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The Global Built

Environment as
a Representa-
tion of Realities
Why and How Architecture
Should Be Subject of Worldwide
Comparison Aart Mekking,
Eric Roose, En-Yu Huang &
Elena Paskaleva
The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities
The Global Built Environment as a
Representation of Realities

Why and How Architecture Should Be Subject of

Worldwide Comparison

Edited by Aart Mekking and Eric Roose

With contributions by En-Yu Huang, Aart Mekking, Elena
Paskaleva and Eric Roose

Pallas Publications
The publication of this book is made possible by a grant from Stichting
Perceel, Utrecht.

Cover design: Maedium, Utrecht

Lay-out: The DocWorkers, Almere

ISBN 978 90 8728 063 5

e-ISBN 978 90 4850 831 0
NUR 706

© A. Mekking and E. Roose / Pallas Publications, 2009

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above,
no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrie-
val system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechani-
cal, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of
both the copyright owner and the author of the book.

Breaking Boundaries: Towards a Global Theory of Architectural
Representation 7
Eric Roose

Chapter 1
The Architectural Representation of Reality: The Built Environment as the
Materialization of a Mental Construct 23
Aart Mekking

Chapter 2
The Architectural Representation of Islam: Saintly Brilliance in the New
Design for the Amsterdam Taibah Mosque 51
Eric Roose

Chapter 3
The Architectural Representation of Paradise: Sufi Cosmology and
the Four-ı̄wān Plan 95
Elena Paskaleva

Chapter 4
The Architectural Representation of Taboo: Toilet Taboos as Guardians
of Old Taiwanese Representations of Family Life 141
En-Yu Huang

Chapter 5
The Architectural Representation of Diversity: Changing Scopes to Meet
Changing Realities in The Hague’s Transvaal Neighbourhood 173
Aart Mekking

List of Contributors 207

Classified Index 209

Breaking Boundaries:
Towards a Global Theory of
Architectural Representation
Eric Roose

In a world that is growing smaller by the day, we are left with architectural
tools that no longer suffice for the description, the interpretation, and certainly
not the creation of a built environment that holds the increasingly diverse
communities within today’s complex social situations. What many considered
to be even the most basic ideas in the study of buildings, such as the circum-
scribable characteristics of regional styles from Amsterdam to Timbuktu, a uni-
versally discernable evolution of aesthetics from the traditional to the modern,
and the uncontested primacy of material functionalism over superfluous deco-
ration, once lifted to a global scale, prove to be mere imaginary walls set up by
the West to distinguish itself from the East. The theory of representation in
architecture as it is here presented aims to help break down these walls and
open up the built environment to a more encompassing and comparative view.
We believe that it will leave the interested reader equipped with a much better
tool for discovering and understanding the many fascinating interconnections
between peoples and buildings throughout history and throughout the world.
However, since it discards, or at least complicates, notions that until now have
been accepted as universal truths, before we confront the reader with the para-
digm itself and its subsequent case studies, we believe an introduction is in
order that explicates step by step the ‘Werdegang’ of an architectural approach
that did not emerge overnight. It developed, of course, from the multitude of
papers, publications, lectures, work groups, and research collectives with its
major creator, Aart Mekking at its centre. In order to present this methodologi-
cal development in an intelligible way without going into the many intricate
details of the buildings studied and without losing the necessary overview, a
choice was made for a fictitious interview with Mekking, based on a series of
conversations with him and on a number of his publications. At the same
time, this will allow the non-Dutch reader the opportunity to acquaint himself
with the author’s earlier methodological research.1


‘‘The development towards the representational approach of the built environ-

ment began when, during my studies at the University of Utrecht in the 1960s,
I developed a specific interest in 19th-century architecture, a subject that could
hardly be called popular within the general style-analytical approach of those
days. What attracted me to it was the fact that, in that particular century, as
opposed to the academic admiration of modernist-functionalism I was sur-
rounded by, both medieval and non-Western architecture counted as valuable
sources for research and design. Since I was mainly interested in the matter of
meaning, I posed a political-historical instead of an art-historical question.
Simply put, I wanted to know more about the motivations of the people
behind the objects of art, and less about their place in a supposed evolution of
styles towards what was seen as universal modernity, with all the subjective
attributions that inevitably accompanied such a value-ridden classification. So,
starting from the architecture of the 19th-century West, I completed my studies
of medieval churches in Europe and the Angkor Wat complex in Asia. Even
though the latter was especially frowned upon as a valid object of study in
Utrecht, I was not impressed by any pre-established boundaries between
regions and disciplines, discovering obvious connections between my two sub-
jects in their shared expression of the cosmic through the use of a cruciform
ground plan.
My first publication focused on the 19th-century Dutch designer Willem
Nicolaas Rose, city architect of Rotterdam and later state architect.2 Rose had
applied forms which, in the 1970s, were still generally described – lavishly
using the ‘neo-curse’ – as spiritless style copies. The prevalent opinion was
that, after our fathers’ ‘mindless craving for copying,’ we had finally discovered
it. We had left the swamp that extended from Louis XIV to the Beurs of
Berlage behind us. Unfortunately, prejudices have a long life cycle, especially
the ones upheld in the domain of the ‘arts.’ Those who want to destroy them
will have to deconstruct the logical fallacies that present the additional as the
essential, and that have put the decorative element in its current, perfectly iso-
lated, almost sovereign position. Both artist and object of art are entitled to be
evaluated in their own context: knowledge of their intentions and their identity
is the most important condition for understanding, let alone judging them.
The much-encountered need for classification, not unworthy of a botanist,
which places every ornamental ‘style quotation’ under the right header, is
undesirable and even incorrect. It sprang from an analogy with the empirical
method in the physical sciences, which stated that one would first have to col-
lect as much material as possible, after which a precise description and classifi-
cation would make it suitable for further processing. However, each part of a
building only has meaning as part of a larger whole, and the whole only gains
its final meaning in its smallest ornaments. Whenever elements are newly
assembled, their forms are provided with another meaning, a new role in the

