Takeo Kamiya, architect
( Architecture de l'Islam )

cover photo


Written by Henri Stierlin, Translated by Takeo Kamiya
1987, 28cm- 290pp, 22,000 Yen
Paperback edition, 1990, 9,800 Yen
ISBN4-562-02127-6, Pubsished by Hara Shobou, Tokyo

This book shows the architectural history and characteristics
of each region of the Islamic world from a cultural context.
It is full of beautiful color photographs taken by the author and
newly made drawings. Ch. 1 : Substrata of Islamic Civilization,
Ch. 2 : Architecture of the Classical Period, Ch. 3 : Originality of
Persia, Ch. 4 : Mediterranean Islam, Especially Cairo, Ch. 5 :
Seljuk and Ottoman Turkey, Ch. 6 : Architecture of Islamic India


This is probably the first book that is available in Japanese about the whole history of Islamic architecture. Usually Islamic architecture is introduced in books of fine arts, and always explained in a historical context. There are very few published works of Islamic arts and architecture in Japan. Therefore Japanese people know little about physical aspects of the Islamic world.

This single volume book covers almost all the Islamic world and its entire history. In contrast to the other big volumes such as Fine Arts Series, this has many examples in beautiful color prints and shows many precise drawings in scale.

The most important point is that the author, Stierlin, clarifies the feature of Islamic architecture from a new point of view. It is a concept of 'space,' which is understood as a functional space in the buildings. He doesn’t focus on the stylistic analysis of expression. Scholars of esthetics explain from a viewpoint of expression. Functionalism in architecture was developed after the World War I, and it got the international agreement. But new nationalistic ideas opposing to international thinking have recently been raised, but on the contrary the aim of identification of different types of Islamic architecture in various countries is understood by the spatial idea.

The concept of space can categorize the architecture in several phases, and at the same time it makes new groups between the different epochs. Stierlin mentions several common rules and elements, and techniques of composition. According to this opinion, Islamic architecture is composed of many classical and Christian building elements but the final appearance is completely Islam. Moreover it makes it easy to distinguish the urban buildings from the monumental architecture.

We need a new history of architecture in addition to that of monuments such as religious building and palaces. We must consider the vernacular architecture as well as rural buildings. This book clarifies these necessities. The translation into Japanese is quite good, and the arrangement of the pictures and drawings are as perfect as the original edition.

P.186 Chapitre 4 : L'ISLAM MEDITERRANEEN, Photos: Palais de l'Alhambra____P.258 Chapitre 6 : L'ARCHITECTURE DE L'INDE ISLAMIQUE
Page Sample


The author Henri Stierlin wrote in the introduction of this book;
“If it is not a method of better understanding the beings of past or present, who are the authors of art works, what on earth is studying the history of art?"
This book tells us many things about architecture in the Islamic world, and more than that, teaches us how deep the architecture has been connecting the history of mankind and expressing their dreams and aspirations.

Though Henri Stierlin is an architectural historian in Switzerland, born in 1928, he is not an academic adhering to documents. He studied classical languages and law in university, and then practiced editing architectural magazines or producing broadcasting programs on architecture. What brought fame to him was the international publishing project of the series “Architecture Universelle” (English title: “Living Architecture”) in the 1960s, in which he was not only the center of the scheme but also the author of the first published volumes of “Ancient Maya” and “Angkor”, for which he also took fine photographs himself.

Being perhaps known by those book titles, his central interests resides always in the culture of the Third World. This project itself was worthy enough of surprising people in the architectural society, for it intended to give one volume not only to European ‘Gothic’ or ‘Baroque’ but also to ‘Maya’, ‘Ottoman Turkey’, or ‘Islamic India’. That is to say, he removed all at once the thought of Eurocentrism, which had been dominant till then, intending to arrange every architectural culture in the globe parallel and equivalent.

Here, there is clearly a different viewpoint from the preceding architectural historians. The traditional way of studying single lined architectural history, centering Europe, was becoming antiquated. Since people came to fly freely around the world after World War II by the progress of transportation methods and information technology, the history of architecture came to be able to be enunciated in the mode of cultural comparison.

As for his other books, there is the trilogy of "Art of Maya", "Art of Azteka" and "Art of Inka", the recently planned series "The Tracks of Great Builders” including "Hadrien et l'Architecture Romaine (Hadrian and Roman Architecture)" and “Soliman et l’Architecture Ottomane (Suleiman I and Ottoman Architecture)”, and so on.

Now I mention the specific features of this fairly breaching-convention book as an architectural history, contrasting with other scholars’ writings. It considerably differs from ordinary schoolbooks’ consecutive description of evenly taken famous architectural works in history. Henri Stierlin distinctly took an anti-egalitarian manner, allocating many pages to important works and throwing away regions and ages that were not considered so essential. Instead of treating Central Asia or Maghrib region in only a few pages, he expended 12 pages for only a single work of the “Great Mosque of the Shah” in Isfahan.

The author’s interest in architecture resembles that of architects much more than historians. Speaking from the fact that the translator, myself, is an architect, we architects learn the history of architecture not because we would like to get exhaustive knowledge about individual buildings but to understand why the prominent architectural works abiding in history or the styles penetrating the ages took their own shapes and forms. However, most ordinary books on architectural history are bland and tedious, not teaching us what we really want to know.

In terms of that, in this book, the abovementioned “Great Mosque of the Shah” for instance, is illuminated up from various aspects in quest of its principles and implications, especially showing that the plastic formation of the building and the proportional relations of its courtyard are deeply based on the mystic philosophy of Shiism, making us open our eyes wide.
The part that elucidates why the Great Mosque of Damascus came to have such a strange plan and space, through nine pages with a bold hypothesis, is another highlight. Furthermore, when reading that the architecture of caravanserais in Seljuk Turkey has close relations with Armenian architecture and even Romanesque in Europe, one must drop into the deep thought of the grandeur of cultural vicissitude and the influential relationships between them accompanied by each nations’ rises and falls.

In fact, the author is excellent to have achieved to describe appropriately in a single volume the full-length picture and essence of Islamic architecture around the vast, both geographically and historically, Islamic world, along the stream of the history of civilization.


© Takeo Kamiya
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