Tuesday 17 October 2023



These quotes and notes are to be read in association with ISLAMIC PATTERNS – COSMIC VISIONS: see - https://voussoirs.blogspot.com/2023/10/islamic-patterns-cosmic-visions.html


Koran quotes:

“Your deity of worship is only One God. There is no deity of worship except Him, the Most Compassionate to all, the Especially Compassionate to believers.” — 2:163

“All praise is for God, the Lord of the two worlds; The Most Compassionate to all, The Especially Compassionate to believers; King of the Day of Judgment. You Alone we worship, You Alone we ask for help; guide us along the straight path; the path of those You have bestowed with favors—not of those who earned Your Anger or those who went astray.” — 1:1-7

“Your deity of worship is only One God. There is no deity of worship except Him, the Most Compassionate to all, the Especially Compassionate to believers.” — 2:163 

“When My servant asks you [O Muhammad] about Me, indeed I am near. I Respond to the call of every caller when they call upon Me. So let them also respond to Me and believe in Me, so they may be guided.” — 2:186 ^

“God! There is no deity except Him, the One who sustains Himself and sustains all of His creation. Neither drowsiness nor sleep overtakes Him. To Him belongs everything in the heavens and the earth. Who could possibly intercede with Him without His Permission? He Knows their past and their future but no one can grasp any of His Knowledge except as He Wills. His Throne’s Footstool encompasses the heavens and the earth and the preservation of both does not tire Him, for He is the Most High, Most Great.” — 2:255

“Say [O Muhammad]: if you sincerely love God, then follow me. God will love you and forgive you your sins. God is Forgiving and Merciful.” — 3:31

“Say, (O Muhammad): ‘Call upon God or call upon the Most Compassionate—whichever name you use, He has the Most Beautiful Names.’ Do not recite your salah prayer too loudly or silently, but seek a middle way. And say, ‘All praise is for God, Who has never had any offspring; nor does He have a partner in governing His kingdom; nor is He weak, needing a protector. And revere Him immensely.’ ”— 17:110-111

“This is what God has willed! There is no power except with God!” — 18:39

“God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. His light is like a niche in which there is a lamp, the lamp is in a crystal, the crystal is like a shining star, lit from the oil of a blessed olive tree, located neither to the east nor the west, whose oil would almost glow, even without being touched by fire. Light upon light! God guides whoever He wills to His light. And God sets forth parables for humanity. For God has complete knowledge of all things.” — 24:35

“He is God—there is no deity worthy of worship except Him: Knower of the seen and unseen. He is the Most Compassionate to all, Especially Compassionate to believers.”

“He is God—there is no deity worthy of worship except Him: the King, the Most Holy, the Perfect, the Source of Serenity, the Watcher over everything, the Almighty, the Supreme in Might, the Majestic. Glorified is God far above what they associate with Him in worship! He is God: the Creator, the Inventor, the Shaper. He has the Most Beautiful Names. Whatever is in the heavens and the earth constantly glorifies Him. And He is the Most Powerful, Most Wise.” — 59:22-24

“Say, (O Muhammad): ‘He is God—One, United; God—the Fulfiller of all your needs. He has no offspring, nor was He born. And there is none comparable to Him.’ ” — 112:1-4


God in Islam


God in Islam (Arabic: ٱللَّٰه, romanized: Allāh, contraction of ٱلْإِلَٰه al-’Ilāh, lit. "the God" is seen as the eternal creator and sustainer of the universe, who will eventually resurrect all humans. God is conceived as a perfect, singular, immortal, omnipotent, and omniscient god, completely infinite in all of his attributes. Islam further emphasizes that God is most-merciful.

According to Islamic theology, God has no physical body or gender, although he is always referred to with masculine grammatical articles, and there is nothing else like him in any way whatsoever. Therefore, Islam rejects the doctrine of the incarnation and the notion of a personal god as anthropomorphic, because it is seen as demeaning to the transcendence of God. The Quran prescribes the fundamental transcendental criterion in the following verse: “[He is] the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He has made for you from yourselves, mates, and among the cattle, mates; He multiplies you thereby. There is nothing whatever like unto Him, and He is the One that hears and sees [all things]” (42:11). Therefore, Islam strictly and categorically rejects all forms of anthropomorphism and anthropopathism of the concept of God.

