By Eric Broug
One of the most striking aspects of the brandnew Dubai Opera is the geometric screen that partly wraps around its exterior. The pattern that architects Atkins have chosen for the Dubai Opera can be traced back to the Qarawiyyin mosque and Attarine madrasa, both in Fes, Morocco.
The original pattern was made by Marinid craftsmen in the 13th to 15th century, in the traditional glazed ceramic zelligh style. Even 700 years later, Fes still has a strong zelligh industry that supplies ceramic geometric compositions to clients around the world. Here is a good video on the zelligh production process, filmed in Marrakech:
Dubai Opera (2016)
The Qarawiyyin mosque and Attarine madrasa are almost next to each other in the Souk al-Attarine, the spice and perfume market. Even though the mosque predates the madrasa, the Marinids contributed greatly to the development of the mosque, and its university and library. Qarawiyyin university was established in 859 and is acknowledged by UNESCO as being the oldest, still functioning university in the world. Amongst its alumni and teachers, it can count Ibn Khaldun, Leo Africanus, and Maimonides.
Al Attarine Madrasa in Fes
Islamic geometric design and architecture have been inextricably linked for centuries, across the entire Islamic world. Geometric patterns can be seen to clad buildings; their use serves to suggest that a building is draped with a fabric covered with one or more geometric designs, much like a tent. Dubai Opera also makes a reference to the architecture of the Mughal era in India, where stone screens with geometric patterns were used to create a division between inside/outside, public/private and to filter bright sunlight.
Atkins and its lead architect on this project, Janus Rostock, have dared to choose a pattern that differs from the geometric patterns that are typically used in Dubai’s contemporary architecture. There is a very rich heritage available to architects and designers that goes back all the way to the early Umayyad era, there are hundreds of patterns to choose from. Atkins has shown how visually effective and impressive it can be to boldly use a complex and less ubiquitous pattern. Although the geometric pattern on the facade is not without its design errors, the overall effect is a success.
My book Islamic Geometric Patterns (Thames & Hudson) shows you how to draw this pattern with just a ruler, a pair of compasses and a pencil.
Illustration from the book ‘Islamic Geometric Patterns’ by Eric Broug (Thames Hudson).
Eric Broug, December 2016