Creativity and Islamic Housing

 

Bayt” as the house and “bayt” as a line of a poem

Creating Islamic houses is far from being a simple task which cannot be fulfilled by applying the conventional, or a mediocre, knowledge, methods and skills. Bearing in mind the state of Islamic housing today, bringing about positive changes requires a significant shift in architectural knowledge paradigms, an introduction of sets of avant-garde architectural methods and attitudes, coupled with utmost sincerity, dedication and perseverance. Such a feat is to be part of a total Muslim excellence culture. Muslim housing professionals must be ready to go the extra mile from their conventional professional practices in order to rise to, and conquer, the challenges lying ahead. This is a reason why the word “bayt”, which is the most frequently used word in Arabic for the house, also means a line of a poem. Truly, creating an Islamic house is tantamount to creating a piece of a poem in terms of the requirements for possessing some extraordinary skills in order that some extraordinary objectives are achieved; in terms of philosophical, technical and artistic sophistication in the domains of both; as well as in terms of a profound spiritual, mental and emotional connectedness between the protagonists involved in both housing and poetry and their respective tasks at hand.

Towards a total and endless creativity

 

In order for the revival of Islamic housing to become a feasible prospect today, a genuine creativity and resourcefulness on the part of Muslim housing professionals should know no bounds. We have already stated on a couple of occasions that there is nothing rigidly predetermined as regards Islamic housing which should impose upon housing professionals a sense of strict following, narrowing in the process and stifling the scope and power of their creativity. Holding fast to the general conceptual and ethical frameworks presented by the Qur’an and the Prophet’s sunnah, on the one hand, and holding fast to the prerequisites of Muslims’ natural and man-made living conditions, on the other, Muslim housing professionals should bravely and confidently unleash their ambitions and talents, and embark on creating a housing legacy which both Allah and people will greatly appreciate. What will carry Muslim housing professionals and their tasks at hand through is a verity that whatever the results of their sincere and visionary undertakings, such will be deemed a success justifying the efforts. The only thing that is required, however, is a valid intention, vision, dedication and efforts, satisfying thereby the needs of Muslims in the most effective and appropriate ways. There should be no limits to, or discouragements from, new experimentations. Rigid and categorical prescriptions have place neither in Islamic nor in conventional housing designs.

Any physical housing form resulting from this process can never be seen as strange, eccentric and unacceptable, so long as Muslims embrace it as the best and most correct thing for themselves. There is nothing that can be stranger, more eccentric, more incorrect and so more objectionable than blindly following and importing the housing answers and solutions which are at odds with certain precepts and values of Islam, or with certain life conditions of Muslims. For example, if there are countless types of doorways and windows out there, there will be nothing wrong in coming up with yet another window or doorway type which will be based on a Muslim architect’s reflection on, and attempts to integrate, the relevant values and teachings of Islam into that novel type. Similarly, if there are countless systems of organizing the inner spaces of the house out there, there will be nothing wrong in contriving yet another plan and organization of domestic inner spaces based on a Muslim architect’s consideration of, and attempts to integrate, the relevant values and teachings of Islam into that novel system. Also, if there are countless ways out there to integrate nature into housing and to make houses nature friendly, there will be nothing wrong in fashioning a new way to do so based on a Muslim architect’s awareness of, and responsiveness to, the wide-ranging Islamic environmental ethics. Certainly, the same goes, in equal measure, to everything else concerning Islamic house designs, such as the plan and design of living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms and recreational spaces, making a house energy efficient, sustainable, and users and neighbors friendly, the subject of house aesthetics, privacy, economy, etc.

To illustrate the point, let us give a hypothetical scenario where an Islamic creativity was genuinely sought and applied by a Muslim architect. For example, if a Muslim architect is asked to explain his house design, he is expected to say things to this effect: “My design stands for a set of solutions necessitated by the needs of my Muslim client(s) and the requirements of the physical context of the house. I did an exhaustive research on the matter. My standard motto is that good research about my projects gives me profound knowledge about them, which, in turn, leads me to excellent designs. No excellent designs are possible without knowledge and research which give designers and architects confidence and a sense of direction. Of the first things I considered in my design was documenting the physical context in which a house (houses) will be placed: the site, existing elements of built environment on and near the site, the views, the climate, slope of the site, sun orientation, wind movement, etc. Then, I considered my client’s needs as a fellow Muslim and his dreams, trying my best to reconcile them. I was regularly in touch with my client, sometimes listening and sometimes talking to him, proposing and explaining certain things to him. As a practicing Muslim myself, we had no problems to find a common ground to stand upon in relation to all matters. I believe that architects should be both good listeners and good visionaries, to listen when listening is due, and to act as advisers, leaders and guides when such responsibilities are due. The intended use of the inner spaces of the house, and the manners in which such would be done by the spaces’ occupants and users, was my primary consideration in the designing of the shape and character of the house. I believe that houses should be designed from the inside out, and not the other way round, that is, to settle on the shape and character of the spaces of a house first and then to impose them on the occupants and users to adjust themselves and their needs to what they have gotten. Good design fits the use; it is not that the use fits design.[5] Finally, while doing all this, I was always mindful of the implications of the project’s budget. I wanted the budget to be as reasonable and affordable as possible. That the house is aesthetically pleasing to its occupants and users was my concern as well. I believe that doing my job this way is what I have been entrusted with. My job and the manner in which I do it is an area where my contributions to society are expected and which one day I will be held accountable for. I see myself as no more than a servant of Allah and my people.”

