University of Washington
Department of Architecture, Spring 2001
[Computational] Geometry in Islamic Architecture
Instructor: Mamoun Sakkal
Muqarnas, part 2: Examples.
Muqarnas is the Arabic word that describes a traditional element unique
to Islamic architecture, in which small nich-like components are combined
with each other in successive layers to enclose a space and produce surfaces
rich in three-dimensional geometric compositions. These components are
called muqarnas blocks.
The blocks are composed with each other according to rules that changed
from region to region. Here are two related examples from Turkey and Armenia.
Fig. 1. Detail of muqarnas portal
Muqarnas portal in Sultan Han Caravansarai
On the Konya-Aksaray road, Turkey, 1229
The 3 blocks of 45 degree family were used in this muqarnas composition
on the portal of this Turkish caravanserai, or hotel, from the
The block described in part one were used to make clusters of repeated
forms, then these clusters were repeated to make the complete dome
with eight muqarnas layers.
Fig. 2. The reflected ceiling plan of the portal muqarnas
The reflected ceiling plan of the composition shows the smallest blocks in
the middle top of the view. The square blocks come next, then combinations
of these with the third block are repeated until we reach the dome
base. The color on the blocks is changed from layer to layer to
help in understanding the geometry of the composition.
The simplest shape for the interior surface of the blocks is used
here, where the middle base of the block is divided into two
Fig. 3. Views of the muqarnas portal dome with simple interior surfaces.
Fig. 4. The interior surfaces of the actual muqarnas dome are curved.
To make our model in FormWriter, they were simplified to flat surfaces.
In this reflected ceiling plan representation the interior surfaces of the block are adjusted to
resemble the original geometry more closely. Here the small block
has a convex interior surface, the middle block has a concave interior
surface, and the large block has a concave interior surface that
goes all the way to the back sides of the block.
Fig. 5. Views of the muqarnas portal dome with modulated interior surfaces.
Figs. 6 and 7. Plan and interior view of muqarnas dome at Geghard
Muqarnas dome in Geghard Church
Kotayk, Armenia, 1215-1225
Geghard is a unique structure which is carved inside a rocky location. This dome is also based on the 45 degree family, but here, the
middle block is trimmed to allow for a uniform cluster of blocks that has
a square shape. This cluster is then repeated to form the complete
dome. The square grid of these clusters is clearly obvious in fig. 6 with a 45 degrees orientation.
Figs. 8 and 9. Interior views of muqarnas dome at Geghard Church with
two different color and lighting schemes.