Art Spots, Points of View

'Architecture' from Oxford Islamic Studies Online

About This Resource

This article on domestic space in Islamic architecture provides context for Fatima Mernissi's Dreams of Trespass, Anthony Shadid's House of Stone, and the documentary film Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World. The article by Irene A. Bierman and Mohammad al-Asad is reprinted from The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World in Oxford Islamic Studies Online.


The dynastic building traditions for communal structures that serve the Muslim population are richly varied, but domestic architecture is even more richly textured, varying by region, time, and communal group. Regardless of the specific shape, scale, and materials, the space within all these structures throughout the Islamic world was used similarly. The use if not the form of the space separated public from private—that is, the communal, male activities from those of the family. In great houses there were separate rooms to serve these functions, and separate entrances for males and famales. In less elaborate dwellings, hanging curtains served to distinguish different social spaces. The space designated as private was for women and children and close male relatives, as well as female visitors. The public or communal areas were for men and their male visitors. The area immediately outside the covered dwelling often served as part of the social space of the house.

The tradition of separating these spheres of life did not preclude using the same room or outdoor place at different times for different social activities. For example, a courtyard or area immediately outside a door could be family space in the morning, and communal or male space in the afternoon or evening. In the late twentieth century, while some of these social practices have been modified, many remain in place.


  • Abu‐Lughod, Janet. Cairo: 1001 Years of the City Victorious. Princeton, 1971. A concise history of a city.
  • Anderson, Benedict R. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London and New York, 1991. A thoughtful introduction to the concept of identity as fostered by nationalism. It raised issued particularly relevant to the concept of a traditional past.
  • Architecture as Symbol and Self‐Identity. Aga Khan Awards, 1980. The publication of the proceedings of Seminar Four of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the essays deal specifically with the question of identity and the symbolism of form. The articles by Mahdi and Grabar in this slim volume are included in the volume edited by Holod (see below).
  • Asher, Catherine B. Architecture of Mughal India. The New Cambridge History of India, vol. 1, pt. 4. Cambridge, 1992. Excellent introduction to the architecture of India with a full and useful bibliography.
  • Bierman, Irene A., Rifa῾at A. Abou‐El‐Hah, and Donald Preziosi, eds. The Ottoman City and its Parts. New York, 1991. A wide‐ranging analysis of Ottoman cities taken as a whole, and examined in part.
  • Çelik, Zeynap. Displaying the Orient. Berkeley, 1992. An excellent fulsomely illustrated study of the architecture of Islam in nineteenth century World Fairs.
  • Golombek, Lisa and Donald Wilber. The Timurid Architecture of Iran and Turan. Princeton, 1988. With contributions by several authors this two‐volume work is a compendium of Timurid practice.
  • Goodwin, Godfrey. A History of Ottoman Architecture. London, 1971. A fulsome survey of Ottoman architecture, mainly in the cities of Turkey. Ottoman architecture elsewhere is not included.
  • Grabar, Oleg. The Formation of Islamic Art. New Haven and London, 1973. An excellent study of the making of a tradition or category called Islamic.
  • Hoag, John. Islamic Architecture. New York, 1975. A useful general introduction to the major monuments of Islamic architecture from the eastern Mediterranean to India. No color reproductions. Holod, Renata, and Darl Rastorfer, eds. Architecture and Community Building in the Islamic World Today. New York, 1983. A collection of essays related to the series of seminars on Islamic architecture sponsored by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. It catalogs the first Aga Khan Awards as well as reissuing some essays published in the Proceedings of the Seminars for the Aga Khan Award. It is an excellent introduction to the issues involved with the concepts of traditional Islamic forms.
  • Iranian Studies 7.1–2 (1974). Studies on Isfahan. Proceedings of a colloquium on Isfahan, the articles offer a wide ranging study of this city.
  • Michell, George, ed. Architecture of the Islamic World. New York, 1978. An excellent introduction to a broad range of types of architecture, from palaces and citadels and houses. Most useful is small compendium with plates of key monuments of Islamic architecture. Monuments from the western Mediterranean to the Far East are included. Mimar; Architecture in Development. This journal focuses on contemporary architecture in Islamic lands. It has a glossy format, with ample color illustrations. It highlights new designs and contemporary architects, as well as vernacular traditions. The articles are aimed at a general audience. The lack of footnoting is made up for by the inclusion of images of little known areas.
  • Mitchell, Timothy. Colonizing Egypt. Cambridge and New York, 1988. A thoroughgoing analysis of the effects of an international audience on a communal identity.
  • Rogers, Michael. The Spread of Islam. Oxford, 1976. A useful thematic introduction to Islamic architecture. Good photographs and broad coverage.


Bierman, Irene A. and Mohammad al‐Asad. "Architecture." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. , edited by John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online,

How to Cite This Page

"Muslim Journeys | Item #185: 'Architecture' from Oxford Islamic Studies Online", May 17, 2024