In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Architecture

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Foundational Works
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Image Sources and Digital Libraries
  • Journals and Series
  • Mosques, Gardens, Tombs, and Tents
  • Defensive, Domestic, and Commercial Architecture
  • Modern Islamic Architecture, City Planning, and Urbanism

Islamic Studies Architecture
Walter Denny
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0041


The term “Islamic architecture,” as conventionally used today in the scholarly world, refers to works of architecture created in cultures in which the Islamic political and cultural component is dominant. The term may also encompass works created by Muslim architects working in non-Muslim societies for non-Muslim patrons (such as mudejar buildings created for Christian patrons in Spain after the Reconquista) or by non-Muslim architects working in Muslim societies for Muslim patrons (such as the Balyan family of architects under royal patronage in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire). In defining the nature of “Islamic” architecture, the primary and dominant consideration here is that of visual style, rather than the geography, ethnicity, language, or religion of either architect or patron. One can argue that the primacy of architecture among the arts of Islam was enhanced by the sometimes tenuous position often occupied by arts other than architecture. Figural art of all kinds, whether painting or sculpture, has long been viewed with hostility by Islamic theologians, and Hadith traditions militate strongly against it, largely on the fear that figural art might lead to idolatry. Likewise, Islamic puritanism, again exemplified in Hadith traditions, demands that luxury arts, such as silk fabrics or jewelry, should be avoided by pious Muslims. On the other hand, architecture in its many manifestations has a highly positive relationship not only with Islamic theology but also with kingly or bourgeois traditions of conspicuous consumption. Religious buildings may exemplify the religious obligation of zakat or charity, serving functions of worship, education, health, economic development, and public welfare. Royal palaces may serve as highly private locales for forbidden activities and luxuries, or as highly public manifestations of royal power. The representative books selected here from a vast amount of published material have been chosen taking into account a balance of quality of scholarship, accessibility, quality of illustrative material, and, where possible, their proven usefulness in research and teaching over recent decades.

General Overviews

Building on better printing and the availability of better photographs and architectural drawings, a group of later introductory works attempting to cover the entire spectrum of Islamic architecture gives today’s reader a useful, affordable, and well-illustrated entry into this vast and rapidly developing field. The latest incarnation of Creswell’s shorter history (Creswell 1989) is still of use to students, although various aspects of his work have been superseded. Oleg Grabar’s magisterial work on the early period (Grabar 1987) remains today one of the most influential works in the field, and its approach can be usefully contrasted with that of John Hoag and later of Robert Hillenbrand (Hoag 2004, Hillenbrand 1994), works that in their new illustrations and architectural drawings provide a more object-centered approach. In contrast to the historical/geographic organization of these works, Michell’s work (Michell 2006) is organized with various topical cross sections of the field, including architectural genre and a canonical list of major monuments.

  • Creswell, Keppel Archibald Cameron. A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture. Aldershot, UK: Scolar Press, 1989.

    Revised and supplemented by James W. Allan, this new edition brings Creswell’s seminal work to today’s readers in a better-illustrated and more accessible format, reflecting the results of subsequent scholarship. Originally published in 1958.

  • Grabar, Oleg. The Formation of Islamic Art. Rev. ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987.

    Originally published in 1973, this remains the most widely influential and wide-ranging general work dealing with the early period, and is often used as a textbook in university courses. Focusing largely on architectural and architectural decoration, it in part reconceptualizes Creswell’s work in a wider theoretical and historical context.

  • Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Architecture: Form, Function, and Meaning. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

    The most recent encyclopedic survey of Islamic architecture, arranged by architectural genre; insightful and well written, it is extensively illustrated by axonometric drawings, which combine the information of ground plan and elevation/section in a single illustration. A compendium of small plans and sections republished from earlier works is added at the end of the work for reference.

  • Hoag, John D. Islamic Architecture. London: Paidon, 2004.

    Originally published in 1977. A successor to the same author’s Western Islamic Architecture (New York: G. Braziller, 1963), this comprehensive work, illustrated in black and white with extensive ground plans and sections, is organized by dynasty; it was republished in paperback by Rizzoli in 1987.

  • Michell, George, ed. Architecture of the Islamic World Its History and Social Meaning: With a Complete Survey of Key Monuments. Text by Ernst J. Grube. London: Thames and Hudson, 2006.

    Incorporating a complete survey of key monuments as well as chapters on individual building types written by major authorities, this long-lived work has remained in print for several decades. Color illustrations and a medium-sized format add to its effectiveness, and a paperback edition has increased its influence as a college text.

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