Monday, 28 July 2008

The Graphics of Calligraphy (1/4)

As part of working on a project that requires the integration of Arabic Calligraphy, I had to do some research about the subject, which turned out to be very interesting... So this post will be the first of a series about Arabic Calligraphy starting from its traditional background to its contemporary art form.


Its important to appreciate the significance of language in the Arabic culture to understand the development of Arabic calligraphy. Arabs consider language an art form which is evident in their deep love and respect for poetry. For this reason, the miracle that was given to our prophet Mohammad (SAW) is the Qur'an. Even the best of the best poets in the Arabian Peninsula could not compete with the grandeur of the language and rhythm of the Qur'an, thus admitting that this book is not the creation of any man, but a god.

When the prophet died, the Qur'an was passed on from lip to lip by people who have memorized the whole Qur'an. Many of those people were killed in battles, which alarmed the Muslims. As a result, to preserve this miracle the Sahaba requested from Abu Bakr Al-Sideeq (the Caliph) to compile the Qur'an to prevent it from being lost. The Qur'an as we know it today is credited to a later Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, who verified the text and published the Qur'an in writing 18 years after the prophet's death.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that the first verses that were delivered to the prophet (SAW) were the following:

Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created,
Has created man from a clot.
Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous,
Who has taught (the writing) by the pen
Has taught man that which he knew not.
-Surah Al-Alaq (The Clot, 96: 1-5)

This is the starting point for the development of the Arabic calligraphy. Arabs felt the need to master the art in which the words of God would be seen and read. And so the journey of developing the script system that we know it today began, based on the integration of "artistry and scholarship", representing the power and beauty of abstract lines in which energy flows forming the letters and words.

As the Islamic empire expanded towards the non-Arab speaking world, the Arabic calligraphy became an "abstract expression of Islam". This lead to two important factors that changed Arabic calligraphy, the first is the need to reform the written script into a clear and universal manuscript in order for non-Arab Muslims to learn the Arabic language. This is done gradually by the introduction of dots, vowel signs, and other marks known as "Tashkeel", usually written with different colors to be distinguished. The second factor is the introduction of new regional calligraphy. This is mainly influenced by the integration of Arabic calligraphy into non-Arabic cultures forming new calligraphic styles, most notably those that were formed in Persia and Turkey.

9th-10th century Quran in Early Kufic style, Iraq

11th century Quran in Eastern Kufic style, Iran


Kufi: This is perhaps the oldest calligraphic style which was developed in Kufa in Iraq, hence the name. A number of variations have been introduced to this style. It is characterized by its pronounced angularity, geometrical construction and being considerably wider than it is high. Because of its adaptability to ornamental form, it remains favorable for use in exterior and interior decorations.

Thuluth: This is a cursive script that was formulated during the Umayyad Dynasty. The name means "one third" which is supposed to be the proportion between straight lines and curves. It is characterized by its curved letters with barbed heads, elaborate graphics and it is popular for being used in inscriptions, titles and headings.

Naskh: This cursive script is considered the most popular calligraphic style used. Derived from Thuluth, it was probably redesigned during the Abbasid Dynasty. It is relatively easy to read and write; it uses short horizontal stems, equal vertical depth above and below the medial line, and generally well spaced.

Riq'a: Derived from Thuluth and Naskh, it is a simplified modern cursive style and considered the easiest script for daily handwriting. Letters are similar to those of Thuluth but are smaller, rounded and densely structured with short horizontal stems, and barbed heads are never used.

Ta'liq: Also known as Farsi, it is a cursive script developed by the Persians. This style is considered the native calligraphy among the Persian, Indian, and Turkish Muslims. A lighter and more elegant version of Ta'liq, called Nasta'liq, has been developed by combining it with Naskh. Ta'liq and Nasta'liq are both used extensively in Persian literary works but not for the Qur'an.

Deewani: This style is developed from Ta'liq by the Turks during the Ottoman Empire. It is excessively cursive and its letters are unconventionally joined together. Deewani also developed an ornamental variety called Deewani Jali. The spaces between the letters are filled with decorative devices which do not necessarily have any linguistic value.


As pictorial ornaments were forbidden in Islam to prevent Idolatry, geometrical patterns and calligraphy became the main decoration elements. For this reason, artists have applied those two elements outside the world of elegant books and into architecture and many crafts such as rugs, woodworking and pottery. But calligraphy have been a decoration element long before Islam, and perhaps the best example for this is the Mu'allaqat (The Hanging Poems), a group of seven long poems written by the best poets of the pre-Islamic period. Those poems were written in gold and hung over the Kaaba as a decoration, showing a very early application of calligraphy as a decorating element.

Today, calligraphy stands as an art on its own, establishing itself as a subject for artists that is open to experimentation. Many artists are specialized in this field and are creating works with innovative approaches to calligraphy in the hopes of developing this art further. More on this will come in the following parts.

The calligraphy decoration of the "kiswah", the cover of the Kaaba

Calligraphy decoration on the entrance of the Taj Mahal

More info can be found here and here and here

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Monday, 21 July 2008

Festival of Speed Art Displays

The Goodwood Festival of Speed is an annual festival featuring a variety of historic motor racing vehicles. The festival started in 1993 in order to bring motor racing back to the Goodwood estate, a location steeped in British motor racing history. Since 1997, the festival honors a car manufacturer company each year.