This hypothetical answer shows what a Muslim architect’s mentality should approximately be. This Islamic mentality will give a Muslim architect a sound vision and mission in life. He will be made a man that possesses an authentic Islamic identity. He will remain faithful to his religion, people, culture and profession. He will be further characterized by such commendable traits as bravery, sincerity, efficiency, excellence, originality, wisdom and faithfulness.

A true Muslim architect will never say, for example, that what determined his house design(s) was the fact that he looked around at other houses to get a general idea of what he wanted, or that he browsed through as many international home and real estate books, magazines and internet sites as he could lay his hands on, in order to see what house designs and with what features he liked, or did not like, so that he could integrate them into his own designs. A true Muslim architect, furthermore, will never say, as another example, that he was so impressed with a house design somewhere in a physical, social, cultural and religious context different from his own, that he wanted to replicate, or parachute, it in a region where he lives. Nor will a true Muslim architect ever think that, instead of playing a primary, the implications of the needs of his people, culture, religion and society play a secondary role in determining his house designs. To do all this will be a clear evidence of the lack, or corruption, of a vision, identity, creativity, courage, excellence, wisdom and truthfulness. A true Muslim architect never lives in a utopian and idealistic world of his own, detached from and unconcerned about the real and problems and challenges loaded world of his clients.

Muslim housing professionals must remember that as long as they are on the right path, applying the right methods, they cannot do wrong as regards their housing solutions pursuits, even if some planning and design maneuvers at a first glance might appear somewhat unconventional. Even then, that still could be a sign of a remarkable design breakthrough. If everything is to be conventional, predictable andtypical, where, then, would be the role of creativity and originality, and when, then, could a breakthrough come about? Creative breakthroughs are normally associated with the brave and farsighted revolts against the established standards, practices and customs, where the latter’s permanence and absolute authority are unjustified. Muslim housing professionals should stop at nothing legitimate in their pursuit of reviving Islamic housing today. The only way to success, however, is to widely open the door of Islamic creativity, and to permanently shut the door of blind following and imitation with reference to both foreign cultures and the Muslim distant past.

To demonstrate how creativity knows no limits, sometimes going to extremes, especially when contrasted with its justifiable purpose and goals, let us give here two examples.

Firstly, it has been reported that the US President Barak Obama administration was toying with the idea of painting the roofs of buildings white to save energy. US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that making roads and roofs a paler color could have the equivalent effect of taking every car in the world off the road for 11 years. It was a geo-engineering scheme that was “completely benign” and would keep buildings cooler and reduce energy use from air conditioning, as well as reflecting sunlight back away from the earth.[6]

To some people, this idea may appear as though strange, impractical and even somewhat amusing. To others, however, it is extraordinary and brilliant. It might well signify the beginning of a new revolution in energy generation to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It also might herald a breakthrough in ensuring that truly sustainable architecture and development finally become a reality. It all depends on how one looks at it, and whether one can align his own interests and ambitions with those of the idea and its protagonists. In every creative breakthrough, there are always originators and inventors, on the one hand, and proponents and followers as well as opponents, on the other.

Secondly, it has also been reported that Britain has seen a very interesting and creative response to the changing housing demand patterns of some of its citizens, which, however, can be seen by many people, especially Muslims, as peculiar and unacceptable. According to the report, the high divorce rate in Britain has produced a huge band of middle-aged singles looking for companionship, but blended with a desire for some privacy. The emergent real estate solution is a small group of separate living units, linked to a communal lounge and recreation area.[7]

 

 


[1] Stefano Bianca, Urban Form in the Arab World, (London; New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000),p. 22-23.

[2]AfifBahnassi, The Islamic Architecture and its Specificities in Teaching Curricula, http://www.isesco.org.ma/pub/Eng/Islarch/P2.htm

[3]FaidaNooriSalimAtto, The Importance of Architecture and Urban Design to Identity Formation of Neighborhood’s Community, The Proceedings of the International Housing Symposium III, 20-23.5.2007, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, p. 101.

[4]Cliff Moughtin&Tarik Shalaby, New Approach to Housing Design in Muslim Cities, (pp. 211-236); Inside: Housing in the Islamic City, Proceedings of a Symposium held in Ankara, Turkey, on 21-25.7.1984. Proceedings prepared by: Center of Planning and Architectural Studies, Cairo.

[5]Rules of Thumb,http://www.rtahouseplans.com/rulesofthumb.htm.

[6]US Wants to Paint the World White to Save Energy, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2009-05/27/content_7947803.htm.

[7] Christopher Boyd, What will Houses and Buildings Look Like in the Future?, http://biz.thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/6/18/business/4138427&sec=business.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *