Islamic Graphics


Islamic graphics, generally speaking, is based on a center point and the repetition. It is very mathematical based and uses the rules of geometry and mathematics in its own way. In this regard, Islamic graphics can be distinguished from other types of it and has its own spirituality.

Islamic graphics is a term used to call the specific type of graphic design which is developed in centuries in the countries under the Islamic kingdom. Islamic graphic is found in various forms of visual arts, from painting to architecture. Influential countries in the development of this type of graphics vary from Asia to Africa and probably a few Europeans. It is assumed that one of the most important ones or probably the cradle of the Islamic graphics is Iran.

In this lecture I am trying to describe how I manipulate Islamic patterns and textures using new technologies that had never existed back in the time of Islamic graphic masterpieces. It is going to be based on my own interpretation of Islamic graphics, as a person who lived in Iran and mesmerized by the magical graphics of mosques, carpets, paintings and others, without knowing much about their construction. Therefore I tried to create patterns based on the first goals that designers had in their minds back in time, rather than mimicking their strategies and techniques with new technologies.

Islamic pattern block has a center as if everything is concentrated in that center or is rotating. Then in the next step specific mathematical relationships between geometries shapes the pattern which is usually a complex flawless mixture of lines and shapes. In order to create these graphics designers had to use the existing tools for measurement of either angles or distances. They had to, because otherwise they could not create an enormous web of integrated and interconnected lines and a small mistake would end up with a huge deform in the final pattern. Especially in architecture, not only it was important in the design level, but also it was crucial in the construction step. Workers had to be able to re measure every line and execute them perfectly on a huge architectural space.

So, instead of recreating the Islamic graphics by executing their old techniques using computer, I tried to reproduce Islamic patterns based on its logic. For instance, in some old techniques in order to divide a circle into six equal curves, designers would use a compass to draw a number of equal circles to get the division with an acceptable level of accuracy, but today a circle can be easily divided by six in a computer with the most possible accuracy with a single command. This allows me to perform accurate mathematical processes on the geometries without being worried about the execution, which means I can perform more complicated mathematical operations. On the other hand, there s almost no boundary for the complexity and the number of operations to apply on a single geometry, computer can easily handle that.

I used GrassHopper for Rhino in order to design my patterns. From the beginning I had two main goals in my mind, first to make them as complicated as its possible, second, to be able to control each pattern by a lot of different parameters. I experienced four different approaches to create the grid of the Islamic pattern. Each pattern is used as a basis to extract information, such as points, intersections, center points etc.

The first strategy is basically to rotate very basic geometries around a center point. The number of rotations and the number and the shape of the geometries can be given to the system. Also, the center point of rotation can be moved in order to create different textures. In the next step the combination of the rotated geometries is merged with the mirror picture of itself in order to make it symmetric. It is better to use close shapes in order to avoid naked ends in the final combination. Now, this product can be used to extract intersections, areas, center points etc. that later can be used as the input for various other functions.

I also used the cloud of points created by the intersections of the geometries to create magnetic fields.

The second technique that I used is to start from a square and then rotate it by 90 degrees and merge it on top of itself. Then I could extract the intersection points and start connecting them together in various different orders. Each order can make a point cloud itself and by merging a selection of these points I can once more run other functions and create new forms. This one was probably the hardest to deal with because it was so limited compared to other techniques and the number of the obtained points was very low.

The third technique is to divide a series of concentric circles into a certain number of equal portions and then play with the obtained points. By rotating each circle I could shift the sequence of numbers. Then I started to make connections between different points from each circle and combine the as a single output. The outcome from this strategy is very interesting, especially since the number of dots, lines, angels and every other thing can be changed easily using a number slider. But, the produced pattern using this technique is the furthest from the Islamic graphics, therefore its harder to find the connection between this pattern and the Classic Islamic ones.

The fourth technique is to create a triangle by dividing a square into two equal halves and then mirror and rotate that triangle to create expanding grid of the texture. Now to use this technique to create Islamic graphics I tried to play with one of the other ideas in designing them. So I divided one of the two equal sides into four sections by three points. These points’ locations on the line can be modified using a number slider. Then I drew a line between the point in the opposite corner of the rectangle and each of the lines. Again, each line is divided into several parts using a number of points, location of which can be modified using a number slider. Now that I have grid of points that can be played with using various number sliders, I started to connect some of them together in different orders. Later in the code, when the final grid shapes by combining the rectangles, these lines create a very flexible pattern. Once more, the produced pattern can be used as the source of other information in order to create more attractive and more complex forms.

The results of these techniques were really interesting and somehow unpredictable. I used each pattern as an input data for various different branches of codes to create a lot of different very complicated 3D objects. Each outlet updates easily with a minor change in the input parameters.

The very interesting thing about using grasshopper in parametrically designing of these patterns was the fact that with a slight change in one parameter, the final results change dramatically, especially for the complicated techniques. And it brings this in mind that back in time probably a lot of different patterns were not executed just because applying a specific measurement. Besides, a lot of patterns could not be made because it was impossible to measure, calculate and solve all the problems related to the geometry complications.

Today multi layer design, super accurate measurements, multiple calculations and live simulation of the results are the priceless tools that I could benefit from that were not available back in time. So I created the mentioned patterns just trying to think like an Islamic pattern designer and the results regardless are being bad or good, are so unique. I could use the trial and error to adjust my final results easily. Furthermore, each result can become a visible object in a few moments that every can see and understand.

All in all, I believe that there is still a lot to be done in the field of Islamic graphic design in parametric softwares, which can be a whole new era for the flourishing of Islamic graphics. In order to achieve that, designers should put the old tools away and instead of following them step by step, try to follow the logic or main goal of Islamic design in order to create new forms and patterns that can take the Islamic design into a new stage. Now, these invented patterns can be used in many different ways, from digital 2D designs to 3D ornament or even complicated textures for landscape designing and a lot of other things.

[Further explanation and photos to be added…]


  1. I’ve visited the Middle East several times when I was younger. My first trip was to Dubai at the age of 20. I was never able to see Islamic ornamentation because the buildings in the parts of Dubai I visited where contemporary high rises and composed of steel and glass. However, I recently came across the term “Mashrabiya.”

    Used as a shading element, a Mashrabiya is purely geometrical, as well as functional and ornamental. A perfect synthesis of function and ornamentation. It’s purpose is to articulate fenestration, as well provide an opaque quality to windows to decrease the amount of sunlight and heat which can enter an interior space. Many of these designs are beautiful.

  2. I’ve visited Turkey 8 years ago, and i saw their traditional mosques with many Islamic patterns. Those are really beautiful. After that, I visited Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris last year, it’s a building clad in Islamic graphic facade with a lot of mechanical system which could control sunlight for interior and heat gain on its facade. Thus, I am just curious about if you are an architect, how will you use this tool to apply to your building? Will you make your pattern functional?

  3. Your discussion made me curious as to the meaning behind some of the Islamic patterns you have referenced. It would be helpful (to narrow down the ideas, especially) to cite some specific examples of patterning, and analyze the role of the pattern in its context. The other two comments have touched on this–what is the role of the original pattern versus the pattern you have generated? Also, it seems you are interested in patterns of high complexity, and I think it’s fair to say that not all Islamic patterns are super-complex. But some of them are–it would support your argument to define why those patterns are complex (probably due to their context) and therefore, why your patterns should be as complex or more complex. I say this because, the discussion has left me with the question: what is the point of the patterns being “as complex as possible” (paraphrased).