The modernization process that started at the beginning of the twentieth century has raised the problem of reconcilability of Islamic geometry and architecture with those used by non-Muslims (Mortada 127). The bifurcation of scholarly opinions on the place of modernity in traditional Islamic building design is a testament to the complexity of the issue. Taking into consideration the need to recognize a sacred role of geometry in Islamic philosophy, the influence of modernity on Muslim built environments should be closely investigated (Meehan 112). This part of the thesis proposal outlines arguments pertaining to the research topic. Research objectives and questions will also be discussed in detail.
Overview of the Topic
Despite the fact that Islamic geometry and architecture are two interconnected and diverse entities that cannot be easily generalized, it is not possible to disregard the homogeneity of conflicting arguments on these two fundamental cultural components. The discourse of Islamic identity inevitably enters the analysis of architectural expression of structural needs, forms, and functions that are often treated as eternal truths that can be discovered through contemplation. According to Al-Meheid, the “metaphysical reality of Allah’s existence” is recognizable in Islamic geometry and architecture (qtd. in Meehan 112). It means that the interpretation of the influence of modernity on geometrical and architectural expressions of Islamic culture should not be analyzed separately from its philosophical and religious underpinnings.
It has been well established in a variety of publications that two opposite viewpoints on the issue under discussion are expressed with equal intensity of scientific rigor. Some scholars defend the proposition that modern approaches to Muslim built environments should be shunned at all costs (Frampton et al. 46). Others maintain that Islamic architecture and geometry have immensely benefited from the process of modernization (Gonzalez 72).
The emergence of these two views marks the turning point in the analysis of Islamic spatial organizations and layouts. The need of a new analytical discourse is emphasized by the ever-growing pace of economic development of the Middle East. In the age of global capitalism and almost palpable sense of temporariness, it is essential to recognize the two perspectives in order to better understand the transformation of the key artifacts of the Islamic culture under the influence of modernity.
Preservation of historical elements of Muslim spatial layouts and organizations is a collective endeavor. This endeavor cannot be approached without a clear understanding of modernity with respect to socio-cultural needs of Muslim communities whose built environments undergo the process of change. Therefore, in order to properly address the issue of the preservation of cultural patrimony in the Middle East, it is necessary to create a comprehensive framework for the assessment of the modernizing process’ impact on the architectural and geometric vocabulary of Islam. The creation of such framework is the first objective of this study.
According to Gharipour, the influence of modernity on the architectural fabric of Muslim societies should be analyzed “through the perspectives of tradition and community, as well as a universal concern for aesthetic messages delivered by monuments or landscapes” (199). It follows that the modernization of modern architectural infrastructures has to be evaluated in the context of culture, religion, values, society, and history. However, the inclusion of these contextual elements in the analysis of modernity’s influence on Islamic geometry and architecture would acknowledge the validity of the argument that the Muslim built environments are not improved by the transformative impact of the twenty-first century.
Thus, it is of utmost importance to ensure that economic and practical implications of new architectural methods are also subjected to analytical scrutiny, thereby making an allowance for the competing point of view. It follows that a framework for the evaluation of Islamic geometry and architecture’s modernization should include the following analytical components: culture, religion, values, society, history, economics, and utility. By carefully considering these conceptual facets of the issue, it will be easier to reach the second objective of the study, which is to understand the degree of compatibility of Islamic building design and geometry with modernization.
The presence of a conceptual chasm between contemporaneity and tradition is emphasized by Esposito who argues that socio-political developments of the last several decades serve as “evidence of the incompatibility of Islam with twentieth-century life and technology” (qtd. in Mortada 128). This point of view, which is only one out of many on the opposing end of the issue’s spectrum, points to the fact that the intellectual and aesthetic transformations of Islamic geometry and architecture are often regarded as socially problematic. A wide range of perspectives on the modernization’s influence on Islamic built environments can be roughly classified along two extremes.
However, there are also those who believe that “the identity of Islamic culture and civilization needs to be both traditional and modern” (Sphahic). It follows that the study of the issue will help to systematize fragmented views on the replacement of architectural and geometric tradition of Islam. Therefore, the third objective of the study is to categorize disparate views on the influence of modernity on the key elements of Islamic spatial organizations.
In order to make a meaningful contribution to the topic, it is necessary to critically approach the uncertainty about the impact of modernity on Islamic architecture and geometry. The success of the study will hinge on the ability of the inquirer to formulate clear and concise research questions, which will guide them towards the attainment of the objectives outlined in the previous section of the paper. In addition, the questions will help them to determine how to properly approach the investigation of fundamental aspects of Muslim built environments with regard to a research paradigm, ontology, and methodology. The choice of the study’s design and data accumulation methods will also be affected by the research questions.
Given that the investigation should contribute to the ongoing discussion of the role of modernity in the transformation of the architectural heritage of Muslim communities, the research questions have been formulated after the evaluation of the following criteria: relevance, feasibility, and ethicality. The research questions for this study are:
- What are the perspectives of Islamic scholars on the influence of modernity on Islamic geometry and architecture?
- Are Islamic building design and geometry compatible with modernization?
- Does the influence result in a net loss or a net benefit for the Islamic culture?
The paper has outlined two polar perspectives on the influence of modernity on Islamic architecture and geometry. The following objectives of the study have been presented in the paper: to create a comprehensive framework for the assessment of the modernizing process’ impact on architecture and geometry of Islam, to assess the degree of compatibility between these three variables, and to systematize fragmented views on the issue.
Frampton, Kenneth, et al. Modernity and Community: Architecture in the Islamic World. Edited by Philippa Baker, Thames & Hudson, 2001.
Gharipour, Mohammad. “Tradition vs. Modernity: The Challenge of Identity in Contemporary Islamic Culture.” 2011 ACSA Fall Conference in Houston, edited by Ikhlas Sabouni and Jorge Vanegas, ACSA Press, 2012, pp. 199-205.
Gonzalez, Valerie. Beauty and Islam: Aesthetics in Islamic Art and Architecture. I. B. Tauris, 2001.
Meehan, Mark. Islam, Modernity, and the Liminal Space Between. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014.
Mortada, Hisham. Traditional Islamic Principles of Built Environment. Routledge, 2011.
Sphahic, Omer. “Islamic Architecture Between Tradition and Modernity.” IslamiCity. Web.