The Magic of Islamic Geometric Design

The view from Eric’s study. The pattern in the screen is taken from the al-Mustansariyya madrasa in Baghdad, dating from 1227. Beyond is the Calder valley. Photograph: Eric Broug/Eric Broug. To paraphrase Monty Python, what has Islam ever done for us? You know, apart from the algebra, the trigonometry, the optics, the astronomy and the many other scientific advances and inventions of the Islamic Golden Age.

Well, if you like art and interiors, there’s always the stunning patterns that grace mosques, madrasas and palaces around the world.

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.

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.” more.