Part III – Gardens, Grids, Courtyards, and the conclusion.
MATHEMATICAL GRIDS, COURTYARDS AND GARDENS
Mathematicism is at the very base of Islamic architecture. The Arabs were keen mathematicians, and infused every aspect of their design with mathematical symbolism and functionalism. Water and gardens are two more design elements that are important in Islamic culture. Water, by its very scarcity in the desert regions was considered precious, while gardens were regarded as representations of Paradise on earth (Alfieri, 2000).
The first good example of mathematicism in basic construction is the plan and orientation of the Dome of the Rock. Its location on Mount Moraya is within three miles of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Kathisma church (Avner 2010). Avner states that though Dome of the Rock was thought to be unique, it was in fact moulded on the octagonal three-shell form of concentric martyrium in early Byzantine churches such as the Holy Sepulchre and the Kathisma church. Striking features of these churches include a round form which was made octagonal by invading Crusaders, an atrium, a basilica, and an inner courtyard around the Rotunda (Avner 2010).
The Umayyads adapted this model in the mosque to suit their Muslim patrons, but the plan of the central space with the hollowed rock, the octagonal concentric belts around the central space and the concentric ambulatories remain the same (Avner, 2010). According to Avner, the early Muslim writer Muqqadasi (985) stated that “the Dome of the Rock was meant to compete with and surpass all the churches of Jerusalem in beauty.”
The best gardens and courtyards in Islamic architecture are found in the Alhambra Citadel in Spain. The Nasrids adopted passive strategies to cope with climate and weather. The building were introverted, gathered around courtyards in clusters, reminiscent of early Arabian housing settlements with their rectangular patios surrounded by elongated rooms (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash, 2007). Gardens had pools and streams, where evaporation was used to cool the environment. Water was constantly circulated and replenished to lower its temperature. Basin fountains with Roman antecedents were also placed in the courtyards. In hot climates, secular buildings such as citadels and houses were aligned along the north-south axis with principal rooms facing south, to avoid overheating while making maximum use of winter sunlight (Willmert, 2010).
The Taj Mahal is the final and finest example for mathematical and botanical perfection in Islamic architecture. The Tomb of Timur in Samarkand was the precursor to Humayan’s tomb, which in turn was the prototype on which the Taj Mahal complex was based.
Humayan’s tomb was made of red sandstone, had square gardens divided into quadrants by causeways and water channels set into the axis of each causeway (Lall, 1982). A similar design is seen in Taj Mahal, but the use of red sandstone is replaced with white sandstone and marble, and the gardens are more elaborately designed with more quadrants, causeways and fountains. The quadrants in the garden are divided into mathematical patterns (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash, 2007).
The excellence of the Taj Mahal can be seen in its mathematical perfection. An example is the use of sound as a symbol of eternity. Ebba Koch says that Paul Horn, the flautist, was inspired by the acoustics in the tomb chamber. He said, “I never heard anything so beautiful. Each note hung suspended in space for 28 seconds and the acoustics are so perfect that you couldn’t tell when his voice stopped and the echo took over.” (Koch, 2006).
Another example is the Mutabh Bargh, the night-gardens of Taj Mahal. Each garden is aligned in such a way that a unique view of the main building can be seen from each. The night-garden has a variety of night-blooming plants and flowers that are hydrated from waterworks in the causeways of the garden quadrants (Alfieri, 2000).
Ebba Koch, alongside Richard Barraud, conducted major surveys of the Taj Mahal complex. They concluded that the buildings and gardens were designed on complex, interconnecting grids on both the horizontal and vertical axes. The cross-axial garden served as the focus of the detailed planning, as it was a perfect square (Koch, 2006). Berraud states, “The entire complex was conceived on modular grids, not only in plan, but also in elevation. Individual elements and features, in the outer buildings as well, are skilfully integrated into the overall scheme, combining various grids with remarkable dexterity. The results of our investigations show that the planning of the Taj Mahal cannot be reconstructed by putting a decimal grid over the whole complex, and explaining away the features that do not fit into it, but that it was a much more complex procedure deeply rooted in indigenous building traditions.”
Each quadrant, garden, courtyard and building is symbolically justified; the four minarets of the Taj Mahal symbolize the four pillars of the divine throne guarded by angels in the Garden of Eden, while the Taj Mahal building itself is symbol of the divine throne (Alfieri, 2000). The night-gardens on the side of the complex are symbolic of death, and the day-gardens are symbolic of life.
The features discussed above have become characteristic due to events such as migration, colonisation, trade, and spreading religion, which caused architectural mobility. The epitome of Islamic architecture can be seen in the Dome of the Rock, the Alhambra and Taj Mahal, which were all built many centuries ago. However, Islamic architecture is still evolving, as evidenced by Chowdhury’s Chadgoan Mosque, which is not ornate but is minimalist and elemental. Although the architectural characteristics are changing, the meaning, symbolism and richness inherent in Islamic architecture remains intact.
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