8 Introduction
unique whole that each building essentially is. What reason could there be left
to place the ornament in such a grand, perfectly isolated position, and to,
despite everything, still want to cling to the game of ‘style guessing?’ 19th-cen-
tury architects did not have a ‘craving for copying styles,’ but consciously made
use of a broad supply of forms, found in both the Middle Ages in the West
and the non-West, in order to come up with a new meaning.
In that first publication, I specifically focused on the architect’s intentions
since I meant it as a basic re-evaluation of 19th century architecture against
contemporary, subjective notions of ‘modernity’ against ‘traditionalism.’ In my
next publication, however, I further explored the role of the 19th century build-
ing commissioner, resulting in what may well be the first study of the meaning
of a Dutch ‘constructing entrepreneur’ as a phenomenon.3 Instead of restrict-
ing myself to the architect and his possible creative intentions, I now provided
the reader with a very detailed picture of the socio-political context of the
architectural patron Petrus Regout. As I showed, the latter built an industrial
complex as if it were a genuine Latifundium, an agricultural estate with inden-
tured tenants, thereby confirming his absolute authority over his employees.
Being a devout anti-liberal as well as an anti-socialist, he fought together with
the religious clergy against the rising socialism of his days, consciously resort-
ing to feudal forms as the recognizable materialization of his ambitions.
When I was offered a teaching position at Utrecht University, I continued
with my interests in the sources of 19th-century architecture, as well as in
breaking academic boundaries, by co-founding the intercultural work group
‘the Basilica’ and the interdisciplinary work group ‘Medieval Studies.’ The first,
within the contemporary academic context in Utrecht, appeared unsuccessful,
whereas the latter, by a multitude of spin-offs in the form of subgroups and
publications around medieval buildings, proved highly successful indeed.
Consequently, I chose to concentrate on the European Middle Ages, selecting
the church of St. Servaas in Maastricht as the main subject of my Ph.D.
research.4 Still interested in the cosmic, and still rejecting the quasi-exact exer-
cise of style classification, however, I sought to combine my earlier approaches
of architecture by looking at St. Servaas in terms of an expression of power,
with an important role for its building elements having been assembled into a
new whole in order to arrive at that expression. Basically, once one has decided
to move beyond a style-critical and morphological assessment, one has to try
to come up with a satisfactory answer to the following questions: why did that
commissioner, at that time, choose for this building, while he could have cho-
sen a completely different one? The much encountered thought, that any new
and divergent building elements must have been introduced by a new construc-
tion team bringing forth its own ‘idiom of forms,’ must, in view of the status
of both the building and its commissioner, be discarded. Therefore, in my dis-
sertation, I had to establish a number of essential, new theoretical foundations.
I chose to introduce the iconological approach to architecture, as it was prac-
ticed in Germany, into the Netherlands. I found that the research of the con-
nection between certain historical data and the choice for certain architectural

