Modern Islamic Architecture: Buildings

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, study the different Islamic buildings from recent years. Learn about the traditional characteristics that are still present and explore some beautiful and creative examples of modern mosques and other forms of Islamic architecture.

Modern Islamic Architecture

Many have seen the stunning images of modern cities like Dubai or Doha: amazing skyscrapers, boulevards, museums, shopping malls and all kinds of buildings rapidly growing. However, assuming they all are Islamic architecture can be misleading.

Let's analyze that common misconception. Would you consider the Empire State Building as Christian architecture? Probably not. It is a commercial building that happens to be in a country with a mostly Christian population. Or is the Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A. Jewish architecture? Not really. It is an entertainment venue designed by architect Frank Gehry, who is Jewish. So now you get the idea.

Islamic architecture has more to do with Islamic values and tradition than with the location of the building or the religious background of the architect. The most important structure in Islamic architecture is the mosque. Fortresses have also been included because they were built by Muslims to protect regions converted to Islam. Similarly, the private house has traditionally followed some precepts from the Quran, so ordinary houses and palaces are often considered Islamic architecture.

In modern times, other types of buildings like tombs, dedicated museums, Islamic schools, and cultural centers could also be considered Islamic architecture because of their strong connection with Islam.

Interior of the Istiqlal Mosque (1978), in Jakarta - Indonesia
Istiqlal Mosque

Tradition in Modern Islamic Architecture

Although architects experiment with new forms and designs, some traditional characteristics prevail and are commonly seen in Islamic structures. Most mosques still have an introverted character, with simple exteriors and decorated interiors. Facade openings, if any, tend to be restrained.

Inside the mosques, several traditional functional elements are always present. There is always a praying hall with a minharb, indicating the direction towards Mecca. Close to it is a minbar, the elevated platform used to preach. Outside, the tall tower for calling to praying, or minaret, is an iconic symbol of Islamic architecture. However, there are some rare examples of mosques without it.

As part of the Islamic tradition, non-figurative decoration is used. The three basic types are the geometric patterns created by repeating simple elements, the calligraphic texts with fragments from the Quran, and arabesques, the elaborate and stylized motifs of flowers and plants.

Examples of Modern Islamic Architecture

The distance between the Islamic and the Western world has shortened as globalization and migrations grow. In the last few decades, Islamic buildings have been built in many different places and by architects with very different backgrounds.

Faisal Mosque (Islamabad - Pakistan, 1987)

The Faisal Mosque was designed by the Turkish architect Vedat Dalokay. Its innovative design consists of straight lines, angles, rather than the traditional domes and arches. Its concrete structure was painted in white, and four minarets indicate the religious character of the building. The facades have a combination of small openings that create a dramatic lighting of the interior. Inside, the decoration is very subtle, with neutral colors.

The Faisal Mosque
Faisal Mosque

Hassan II Mosque (Casablanca - Morocco, 1993)

The Hassan II Mosque is known for having the world's tallest minaret and was designed by the French architect Michel Pinseau. The design is closer to traditional forms and features many arches. The exterior is decorated with geometric patterns and arabesques. Yet, it is almost plain when compared to the interior, which has an elaborate combination of marble, granite, wood and even fountains.

The Hassan II Mosque
Hassan II Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Mosque (Abu Dhabi - United Arab Emirates, 2007)

Among the largest in the Arab Emirates, this mosque was designed by the Syrian architect Yousef Abdelky. Traditional arches, minarets and domes were used, and it has an introverted character with large plain facades. Inside, all the beauty is revealed in a modern interpretation of traditional Islamic ornaments. The walls and ceiling are exquisitely decorated with arabesques of large, geometrized flowers. The floor is a delicate greenish carpet that evokes flowered grasslands.

Prayer Hall of the Sheik Zayed Mosque
Sheik Zayed Mosque

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