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The beauty of Islamic elements has also been translated to modern-day product designs. Take for example the fairly young brand, Ruby Tree, with its collection of semi-precious stone tableware and furniture pieces that blend contemporary influences with Islamic design. Ruby Tree pieces are handmade in Jaipur with materials such as lapis, ruby, rose quartz and marble, collaboratively designed by scholar Mitchell Abdul Karim Crites and British designer Bethan Gray. The label is also involved in architectural commissions such as swimming pools and ceilings.
The Muslim Rug
The art of carpet weaving dates back centuries. But it was not until the 13th century that carpets became an integral part of the Muslim heritage. Nomadic tribes in the Middle East, Anatolia and parts of Central Asia passed down their skills from generation to generation. Muslim carpets are characterized by their superior material and elaborate designs, which usually includes pictorial elements or detailed repetitive patterns, such as the pietra dura.
Dynasties, including the Ottomans, Savafids, and Mughals, produced royal carpets for their courts and chambers. Muslim carpets were regarded in such high esteem that they became the ideal presents for nobles and valuable goods for trading. They were traded in significant volumes in the 1800s. Before the establishment of local industries and mass production, carpets were too valuable to serve as a flooring solution and were hung on walls as centrepieces to admire, much like museum exhibits.
The motifs and carpet-making techniques vary from one region to another. Carpets originating from Turkey, for instance, have knots that are made by circling the yarn twice around two warp threads and drawing out the ends between the two threads. Knots on Persian rugs, on the other hand, involve a single turn of the wool thread around the warp thread. While Turkish carpets are richly coloured and mostly feature designs of plants, Persian rugs use more red and blue hues with motifs of humans, animals, and landscapes.
Amongst a plethora of different types, the Polonaise is the most common. The design sees a lot of brocading on a base of cotton with silk wefts, adorned with gaudy details of gold and silver strands, and floral-inspired patterns. At times Polonaise carpets would bear the coat of arms of Poland, hence the name. It was later discovered that they were in fact Persian-produced during the Savafid dynasty.
Tiling on Facades
Possessing the same level of intricacy, with a perplexing amount of sophisticated maths, is the tiling technique of Islam that is frequently seen in mosques and Islamic houses of worship. Islamic tiling, not to be confused with mosaics, is characterized by tessellations of a few different tiles with uniquely shaped polygons, such as the eight or 16-pointed stars. Muslim artists were five centuries ahead of the Westerners, who discovered a similar technique, called Penrose tiling, in the 1970s.
The Islamic tiling pattern, or otherwise known as Girih, consists of quasi-crystal patterns that feature multiple-fold symmetries with the same subset repeated infinitely. The designs are superimposable on themselves when rotated a fraction of a full circle. Famous examples are found in the dizzying ceiling of the Tomb of Hafez in Shiraz and the Darb-I Imam Shrine facade — both in Iran — and the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul in Turkey.
Another exhibit of Islamic design, less about the finishing details and more about the fundamental form, is the layout of notable Islamic spaces such as Moroccan Riads. ‘Riad’ translates to inner garden or courtyard. Fittingly, the appealing Moroccan residence is characterized by an al-fresco courtyard in its centre and its Moorish arch corridors. Balconies on the upper floors, lined with lattice screens, face sun-filled courtyards instead of the streets outside. In contrast, there is an absence of large openings or windows on its facade. In fact, a riad’s facade is unassuming. The inward focus and modest outer appearance is consistent with the Islamic notion that values privacy from the outside world.
Depicting a sanctuary-like elegance amid a desert setting, a riad’s courtyard centres around a refreshing fountain or a basin of water. Larger riads may enjoy a plunge pool. The open space is punctuated by lush vegetation and aromatic flowers that go hand-in-hand with the intricate flooring, pillars, and ethnically inspired lighting fixtures.