Audi Art Display '99

Ford Art Display '03

Each year a different artistic display is installed in front of the Goodwood House. And just like Tilke's monopoly over designing new F1 circuits, Gerry Judah have been commissioned each year to design a new jaw-breaking sculpture starting with Ferraris in 1997.

Mercedes Art Display '01

Renault Art Display '02

This year's art display is an incredible artistic piece dedicated to Land Rover, celebrating the company's 60th anniversary. The naturally-rusted steel sculpture is 34m high, weighs 120 tonnes, and features five different Land Rover models. The form of the sculpture seems to be inspired by the rough mountainous landscape that these five cars are designed to endure.

Land Rover Art Display '08

Tate 2

Early design proposal for London's Tate Museum

Revised design proposal

When I first saw the images of the proposed extension for the Tate museum in London by Herzog & de Meuron, like many others I was not convinced, which seems to be the main reaction of many people as well, based on most of the articles I've read about it. However, the proposal was granted planning permission with conditions and the main one is to change the facade material.

The revised proposal in my opinion is way better than the first and looks very intriguing. The new brick extension design fits the area more appropriately than the earlier glazed design; it maintains its twisted shape and got rid of the cantilevering boxes that distort the twist. This twist, in my opinion, is the attracting point of the design since the existing Tate museum is a long rectangular building that needs a new twist to revitalize the area, which the architects took literary.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Police in Sheikh Zayed Road

An exciting proposal for a performance in Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road by Christian Sievers. The performance will have police cars racing in a circle with lights flashing and sirens blaring. I wonder whether people would appreciate this artwork during the rush hours??

Check this out for another cool installation by Sievers.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Mosque of Algiers

Project: Mosque of Algiers
Architect: KSP - Engel and Zimmermann Architects
Location: Algiers, Algeria

A new mosque with the capacity of 20,000 (or 40,000) and a minaret that will be more than 200 meters high will be built by 2012 to the east of the historic center in the Bay of Algiers. Built as part of a new urban development, the mosque may be third largest in the world after the mosques in Mecca and Madina with the minaret being the tallest in the world.

The mosque will be a center uniting cultural, religious and educational institutions. And perhaps the main feature of the design is the dynamic minaret. It will be open to the public and will include a museum, research institutions and a viewing platform at the top.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008


As I was browsing my picture library I found this incredible photo. It’s either an old traditional Yemeni castle or a tower house. Either way, what attracts me to the picture is how it captures the beauty of traditional Yemeni architecture and life. Openings are very limited in traditional Yemeni buildings for climatic and social reasons. Yet wherever they occur there is a great amount of beauty that can be found, whether in the careful and detailed design of a window or the artistic decorations of a door. In this picture the opening is literary an opening, a gap between those magnificent stones that are animated by their different color, texture and size. Yet the human interaction is enough to fill this simple and empty gap with life and captures the attention and admiration of any person passing by.

Note: I think I found the photo in flickr.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Flowers from Madrid to Lisbon

The Avenida de Portugal is the first stage of the redevelopment project along the Manzanares River after transferring the M-30 highway in the centre of Madrid underground. Officially opened in May 2007, the project is designed by Rotterdam based architects West 8 along with several local offices.

This 6 km grassy boulevard is intended to achieve "an imaginary trip to Portugal." The design takes the shape of abstract flower patterns, inspired by the blossoming cherry trees along the route from Madrid to Lisbon. In addition, traditional Portuguese calçada paving is laid out in a cherry flower pattern to create the illusion of walking on a carpet of flowers.

The redevelopment project will bring to the area green public spaces as well as removing the nuisance and redundancy of the highway traffic, creating a much more comfortable space for pedestrians. The amount of the cherry trees planted (around 700) shows a great respect for this plant that is culturally fundamental to the site. It also provides shade for pedestrians and people sitting in the continuous benches.

More info can be found here and here and here.

Monday, 7 July 2008


The rise of property development along the coast of the Arabian Gulf dramatically increased the demand for luxurious yachts and boats. The creation of 1500 marinas in Dubai alone, along with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of other marinas in neighboring countries lured many people to become watercraft enthusiasts. The emphasis that we are witnessing on waterfront development, land reclamation and the crazy man-made islands that are quickly changing the face of the region are establishing the warm Middle Eastern seas as a tourist attraction that will soon rival the prestigious Mediterranean and Caribbean marinas.

Like everyone I always admired the beauty of expensive toys. But lately I find myself buying boat and yacht magazines. It is not because of all the luxurious waterfront development that is rising which requires complementary water toys. And no its not because I have the financial capability to invest in such assets. Its because of this particular jewel that I ran into by coincidence while reading a Porsche magazine. This jewel is the result of a joint effort between Porsche Design Studios and "high-end builder" Fearless. Its called Fearless 28 (as in 28 feet long) and has a V10 Dodge Viper engine with 550 horsepower. The seats, controls and upper deck design is inspired by the Porsche Carrera GT.

This beauty is the first of a range of yachts designed by Porsche Design Studios for Fearless. I always say that I don't want to be very rich with loads of money that I don't know what to do with, but now I definitely want to afford this toy which apparently cost only $300,000.