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 9

forms could be most adequately termed ‘reception research.’ It was based on
the frequently encountered conclusion that, in the Middle Ages, existing build-
ing schemes, parts and forms, because of their symbolic meaning, were con-
sciously taken over to be processed into a new building commission.
The symbolic meaning of these architectural elements could be more or less
fundamentally changed by their incorporation into a new context. The phe-
nomenon that the meaning of a building scheme or form can change when it
is used in the architecture of another building, actually occurs very frequently.
The most obvious explanation for this phenomenon seems to be that the older
meaning was displaced by a newer one, which, in the time between its rise and
follow-up, was newly attributed to the building element involved. So, building
schemes and forms were received, not because of a longing for the past, but
precisely because of the actuality and opportunism of their symbolism; they
were contemporary signals, meant for third parties. In the research regarding
the character and measure of this change in meaning, because a context
includes not only architectural, but also historical components, a number of
historical data were invariably involved. Before one can switch to an iconologi-
cal analysis, first the symbolic meaning of the architectural element in its ear-
lier context will have to be traced.
However, at that time, the iconological approach had not really become
rooted yet, internationally speaking. In our country, this art-historical special-
ism was seldom practiced. E. Baldwin Smith has provided an excellent analysis
of the main reason why so many art historians have taken a hesitant, if not dis-
approving, attitude towards the iconology of architecture: ‘The problem of pre-
senting a convincing exposition of symbolic intent that is seldom specifically
stated is made difficult by the modern conviction that architecture, apart from
its figurative sculptures, has always been created for utilitarian and aesthetic
reasons. Even when dealing with the buildings of the Middle Ages, there has
been a prevailing tendency to disregard the political issues involved in the sym-
bolism and to minimize the spiritual connotation as mystic, vague and non-
essential to appreciation. This means that architectural symbolism will
continue to seem artificial as long as the buildings that embodied it are
divorced from the history of ideas, and as long as it is assumed that the moti-
vating factors of architectural creation were always … only structural necessity,
utility, decorative desire, and a particular kind of taste.’
I also attempted to liberate the St. Servaas from the restraints of the
‘Maasland architecture.’ Mainly, because this, in my view, hardly scientific, clas-
sification is founded on an over-estimation of the phenomena of ‘style’ and
‘style-characteristic.’ What is characteristic for a received building scheme is
that it, as part of a building with a certain status, suddenly makes its appear-
ance in a place, domain or region, and that it disappears from it as suddenly as
the motivations that led to its reception are no longer pragmatic or valid. The
purely formal approach to the architecture of a certain region is fundamentally
incorrect, and simply must lead to incorrect connections and conclusions.
Because, in the framework of the aforementioned approach, the question is

10 Introduction
never posed as to why at a certain, sometimes very precisely definable point in,
time the commission was given to apply certain building forms and schemes,
the illusion is created that the one architectural form would have more or less
autonomically developed itself from the other one analogous to natural evolu-
tion. In this, both the role of the artist and of the ‘landschaftliche Eigenart’ as
agent of morphological ‘developments’ are strongly over-estimated. The latter
is a product of the romantic fiction of the ‘Genius Loci,’ a ghost that has been
haunting art history for ages without actually revealing itself to anyone. And
even if some make it appear that it was the artist himself who consciously
made the form evolve instead of a blind force of nature, their finalistic art-his-
torical narrative nonetheless implies a higher controlling institution. Neglecting
the meaning of art even led to a complete neglect or denial of the sometimes
long-term absence of certain building forms or schemes in the architecture of
the ‘Rhine-Meuse Region’ in order to keep up the axioms of continuous style
In the framework of a conference upon the occasion of the tenth anniversary
of the Medieval Studies interdisciplinary workgroup in Utrecht, held in the
very year that the restoration of five medieval churches in the inner city of
Utrecht had been completed, I concentrated on the ‘Utrecht Cross of
Churches.’5 I argued that four important, non-parochial Utrecht churches,
located in the four cardinal directions, had originally formed the ends of an
axial cross around their geometrical centre at the tower of the Dom in Utrecht.
The context that determined the rise of the politico-historical meaning of the
Utrecht Cross of Churches was that of the Holy Roman Empire, and the com-
missioner was Hendrik III. The axial cross was seen as an essential characteris-
tic of the Heavenly Jerusalem. The four churches that were founded under the
supervision of Hendrik III all had similar forms. The key to the meaning of
this lies in the churchly politics of the patron, who, in his own unique way,
knew how to unify church and state. He accomplished this mainly by having
reform-minded popes selected with whom he established close relations. The
Utrecht Cross of Churches had to express this new unity of the ‘ecclesia,’ the
earthly Kingdom of God, which was ruled in a unified manner by the emperor
and the pope. The main concept of the churches themselves formed a further
precision of that meaning. Its three main elements referred in their own ways
to the reform-mindedness of the emperor, by borrowing elements from build-
ings that referred to earlier reform movements by great leaders.
I subsequently focused on the vertical axis of this heavenly and political
cross of churches, the Domtower.6 The upper, octagonal section of the
Domtower is one of those ‘useless’ building elements that characterize the
architecture created in the Middle Ages under a commission by the ruling
class. That does not mean that this eye-catching part of the tower had no func-
tion. It was, however, at first, purely symbolic. The artfully created addition
would have no doubt added to the status of the commissioner, while the
builder would certainly have considered the prescribed completion as aestheti-
cally pleasing. All this was, however, completely subordinate to the intention of