The Islamic concept of God emphasizes that he is absolutely pure and free from association with other beings, which means attributing the powers and qualities of God to his creation, and vice versa. In Islam, God is never portrayed in any image. The Quran specifically forbade ascribing partners to share his singular sovereignty, as he is considered to be the absolute one without a second, indivisible, and incomparable being, who is similar to nothing, and nothing is comparable to him. Thus, God is absolutely transcendent, unique and utterly other than anything in or of the world as to be beyond all forms of human thought and expression. The briefest and the most comprehensive description of God in Islam is found in Surat al-Ikhlas.

According to mainstream Muslim theologians, God is described as Qadim [ar] (“ancient”), having no first, without beginning or end; absolute, not limited by time or place or circumstance, nor is subject to any decree so as to be determined by any precise limits or set times, but is the First and the Last. He is not a formed body, nor a substance circumscribed with limits or determined by measure; neither does he resemble bodies as they are capable of being measured or divided. Neither do substances exist in him; neither is he an accident, nor do accidents exist in him. Neither is he like to anything that exists, nor is anything like to him; nor is he determinate in quantity, nor comprehended by bounds, nor circumscribed by differences of situation, nor contained in the heavens, and transcends spatial and temporal bounds, and remains beyond the bounds of human comprehension and perceptions.


The broader meaning and relevance of the patterns is suggested generally in the book, scattered as various statements, rather than being defined in any specific, analytically descriptive manner: #

The title talks of a ‘Cosmological Approach.’

The starting ‘point’ is ‘a symbol for unity and source.’

The foreword speaks of ‘the blinding majesty of the One.’

The introduction notes ‘Islam’s concentration on geometric patterns draws attention away from the representational world to one of pure forms, poised tensions and dynamic equilibrium, giving structural insight into the workings of the inner self and their reflection in the universe.


the purity of essential relations that lie beneath the visual surface of the world. The significance of the Islamic standpoint is that, in the efforts to trace origins in creation, the direction is not backwards but inwards.

One can glean a specific relevance in the subject that offers a broad sense of deep meaning to the patterns without saying how, what, or in what manner. It is a complex, complicated matter that is difficult to articulate. It engages many other studies in matters Islamic.

On symbolism in Islamic Patterns:


Symbols can exhaust verbal explanation but verbal explanation can in no way exhaust symbols - symbols are directed toward undifferentiated unity, while verbal explanations involve never less than two - the donor and the recipient. These three basic shapes (the square, triangle, and hexagon), are used to symbolise the square of earth or materiality, the triangle of human consciousness, and the hexagon (or circle) of Heaven.

Note: Aldo van Eyck in Team 10 Primer, writes about the Dogon basket, noting how it is a symbol of the universe with its square base and circular top – earth and heaven.


the square, the symbol of physical experience and the physical world and totally dependent for its construction on the circle.


the triangle . . . By tradition symbolic of human consciousness and the principle of harmony, the triangle is the geometrical expression of two entities and their reconciling relationship (the third factor). Drawing D demonstrates the interaction of the upward-pointing triangle, and the downward-pointing triangle, traditionally related to the upward quest of human consciousness, and the download of archetypal ideas, respectively.

Note: Here one can envisage the star of David.


From the integrated symbolism of the shapes as co-operative and individual Cosmological symbols we return to the shapes as three most elemental divisions of surface area. The practical and useful level of operation of archetypal expressions in no way diminishes or reduces their efficacy as timeless symbols. . . . the first three basic shapes. But it is on this very simple law of ‘threeness’ that the foundations of Islamic geometric patterning are rooted - practically, symbolically, philosophically and aesthetically.

