islamic geometric design in architecture: from ancient to modern times
The artistic wealth of the decorative styles seen in the Maghreb (Moroccan style), the Middle East and the Muslim world in general, has always captivated western and oriental visitors through the extravagance, complexity and exuberant detail of the two genres that stand out: Islamic geometric design and floral arabesques.
In terms of design, this art form has long virtually ceased to evolve, its development having reached its zenith centuries ago. The designs currently created in the Islamic world for the decoration of riads, palaces or mosques are copies of works created in past ages, which have been replicated again and again based on a limited back-catalogue. Variations on the original works are minimal, even in terms of scale, colors and motif combinations, due to the inherent limitations of the human mind and the technical difficulty of producing new combinations within the geometric genre using traditional methods, particularly in interlaced designs, where each line must travel alternately above and below each line crossed, adding an even greater degree of complexity.
Over the course of history, much research has been carried out into the mathematics behind Islamic geometric patterns, all uniformly affected by a common hindrance: the analysis is partial and incomplete, leaving mysteries unexplained. The mathematical principles governing Islamic mosaics are yet to be unmasked and traditional artisans are the only people to master the art, but only empirically.
This empirical understanding of the complex geometry behind Islamic patterns directly conditions production methods, where for example, far from modern industrial technology, the ceramics used to produce Moroccan ceramic tiles known as zellij is cut using a hammer and chisel and the highly elaborate plasterwork with both geometric designs and floral arabesques is carved by hand directly on the walls of the buildings to be decorated. The same is true of wood, stone and bronze, which are always crafted using artisanal techniques.