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 11

creating an allegory of the living quarters of God, Christ, the angels and the
chosen ones based on the number eight and the original colour white. In the
Middle Ages, and later, the number eight was a frequently used symbol for the
return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the descent of the Heavenly
City to earth. More concretely, the Domtower formed a symbolic image of
political power relations dependent on political circumstances. The Bishop,
Frederick van Sierck, apparently had a great need for a new and representative
symbol of power, since the thought of building a large tower on that particular
location happened suddenly. This led to the cancellation of the original plan
for the construction of a new cathedral, and posed the Domchapter with the
problem that the extant design had to undergo a major adjustment. The com-
missioner’s needs were most certainly related to the fierce attempts he made to
regain part of the Episcopal jurisdiction that, over the years, had drifted over
to the archdeacon. The territory under the jurisdiction of the Domprovost’s
archdeacon overlapped with the territory of the Count of Holland and
Zeeland. The latter saw this as an intrusion, since the Domprovost was a self-
confessed enemy of the Hollanders and thus also of Van Sierck, a relative of
count Willem III and the latter’s candidate at the latest Episcopal elections.
Elements were incorporated into the tower that served as signs of Episcopal
and landlordly power, such as the arch gallery in the substructure and the ora-
tory at the second layer that normally symbolized a landlordly church, while
the tower was to remain separate from the main church itself. The most
important model was the former countly parish chapel – and later cathedral –
of Freiburg, where similar elements served as signs of power of the local
counts. However, in Utrecht, only the main concept was followed, since a num-
ber of new, meaningful elements of Episcopal power had to be processed as
I then started concentrating on the complex relation between what we nowa-
days tend to think of as tradition and innovation in church architecture.7 In
the science of architectural history, the incorporation of traditional building
schemes and forms has been unjustly regarded as a sign of ‘backwardness.’
Now, however, more and more attention is correctly being paid to the under-
lying thoughts, even ideologies, that determined the design of a building. A
church can be an argument cast in stone, an architectural reproduction of a
political programme. For instance, since the Temple of Solomon was regarded
as the ultimate allegory of God’s kingdom, copies of this building, both in the
Holy Roman Empire and elsewhere, frequently formed part of a Palts [Palace]
or a churchly complex that served as a focal point of sovereign authority and
rule. The Palts’ Chapel of Charlemagne in Aachen, and the 12th-century part of
the abbey church of St. Denis near Paris, are some prominent examples. People
during Charlemagne’s age, and definitely into the 15th century, were already
thinking Solomon’s Temple was the Dome of the Rock, the building that we
now know was constructed circa 687 AD by Caliph Abd-al-Malik on the loca-
tion of the destroyed temple. That Charlemagne created the largest roofed, cen-
trally planned building that Europe north of the Alps had seen since late-

12 Introduction
Roman times, is interesting for the architectural historian of today but would
hardly have been of importance to Charlemagne himself. The main purpose of
his building campaign was the legitimizing principle of ‘copying’ Solomon’s
Temple for his position as a ruler. Abbot Suger of the St. Denis also compared
himself to Solomon and based the concept for the western part and the choir
of his abbey church on what he regarded as Solomon’s Temple. However new
the double ambulatory was as an element in the concept of a western church
choir, nothing denotes that Suger considered it an innovation. An already exist-
ing element was received on ideational grounds, and that it, in its new architec-
tural context, formed a hitherto unknown configuration was of secondary
In my oration lecture as professor of architectural history at Leiden Univer-
sity, I explained that the copying of the forms of the Domtower, after its con-
struction, were part of an ongoing game of chess between the powers that were
and their competitors.8 Subsequently, I ‘tackled’ the problem of the similarity
of architectural quotations.9 In an attempt to explain the great differences in
character and completeness between the countless examples of incorporation
of the one building in the other during the Middle Ages, one customarily con-
cluded that ‘medieval man’ was not very interested in precise architectural
copies and even incapable of actually creating them, but that he, on the basis
of his magical worldview, used completely different means to identify the one
building with the other: numerical mysticism and naming. While analyzing
and classifying, however, I noticed that not only complete buildings proved to
have been copied from the very start, but also specific parts, and that the ques-
tion of to what degree of precision, for instance, the Palts Chapel had been
‘copied,’ or which of its parts, seemed to be directly related to the position of
the commissioner and the function of the ‘copy.’ It was apparently neither a
different way of observation in any of these cases, nor a lack of technical skill
or indifference towards a good similarity that determined the character of
incorporation. With this, that no man’s land of ‘non-similar copies’ was
replaced by a varied relation-pattern between buildings, of which the full copy
is only one. One finds that these relational messages have often been more
powerfully ‘formulated’ in architecture than in written accounts. This certainly
has to do with the statement-like character of architectural symbolism, which
is cast in quotations and not in a series of loose words that would provide the
opportunity for nuances and subtleties.
The idea that the design for such buildings in that period depended on the
aesthetically determined preference of a commissioner or builder is a misun-
derstanding that has its roots in a 19th-century ‘art for art’s sake’-like denial of
the art object’s ideological side. One might even ask if the latter could perhaps
have determined the choice of the concept for whatever representative artefact
there ever has been, or ever shall be. The fact that references to social positions
and ambitions can only be expressed in schemes and forms that already have a
certain meaning, in many cases resulted in an intriguing paradox. A commis-
sion is by definition of a temporary nature, but was often expressed in an old

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 13

building concept that, through its repeated use, appeared to acquire a timeless
character. Traditional art history that works with the concepts of the autono-
mous artist and the evolution of forms, immediately qualifies such an incor-
poration of the past as ‘backward,’ ‘provincial,’ or, at best, ‘conservative’ –
unless, of course, it is a matter of quoting the art of the classics. However, once
one begins to view such a building primarily as a ‘statement’ of the commis-
sioner, it becomes, at least in its concept, a highly contemporary expression
that, moreover, contains the wishes and expectations of the future.
After that, I re-addressed the problem of ‘regional style,’ as I had already cri-
ticized it in my study of the St. Servaas, by establishing a large-scale project in
Leiden named ‘Art and Region,’ with art-historical participants from Belgium,
Germany and the Netherlands.10 Many dissertations have been – and continue
to be – published as a result. Regardless of whether the contributions investi-
gated the architecture, sculpture or painting, all of the participants agreed that
the commission’s context, and not the contemporary ‘Bodenständigkeit’ of the
artist, determined the character of the art production of a particular region.
The majority of architectural historians still use the 19th-century concept of
‘Kunstlandschaft.’ Their aim is to explain the forms of mainly medieval
churches from a certain, always vaguely circumscribed, region. However, it
proved impossible to categorize, in even a slightly satisfactory way, our relevant
architectural data into a number of ‘Kunstlandschaften’ on the basis of style,
the period of creation or the use of materials. The ever divergently defined
notions of ‘Maasland architecture,’ ‘the style of Tournay,’ ‘Rhenisch
Romanesque,’ ‘Brabant Gothicism,’ ‘Maasland Gothicism,’ and ‘Schelde Style’
or ‘Schelde Gothicism,’ have provoked at least as many questions as they have
answered. Since the methodological error, which lies at the basis of art-regional
thinking, has now been pinpointed, and since it has now become clear accord-
ing to which criteria the empirical data should be categorized, it is time to
revise architectural history. Before such a revision can commence, however,
one should clarify the methodological error that has been haunting us for a
century and a half. This error lies hidden behind the definition of the notion
of style. Over and over again, it appears that the commissioner not only deals
with the concept of a building, such as ground plan and scheme, but also with
the aspects of form, such as implementation and detailing. That is why both
have to be situated and explained within the same mental context. In this way,
research has brought new, unexpected connections and meanings to light,
which have remained undiscovered and unexplained in the framework of the
traditional notion of ‘Kunstlandschaft.’ Now, the supra-regional aspect of our
medieval architecture, for which there was no room in the notion of
‘Kunstlandschaft’ either, can also be explained. It appears that what determined
the choices for certain architectural concepts and forms, was mainly the oppo-
sition between the central power and the regional rulers. But, whatever the
case, it was the context of a commission that steered towards certain combina-
tions of forms, materials, themes and functions, and not some regional ‘Genius
Loci.’ All of this, of course, is by definition applicable to any part of the world:

14 Introduction
a Kunstlandschaft will be exactly the same phenomenon whether it appears in
Asia, Africa, America or Europe.
Within the more stimulating environment of the multitude of Oriental arts
and languages departments at Leiden University, I also took the opportunity to
focus on my other specialisation, non-Western architecture, lifting the subject
of art to a more global level. For that, I needed a more all-encompassing per-
spective than the iconological method, which had been introduced and devel-
oped mainly with Western-medieval examples in mind. I subsequently
introduced the notion, derived from postmodern philosophy, of ‘representa-
tion,’ which I defined as any historically founded proposal, be it visual (archi-
tectural design) or verbal (historical/anthropological text), to ‘see’ reality in a
certain way.11 Because the logic of representation is not based on any knowl-
edge-theoretical a priori, such as certain laws and schemes of thought, any
form of objective reality is discarded. Combining this with my earlier findings,
I then started developing the representational paradigm in a hitherto unpub-
lished paper.12 It continuously circulated among, and was adapted in response
to, interested students and researchers – among whom, the participants of this
book – within a research group I called Comparative World Architecture
Studies or Comwas.
In this paper, I posed the built environment as the materialization of a men-
tal construction. Apart from those aspects of building that are subject to physi-
cal laws, architecture is actually nothing more than a proposal to see reality in
a certain way, using specific building elements related to the variables form,
material and function. Although certain combinations of building elements
and their meanings are often presented as traditions fixed in time and space,
they are by definition subject to change because the representations themselves
are intrinsically subjective, just as form, material and function are all put to
subjective use. Since each new representation has a new topical meaning
attached to certain elements, the visible characteristics of what is presented as
an architectural tradition, and the content of their meaning, will be different
each time. However, the meanings that were attached to these building ele-
ments by earlier builders and observers always play a role in the conceptualiza-
tion stage of a new building, since nothing is created ex nihilo. In this process,
commissioners always aim first at a certain experienced or mentally con-
structed reality, while it is only later that their thoughts extend toward the
finding of suitable building elements from earlier representations with which
this reality can be represented. This mental connection may, but does not
necessarily have to be, an explicit or outspoken one. One of the most impor-
tant characteristics of architecture as a representational medium is that it
enables a commissioner to make a profound statement towards particular tar-
get groups without resorting to rationalization or verbalization. Either way, for
an accurate description of a building and the explanation of its current mean-
ing, it is vital to distinguish between the recently built proposal to see a certain
reality, and the underlying ones: a building always represents a present reality
by way of referring to earlier built representations through a specific transfor-