Note: One recalls here George L. Hersey’s book, The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture: Speculations on Ornament from Vitruvius to Venturi (1988), in which he develops his theory of multiple sets of three in the detailing of Classical architecture.+


Magic squares are conspicuous instances of the intrinsic harmony of number and so they will serve as an interpreter of the cosmic order that dominates all existence. . . . the undoubted Divine origin of mathematics . . . the qualitative aspect of number is given greater significance, and therefore metaphysical effectiveness, than the merely quantitative. . . . the science of numbers at the ‘root’ of all the sciences . . . the foundation of wisdom, the source of knowledge and pillar of meaning.


Certain patterns of this sort, (on a grid of squares), have as their starting point the arithmetical summing already demonstrated, (where collections of numbered squares add up to the same number).


the square, triangle, hexagon . . . are all, in the regular form we are concerned with, dependent on and sub-qualities of the embracing circle. . . . This pattern of triangles, squares and central hexagon . . . is a reminder of the archetypal importance of the integration of the three shapes within another, as the expression of unification.

. . .

The overriding principle for Islam is the unity of existence and therefore of the universe. This unity has always an inner and outer aspect - a hidden as well as a manifest aspect.


One must constantly remember that this view has nothing whatsoever to do with finding quaint symbolic analogies with natural phenomena, but rather is concerned with a viewpoint that saw the outer or manifest as a result of the inner intellect which is its divine source.


Reflection or symmetry . . . is one way of appreciating the mystery of multiplicity in relation to unity.



One discovers that Critchlow delves into things Cosmological in a complete but somewhat schematic manner. It is a complex subject that has been written about by other, more specialised minds that Critchlow references. One is left somewhat outside matters, feeling like an observer, being told about the symbolism and the wondrously interesting meaning of numbers and their relationships as pieces of information.

One can understand and appreciate all of these things, and can see how the figures can generate the shapes that grow and develop with symmetries and intriguing mirroring, and even admire the process with some amazed astonishment, but there is something missing. The patterns have no immediate connection to meaning in feeling; just in fact. One senses a schizophrenia here, a great void that one is told is filled by these marvellous patterns; enriched. We are told that the inherent symbolism rooted in the interweaving patterns is necessarily experienced, or sensed, as the ordinary complexity of appearance, even if one is not aware of these things.

One can understand this, but wonders at the tie between necessity and reality; the power of the symbol as an esoteric and exoteric element. One is left asking: Is the engagement with the pattern somewhat similar is some way to a lived love and its sensing of meaning of spiritual matters? How can that great search for engagement in these matters be helped by the patterns. Do the patterns, their astonishing richness and beauty, merely suggest the wonders of the spirit in the body?

One is left grasping at a hope for understanding, knowing that these patterns will be taken by the modern era as mere pretty decoration. How can the spirit be manifest? It seems that this, as we all know, is a personal, cosmic matter that is alien to modern, self-centred thought that seeks selfish self-expression as an ideal. One is left pondering the patterns, hoping for things to be otherwise. Maybe the geometry is the only certain way these things can be touched without destroying them? The great danger is that this abstract link might be used to justify modern art.


Here we find once again the pre-eminence of geometry in the manifestation of the corporeal world from Universal Nature, Soul, and the First Intellect. It is here also that we can appreciate the profoundly esoteric way in which apparently ‘decorative’ adornment of buildings in the form of geometric patterns reveals in the guise of symmetry the very laws of possibility in the manifest realm.

For more on symbolism, see Abū Bakr Sirāj ad-Dīn, (Martin Lings), The Book of Certainty, The Islamic Texts Society, Cambridge, 1992. It is a book referenced by Critchlow.


A practical source of inspiration for artists and designers and an invaluable study for anyone with an interest in sacred art

. . .


For centuries the nature and meaning of Islamic art has been misunderstood in the West, being regarded as no more than decoration. But in fact the abstract art of Islam represents the sophisticated development of a supra-naturalistic tradition, since the portrayal of human and animal forms has always been discouraged by the Prophet Muhammad, so as to avoid idolatry. Hence, among the world’s great artistic traditions, Islamic art has maintained its singular integrity and inner content with the least diversion from its aim: the affirmation of unity as expressed in diversity.