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 15

mation of one or more of the latter’s building elements as found suitable by
the commissioner.
The classic architecture-historical analysis and description of the built envir-
onment generally gives a false impression of uniformity and precision.
Architecture is narrowed down to a factual account, supported by the formula-
tion of a number of objective criteria for comparing ‘a’ and ‘b’ in the sense
that they could be objectively placed within a single category or not. One
group of these objective criteria consists of ‘style characteristics,’ which is basi-
cally a tool for the observer to establish which building elements are ‘of the
same style’ and which are not. They arose from the assumption that before
their introduction in the 19th century as ‘laws’ for architectural design in the
West, they would have been applied as building criteria anywhere in the world.
From the 19th century onward, the representations of earlier built realities in
widely differing contexts came to be evaluated by architectural historians
along the lines of the style idiom. However, the purpose and meaning of a
building cannot possibly be explained by stylistic criteria if it was not con-
ceived with them in mind in the first place. Style concepts should not be used
as objective criteria but should only be seen as possible building elements
themselves, to be consciously interpreted and transformed in the construction
of a new building. As a consequence, there is no such thing as ‘Romanesque,’
‘Renaissance’ or ‘Modernism’ unless it is thought of as such in constructing a
new representation.
Besides the use of the concept of ‘style’ in current architectural history as if
it were an objective means of analysis, there is also the much-used notion of
‘context,’ as if this too could provide a set of objective criteria to describe a
particular building. The basically accurate idea that the relation between build-
ing elements and meaning depends on the context in which this relation is
placed during the conception of a building, has all too often led to contextual
stereotypes. The reference to empty notions such as ‘Western modernity,’ ‘non-
Western society,’ ‘Swahili culture,’ ‘the Islamic worldview,’ or ‘Calvinist
Holland,’ presented as objective and uncontested contexts of architecture that
need no further interrogation, prevents proper analysis. The absoluteness of
these general contexts, as if they were some kind of physical characteristic of
the building, can frustrate any attempt to gain insight into the possible and
probable relations with other buildings from other times and places. What we
used to think of as separate building traditions from separate periods and cul-
tures were really the results of any building element from any period or culture
deemed suitable for transformation by a commissioner being incorporated into
the new representation with a new meaning placed in a new context. As the
specifics of the latter determined the choices for specific constellations of build-
ing elements, and thereby the meaning of the entire representation, geographi-
cal and historical generalization only obscures a view of the motives that led to
these choices.
As an important side effect of the unavoidable re-use of representations,
since nothing is created out of nothing, a limited number of basic representa-

16 Introduction
tional themes keep recycling through time and space with their appearance,
disappearance and reappearance, cutting across assumed boundaries of both
geography and history. As a consequence, architectural novelty is relative and
there is no such thing as ‘progress’ in architecture. This absolute, much-used
concept is intrinsically meaningless anyway since the basic non-existence of
objective ‘laws’ means that objective criteria with which we could measure such
a development do not exist. The Western notion of the ‘evolution’ of architec-
ture from the ‘traditional’ to the ‘modern’ merely serves to glorify certain con-
temporary design preferences. The separation of ‘structure’ from ‘decoration,’
or ‘rationality’ from ‘symbolism,’ is no more than an art-historical idea, and a
‘modern’ building should be analyzed in exactly the same way as a ‘traditional’
building: all of these concepts have no analytical value whatsoever but should
be studied as representations in their own right. If we really want to find a tool
for sorting out the global built environment, we should stop inventing decon-
textualised series of regional and periodical styles, and start focusing on the
basic representational themes as they have been included in buildings world-
wide by their actual producers.’’



In Chapter 1, Aart Mekking continues with these ideas and establishes a consis-
tent paradigm with which to methodologically ‘attack’ the seeming chaos of
the world’s built environment. It is here that the author takes it upon himself
to operationalize the fundamental insight that architecture is but one of many
mediums to represent reality. Aiming to provide the reader with a framework
for research as well as design, Mekking proposes a set of instruments for every-
day analysis, consisting of three basic clusters of long-cycle, primary building
traditions that he discovered have basically been revolving through space since
time immemorial. These encompass Anthropomorphic traditions, based on the
characteristics of the human body and its coordinates; Physiomorphic traditions,
based on the nature that surrounds man; and Sociomorphic traditions, repre-
senting relations between individuals and groups. Being no more than products
of the human mind to get a grip on the surrounding world, their quasi-ageless
omnipresence suggest an immanent and universal meaning while they have
very little relationship to any specific context. Thus Mekking furthermore dis-
tinguishes the shorter-cycle, secondary traditions that belong to a more contex-
tual stratum of meaning the human mind tends to resort to. Each of these
traditions is in fact a reinterpretation of one or more already existing ones,
although patrons and architects will often represent them as new. The author
systematically groups these together and comes up with five distinct and recur-
rent Themes: 1. Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross, which contains all of the natural
and built body-related axial structures that represent the cosmos and its centre;
2. Horizons of Life, enclosing all nature- and society-related broad structures