The Pythagorean/Platonic doctrines are easily recognizable in the body of Islamic geometric art, as the wisdom of this practice was exalted by Socrates, in Plato’s Republic dialogue (527), when he specifically gave the reason for practising geometry. Its practice rekindled the inner organ (or eye of wisdom) by which alone we can see the truth. The geometrical patterns of Islamic art reveal to the eye of the sensitive onlooker the intrinsic cosmological laws affecting all Creation. The primary function of these patterns is to lead the mind from the literal and mundane world towards the underlying permanent reality.

The numerous sequential drawings show how the art of Islam is inseparable from the science of mathematics. Thus, we can see clearly how an Earth-centred – ‘common-sense’ – view of the cosmos gives renewed signficance (sic) to the number patterns produced by the orbits of the planets, correlating the cosmos as experienced by man with the patterns created in Islamic art, and thereby throwing new light on the perennial symbolic significance of number. The mathematical tessellations inherent in space-filling patterns are revealed as an essential practical and philosophical basis for the creation of each completed work of art – whether a tile, a carpet, a wall or an entire building – and thus affirm the underlying essential unity of all things.


'guided': c.f. the idea of a pattern to life’s paths: might one see this as 'the way' ?

25 December 23

 Diana Darke, Stealing From The Saracens  How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe, C. Hurst & Co. London, 2020.

p.34 The trefoil arch was the favourite adaptation of the pointed arch all across Europe because it represented the Holy Trinity. Start looking and you’ll see it in virtually every Gothic church in Britain. Recurring themes of triples occur throughout Christian architecture – the triple nave, the triple window.


Keith Critchlow’s Islamic Patterns was purchased shortly after being first published by Thames and Hudson in 1976, from Tiranti of London. Books that had not yet reached Australia, but which had been reviewed in the international magazines that arrived monthly, (about six weeks out of sync), or had been referenced in other publications that were released in Australia,# could be ordered by post from a UK bookstore. The whole process took months, but it was one way to get the books one wanted. It was a time of no Internet; no Amazon; no Book Depository (alas, now gone); no Abebooks; no international credit cards; and no PayPal. A letter had to be forwarded with a bank cheque to the appropriate bookshop, or publisher, and the publication would arrive in the mail many weeks later. These were times that are difficult to recall today when communications are instant, and information is readily available.* ##

Keith Critchlow.

The title of the book, Islamic Patterns An Analytical and Cosmological Approach, had caught the imagination. The original source of the discovery of this title cannot be recalled, but it seems likely to have been referenced in texts on Islamic architecture that were being read at the time; or was it scheduled in the Thames and Hudson list of new publications?^ Ananda Coomaraswamy’s writings had stimulated an interest in traditional design thinking and theory; and the ancient mosques with their stunning decoration, astonished the young mind with their incredible amazements.

Peter Muller.

It was during a lecture given one evening at the University of Queensland many years ago, by Sydney architect, Peter Muller, (arranged by Bill Carr; was it 1963?), that the names had been jotted down: Ananda Coomaraswamy; Frithof Shuon; René Guénon. Coomaraswamy’s works proved to be the most accessible: Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art was published by Dover in 1956; originally published by Luzac & Co in 1943. With time, over many years, the writings of Schuon and Guénon came to be published more broadly and held in libraries. The Theosophical Society promoted the publications, and had an excellent library. In the search for these writings, other names arose: one was Martin Lings, also known as Abū Bakr Sirāj ad-Dīn; another was Seyyed Hossein Nasr. The Islamic world opened up just as its reputation as a despised, international terrorist base was growing: but this world entranced with works of which Lings wrote that one ‘could not marvel enough.’ It was indeed so, both in art, architecture, and calligraphy.+

Ananda Coomaraswamy.

Frithof Schuon.

René Guénon.

Martin Lings.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

So the chance to get the new publication on the subject of Islamic Patterns could not be resisted. One looked forward to a detailed analysis and a comprehensive exposition of theory in Coomaraswamy’s clear and concise style, to give context and meaning to these marvellous outcomes. The book was ordered; it eventually arrived as a large, hard-covered publication full of detailed patterns and their geometric derivation. From beginning with a dot, the starting point of everything, the diagrams grew in size and complexity as they developed through the pages along logical lines, with diagrams and relationships being clarified by construction lines and different shadings, elaborating patterns one had seen in buildings in the Islamic world with careful, explicit delineation and definition. The book reminded one of the geometrical drawing text book that had been used years ago: draw line AB; with centre A, draw arc with a radius greater than AB/2; with the same radius, draw an arc centre B to intersect the first arc at C and D; draw line CD; . . . etc. Each pattern was accompanied by a verbal description of its geometric logic and construction, with the extended potentials being illustrated and developed further into other ever more complex patterns in the following pages, evolving a continuum starting with the original dot.

The introduction to the book was by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, that other name that had kept arising in the search for the initial three writers whose names had been jotted down on a tatty piece of paper carried in the wallet for years. Nsar noted the symbolism of these patterns, a theme that occasionally got spoken about by Critchlow, but which was never specifically elaborated by either writer; ** meanings were broadly alluded to – see NOTE A in QUOTES & NOTES. Perhaps the meanings were too complexly intertwined to be put into simple words that might destroy the thing loved? The book was wonderfully graphic and detailed; it appeared to be something of a ‘How to draw Islamic Patterns’ book, with line illustrations in black and white with grey shadings that looked like a colouring book. Strangely, perhaps inspired by this appearance, colouring books full of Islamic patterns have now been published. This approach seems to treat the subject just too lightly; too commercially, with the drawings enjoyed merely as pretty, decorative designs for entertainment; at best, therapy.

One was somewhat disappointed. The thought that the book might be forthcoming with comprehensive details of the thinking and theory behind the images, was shown to be optimistic; the book had other intentions. These proved to be useful in another context many years later. The loss, due to arson in 1969, of the ancient minbar in the al-Aqsa mosque made in the twelfth century for Saladin, generated a fervent desire to reconstruct this ancient item, such was the despair at losing such a revered ‘jewel.’ The then Prince of Wales, now King Charles 111, gave his support and backing to this ambition. It was probably a better use of his conservative views on architecture and design than his enthusiasm for his theatrical village, Poundbury, and his almost spiteful dislike of Modernism, and high-rise structures. The story of the inspiring saga was published in The Minbar of Saladin: Stairway to Heaven - Reconstructing a Jewel of Islamic Art, Thames and Hudson, London, 2008. Why an Australian was so moved to destroy such a revered, ancient object remains both a mystery and an embarrassment.

Traditional craftsmen who still had the skills, were sought out across the middle east, and, with some photos of the original minbar, Critchlow’s book was referenced for the finalisation of the decorative patterning, its unique geometry and detailing; but the theory behind these patterns remained somewhat aloof, with the symbolism left as suggestive notes with no further information being offered on this subject. One was disappointed. Just what was the concept of this Islamic decoration that arose from a world that frowned on representation?

. . .


Years later, back in Peebles in the Borders area of Scotland, the bookshops were being browsed. The area had been visited a few years earlier; at this time, an interesting bookshop in Innerlieven, a nearby village, had been found to have a couple of interesting books that were purchased - one on Hindu art with a postscript by Coomaraswamy. This bookshop was to be revisited later in the day. In Peebles, a secondhand bookshop down one side street looked interesting; the browsing started. On one table, a row of books on edge revealed a string of titles. Among them was Islamic Patterns, a Thames and Hudson paperback reprint of the original - Thames and Hudson, London, paperback 1983, reprinted 1999. The book was purchased; the idea was that it would be reviewed in detail while sojourning in Shetland, with a mindset that no longer carried disappointment, or any vision of a simplistic colouring in book; or as a book on the geometric construction: the subject needed attention to glean more of its depths.

The re-reading again revealed the tedious descriptions detailing the construction of these marvellous patterns. One was left trying to seek out the symbolism of this work; its rationale and meaning. Starting at the beginning, one had the dot - the point as symbol for unity and source; every pattern, no matter how complex, started with a dot, the point. What might one make of this concept? Might one see this as Islam’s one God, ‘God the One’ as the Koran declares: the one and only basis for everything? Where might this thought take us?

When Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (pbuh), was asked about God, the answer came directly from God in the holy book of Muslims, the Quran: “Say, ‘He is God the One, God the eternal. He begot no one nor was He begotten. No one is comparable to Him’” (112:1-4).^^

Are the patterns visual representations of this concept, developed to express the complexity of religious experience rooted in the perception of one God? Is the development of the geometry and all of its internal relationships a reference to structure and connectivity in life, its wholeness emanating from the One? Are the patterns a visual reference to life’s mysterious involvement in meaning that becomes difficult to explain? Might one see these patterns as something like song lines; perhaps a graphic celebration of what other religions describe by analogy as the sexual experience: an engaged, entranced delight? Is this patterning an emotional grasping at qualities without representation, diagrammatically defining an equivalent experienced intensity?

One has to further ask whether number has any relevance here, starting with one – the point - that develops into higher sets as the geometry defines. One does note the section in Islamic Patterns on magic squares, sets of numbers that hold special relationships in the same way as the patterns do. Here we discover two questions: is there a symbolism in the numbers, as in numerology, and in the sets of numbers, as patterns?

The patterns develop an astonishing complexity and intrigue with their internal relationships that blossom into an interweaving reminiscent of Celtic art. One can see how this physicality of form could easily be suggestive of the intrigues of life and its living - referencing this subtle intermingling diagrammatically, exoterically and esoterically. Again, this notion is really a twin, perhaps touching on the inner connectivity of nature, its coherence and integrity, and the emotional interconnections in everyday life itself.

The more one ponders these patterns and their purpose beyond being mere ‘interesting’ decoration and logical geometry, the more one can see the sensitive relevance to life matters and to spiritual concepts, a world that Islam sees as One. The richness of these patterns reveals a wonder and beauty that is inherent in life that embodies the presence of God the One, that is there for one to be constantly reminded - to be put in mind again - of one’s relationship to God.

Calligraphy embodies a clear message in its patterning.

In this context, one can appreciate a similarity with how the call to prayer structures the day with its precise pattern that reminds us of our relationship to our world and our being - along with our responsibilities. To speak of this more clinically, one can see how this manages matters to do with mental health, a popular subject today even if religion is not. Can one speculate that the patterns too, help in this way, by reminding us of the One as the root of everything rich, vital, and complex; majestic; beautiful, leaving one not being able to marvel enough, as Lings noted?

Can we see Islamic patterns as the managed expressions of these matters, embodying delight and strength in their defined logic that is structured on absolute precision, certainty, and geometrical rigour - a perfection - to give wondrous complexities that frame experienced representations clearly in the meaningful abstract, symbolically? Here one has to refer to Coomaraswamy, and his explanation of a symbol. He notes that a symbol is not a sign, merely pointing to a reference for one to conceptualise a conjunction by way of analogy. Coomaraswamy emphasises that a symbol is the thing it symbolises, one of its aspects. As an example, he notes how the lion is a symbol of the sun, that the lion is the sun in one of its aspects.

Explicit meaning is enriched by the calligraphic patterns.

Can this understanding help us to see how the patterns are symbols for meaning and experience, being both meaning and experience - wholeness and holiness - perceived in one of its many aspects. We have seen how these aspects can be touched on by the patterns with their diagrammatic intrigues, so is it in this way that the patterns can be sensed subtly as embodying a multiplicity of aspects to do with life, qualities that can be gleaned by the feeling eye seeking out one aspect in its individual context as needed, freed from the limits of representation and its recall?

Are these patterns such that ‘'one cannot marvel enough’ at their relevance; their astonishing richness in coherence and relationships that hold far more depth than any mere resemblance, no matter how skilful the representation? Is this why Islam forbids representation, seeing such illustration as belittling life rather than celebrating it; enhancing it?

Whatever it might be, the Islamic patterns hold a vitality and necessity far more significant than any pretty diagram, interesting decoration, or any colouring book. They are vibrant and vital symbols that relate to life and its living; to experience: they are powerful emotional supports, rich and accessible as diagrams that dance with an exemplary complexity and integrity for those who seek solace, meaning, and understanding. We need to come to know these patterns in a new way, and remain amazed at the world we inhabit - its wonder and enchantment anchored in the point - the One.