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 17

that represent social equality as well as the limits of world views; 3. Boasting
Façades, which include the body-related and vertical structures that represent
the triumphant, aggressive and defensive faces of power; 4. Including and
Excluding Structures, which encompass all of the society-related topological
structures, that represent the incorporation or – its opposite – the exclusion of
humans; and 5. Holy and Unholy Zones, which contain all of the tripartite
architectural structures, including the horizontal zoning of ground plans as
well as the vertical zoning of the building and its façades, and further repre-
sents the socio-cosmic spheres of the living and the dead. Every short-cycled
tradition seems to be based on one or another of the long-cycled traditions,
although there will always be a certain amount of overlap since these concepts
are instruments for methodologically sorting out the seeming chaos, and not
an order that people would by necessity have rigidly adhered to in their archi-
tectural creations. However, with all of the appropriate nuances and differ-
ences, they do seem to have had some pre-eminence in the act of creation
itself, or otherwise, they would have been indistinguishable as recurrent tradi-
tions in the first place.
This connection between the analysis and the design of architecture is espe-
cially explored in chapter 2. Here, the Dutch cultural anthropologist and archi-
tectural historian Eric Roose shows an interest in the relation between form
and meaning as it envelops itself in the creative act of producing a mosque
design. Where existing approaches to Dutch mosques seem to always come
down to inventing formal typologies related to styles and cultures that do not
at all match the complexities of the empirical field, Roose takes the representa-
tional paradigm as a means to breaking open the tension between meaning as
attributed to a building by a detached architectural critic and as produced by
the relevant parties in the design itself. He shows that the creation of the ulti-
mate Axis Mundi is what has been under consideration by the various mosque
commissioners all along, while matters of nationality and modernity were
mainly values for municipalities and architects to project their own realities
onto the Muslim community involved. Deconstructing the creative process as
having been determined from three diverging realities, the author argues that
the result, the mosque as it is finally built, can only be analyzed as a constella-
tion of three diverging reality representations. Only then can the – by now
almost hysterical – question of why some mosques in the Netherlands ‘still’ use
‘those domes and minarets,’ while others do not, be answered in an intelligible
The above author essentially uses a synchronic comparison in his reconstruc-
tion of the represented realities involved. He meaningfully connects a number
of modern buildings and only traces the building elements as currently used to
their immediate historical examples. Meanwhile, in Chapter 3, the Dutch-
Bulgarian architect and architectural historian, Elena Paskaleva, chooses to
apply a much more diachronic comparison. She takes a certain building tradi-
tion, the four-Iwan structure, and traces its representational meaning back in
history to its beginnings, comparing it to its built predecessors. By doing this,

18 Introduction
she reveals that it has been omnipresent in what, to earlier architectural
researchers, once appeared to be very different building types pertaining to
very different periods and regions, even cutting through what used to appear
to be very different religions. Analyzing the structure within the themes of the
Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross, Holy and Unholy Zones, and Excluding and
Including Structures, Paskaleva is then able to show that it was actually the
representation of a Sufi reality that led to the spread of the four-Iwan plan,
and, taking all of this into consideration, that all of the various buildings that
used it were perhaps not so different from each other after all. Dismissing the
existing tendencies to narrow the descriptive and explanatory scope to func-
tional motivation and a national or even local setting, the author argues that
the much broader cosmological concept of the four realms of the celestial gar-
den is much more relevant when we try to understand these ‘distinctive’ build-
ings. They have all been clearly based on the long-cycle Anthropomorphic
tradition, and thus all essentially stand for the relation between Man and God,
a channel between the Earth and the Heavenly Realm, and ultimately the
Divine origins of the powers that be or that want to be.