# At this time, Australia had a strange, somewhat colonial, agreement with book publishers. Books published in America were not able to be released in Australia if a British publisher had rights to print the book, even if this UK publisher chose to do nothing with these rights. Australia was at the mercy of the British book world. If a book did not turn up on Australian shelves, one either had to order it from a UK outlet, or place a special order through an Australian bookshop. Our dealings had to go through the UK, the ‘home country.’ One had to stumble across publications in other texts, references, notes, and bibliographies. There was no Internet that gave one immediate access to books across the world.

Brisbane had a bookshop called the 'American Bookshop' that somehow managed to get American publications, but these were not numerous. The mindset of the wars remained: we were British, and owed our freedom to the mother country and our Queen. Our flag recognised this, and, sadly, still does. As flags go, the designs of the Eureka flag and the aboriginal flag are both superior to the muddle that the British have left us with. It is a flag that is frequently confused with that of New Zealand. 

As an aside: the copyright of the aboriginal flag design has only recently been purchased by the Australian Government from the original artist, allowing everyone access to it.


The situation was not too different to that experienced by Horbury Hunt, the bolshie Canadian architect who settled in Sydney on his way to India. He had the best architectural library in Australia at the time, with a standing order for architectural books with a London bookshop - perhaps Tiranti? Books arrived in Australia in boxes. Hunt died with only a few pennies in his purse: such is the practice of architecture by a man thoroughly committed to it. His astonishing story has been told in Architect Extraordinary: the life and work of John Horbury Hunt 1838 - 1904 by J. M. Freeland, Cassell, Melbourne, 1970. The fate of Hunt's library seems to be unknown. Hunt left us with some beautiful buildings; the gem is St. Peter's Church in Armidale, New South Wales.

Horbury Hunt


Islamic architecture was a mere aside in the architectural world. The main reference at the time, the 1960 - 1980s, and before this period, Sir Banister Fletcher, A History of Architecture, had only a tiny section of his opus given over to the Islamic world; and history courses made only cursory references to a couple of Islamic buildings. One had to take one's own steps to learn more about this astonishing aspect of architecture. Architectural studies concentrated on the western world, starting with bees and birds - that build geometric hives and structured nests - and moving into the Egyptian era, then Greek, Roman, Norman, Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque Rococo, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, and Modernism, a sequence as presented by Fletcher, as well as Sir Kenneth Clark, Pevsner, et.al. Appendices eventually got added with reprints and time, starting with Post Modernism, and continuing into today's world of 'New Architecture' that became engrossed in itself.

While the Islamic world gets a mention today, it is still the poor cousin, an irrelevant aside treated as things visually interesting in coffee table books. The more serious studies remain a fringe issue in architecture, as do all references to sacred art and architecture. Islamic Patterns is a part of this, with more interest being shown in the diagrams than the theory; and in colouring in books.

Roger Penroses’s mathematical tiling diagrams which remind one of the Islamic geometries, have similarly attracted architects. ARM in Melbourne is one practice that has used these as inspirations for different outcomes. The logic and theory behind the patterns appears to be an irrelevance. The diagrams are all just ‘interesting.’ Storey Hall and the Gold Coast Art Gallery are two projects based on tiling diagrams. Islamic Patterns are treated likewise by the profession – as ‘interesting’ things to colour in.

Roger Penrose's tiling patterns.

Storey Hall, RMIT.


With time, art galleries held Islamic art shows. The New South Wales Art Gallery held a major exhibition on Islamic art in 2007: The Arts of Islam - see: https://voussoirs.blogspot.com/search?q=nsw+art+gallery+islam - but it seemed more interested in appearances than in the grounds of ideas. Architecture today is in much the same condition. The publications of the 1960 - 1980s that discussed ideas and theories, seem to have been replaced with today’s coffee table hagiographies. Architects now indulge in self-promotion and self- praise more than ever. Hype and unique exaggeration boast about the genius of each creation that is selectively framed as an ideal, in solitude, and described in fantastic visions - see blogs on photos etc.- and gallery displays. It was in this exhibition in the New South Wales Art Gallery that one discovered just what Lings meant; the head of a Buddha on display left one speechless with its quiet power. Still, the gallery referenced it coldly and objectively, as a Buddha’s head of this period, of this size, made of this material, and nothing more. Display was the only intent. The gallery never seemed to ask Comaraswamy’s question: Why display works of art? - see: Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art.


It is difficult to recall these times which lacked every technological convenience we take for granted today. Even the slick perfection of word processing and the printer that is now commonplace was not known; and even copying, or reproduction, relied on transfer, stencil techniques rather than a photocopier. Typing was done on a type writer, using inked ribbons, with a black or red choice. Architectural renderings were all done by hand using first Graphos, then Rapidograph pens and India ink, and pencils. For slicker, more ‘professional’ appearances there was Letraset, a transfer system offering letters in various sizes and fonts, rub on textures, and cut out shading tone sheets. Models were made of balsa, card, and clear plastic sheet glued together with blobs of Britfix or Tarzan’s Grip. The more professional approach paid a model maker who used machined Perspex. Drawings were prepared on a drawing board, with a T-square or a drafting machine - a flexible arm that moved rulers at right angles across the drawing board. Tracing paper was drawn on, with copies being made by using a light sensitive paper to contact- print the prepared document that was run over a light tube, initially using pungent ammonia, and then a liquid developer. All of these processes seem naïve and crude to us today who expect nothing more than constant perfection from our ever-changing technology that produces hands-free outcomes, untouched, in full glossy amazement, as if made by another. Today, our eyes have come to expect nothing less than this, seeing productions of other times as messy and crude; lesser in every way, even though the freehand outcome might be more tested and informative, being truly hands on.

Today there is a distant gap between the maker and the outcome, a process with an immediacy hindered by layers of interpretation and analysis enforced by technology that keeps life at a demanded distance to suit its needs. This ‘easy perfect’ possibility devalues anything otherwise, casting a dismissive uselessness and a disparaging attitude over things freehand. The world today stands in a schizophrenic zone, praising and valuing (in the millions of dollars) ancient art that is all by hand, while dwelling in the self-praise of available ‘perfection.’

Pelikan Graphos pen.

Pelikan Rapidograph pens.



On the rear cover, the book refers to the ‘150 drawings’ as illustrations, ‘many in two colours.’ They are predominantly black and white with grey infills; the construction lines are pale blue. The only full colour in the book is on the cover that shows a tiling pattern not fully developed in the book. The book makes no reference to this illustration. It is not until page 177 that Critchlow tells us that the thesis of the book ‘is about the ‘inner’ use of the polygons.’ The blurb on the rear cover notes that the thesis is ‘the geometrical patterns of Islamic Art reveal to the eye of the sensitive onlooker the intrinsic Cosmological laws affecting all Creation.'

One can appreciate this statement as a factual explanation, but struggles with the emotional reality, leaving one floundering in this secular time, wondering just how one should feel, and why, all while sensing something astonishing, as Lings pointed out.



11 March 2024


Critichow’s landmark study, Islamic Patterns,* was published in 1976. The research detailed the concepts and ideas in the patterns, and defined their construction. The work seemed to anticipate the original documentation of these diagrams in the form of a traditional architectural copy book. Indeed, the book was used in this way to assist with the reconstruction of the Minbar of Saladin – see: https://voussoirs.blogspot.com/2013/05/abu-dhabi-hotel-mosque-heritage-centre.html.

Just ten years later, in 1986, what is now known as The Topkapi Scroll was discovered. This thirty-metre long document illustrates 114 individual geometric patterns used in Islamic architecture: it is the original copy book, one of the very few architectural records left from the past.

The Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities published a remarkably detailed book on the scroll ten years later, in 1996.*



Keith Critchlow, Islamic Patterns: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach, Thames and Hudson, London, 1976.

Gülru Necipoğlu, The Topkapi Scroll: Geometry and Ornament in Islamic Architecture, Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, Santa Monica, CA, 1996.