In chapter 4, the Taiwanese architect and architectural-historian En-Yu Huang

contradicts the existing tendency of trying to bring all Taiwanese building tra-
ditions that involve architectural taboos together under the title of Feng-Shui.
He argues that there are obvious connections between Feng-Shui and architec-
tural systems from other regions, and that there are many internal variations
and that the underlying traditions are actually much older than Feng-Shui
itself. When we consider the very important toilet taboo, for instance, which
incorporates mainly locational and orientational prescriptions, Huang shows
that it represents a core reality that has been kept intact throughout history,
undergoing a ceaseless transformation in traditional as well as in modern hous-
ing. The author establishes that the Anthropomorphic Long-cycle Tradition, and
to a lesser extent the Physiomorphic Long-Cycle Tradition, form the fundamental
basis of traditional Taiwanese dwellings. Next, he distinguishes the themes of
Holy and Unholy Zones and Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross as the most impor-
tant short-cycle traditions present in the buildings under study. Analyzed
within these traditions, the toilet taboo proves explainable, not as a mere by-
product of the rigid application of static Feng-Shui regulations, but as the very
heart of an essential reality that survived a dynamic series of spatial and struc-
tural adjustments in Taiwanese housing construction. As a result of his repre-
sentational analysis, Huang is able to devise a way for designers to understand
that core reality and, from there, process it into modern architecture in such a
way that current spatial constraints are met while still making sure that future
inhabitants will not feel estranged within their own dwellings.
While these authors may stress the various dimensions of the representa-
tional paradigm, and may come from different backgrounds, use different tech-
niques for gathering their information and research materials, and show
different aims for using the methodology, they all prove that the theory of rea-

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 19

lity representation can account for phenomena that hitherto were the subject
of much misunderstanding and confusion. What is also evident from these
chapters is that, although different authors use and find different traditions in
their research, the Axis Mundi is the most important theme encountered in the
empirical field, which of course, given its name, should come as no surprise.
That all of these traditions can simultaneously be united into a single part of
the built environment, however, is shown by Mekking himself in chapter 5, as
he analyzes an entire area of The Hague. It is here that the author was con-
fronted with an urban planning situation that had originally been established
for a very specific group of Dutch inhabitants. The ensuing, multi-cultural
changes in social composition resulted in the phenomenon that this part of the
built environment no longer forms a representation of the reality of any of its
new dwellers. By analyzing the extant structures in terms of the entire set of
long-cycle and shorter-cycle traditions that he established in chapter 1, the
author is able to establish a strategy for contemporary urban planners to extra-
polate from, and make use of, the existing architecture in such a manner that
the deeply embedded traditions may be applied to reach a much more sustain-
able built environment. Keeping the ever-recurrent Anthropomorphic,
Physiomorphic and Sociomorphic traditions in mind, and basing it on the glob-
ally shared Themes of the Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross, Horizons of Life,
Boasting Façades, Including and Excluding Structures, and Holy and Unholy
Zones, the neighbourhood could, using a minimum of energy and expendi-
tures, house, not only people from those cultural backgrounds that currently
choose to live there, but also any future inhabitants.


1 Interviews with Aart Mekking by Eric Roose were done in spring 2008. The relevant
publications will be referred to when applicable. All of the following quotations and
descriptions have the interviewed author’s full consent.
2 A.J.J. Mekking and F.J. Sleeboom, Het Stadsziekenhuis aan de Coolsingel te Rotterdam van W.N.
Rose, Ahrend Facetten reeks, 1972; quotations from pp. 11-13, 25.
3 A.J.J. Mekking, Petrus Regout. Een Ondernemer als Bouwheer, in: Wonen-TA/BK, nr.1
(January), 1975, pp. 1-19; quotations from pp. 14, 16.
4 A.J.J. Mekking, De Sint-Servaaskerk te Maastricht. Bijdragen tot de Kennis van de Symboliek en
de Geschiedenis van de Bouwdelen en de Bouwsculptuur tot ca. 1200, Utrecht: Clavis, 1986;
quotations from pp. 5, 6, 13, 15, 16, 19, 22, 24, 49, 50.
5 A.J.J. Mekking, Een Kruis van Kerken rond Koenraads Hart. Een Bijdrage tot de Kennis van de
Functie en de Symbolische Betekenis van het Utrechtse Kerkenkruis alsmede van die te
Bamberg en te Paderborn, in: Utrecht. Kruispunt van de Middeleeuwse Kerk. Voordrachten
gehouden tijdens het Congres ter Gelegenheid van Tien Jaar Mediëvistiek, Faculteit der Letteren,
Rijksuniversiteit te Utrecht, 25 tot en met 27 augustus 1988, Utrecht: Clavis, 1988, pp. 21-53;
quotations from pp. 23, 27, 42.
6 A.J.J. Mekking, Pro Turri Trajectensi. De Positieve Symboliek van de Domtoren in de Stad
Utrecht en op de ‘Aanbidding van het Lam Gods’ van de Gebroeders Van Eyck, in: J.B. Bedaux
(ed.), Annus Quadriga Mundi. Opstellen over Middeleeuwse Kunst Opgedragen aan Prof. Dr.
Anna C. Esmeijer, Utrecht: Clavis, 1989, pp. 129-151; quotations from pp. 135-143.

20 Introduction
7 A.J.J. Mekking, Traditie als Maatstaf voor Vernieuwing in de Kerkelijke Architectuur van de
Middeleeuwen. De Rol van Oud en Nieuw in het Proces van Bevestiging en Doorbreking van
Maatschappelijke Structuren, in: KNOB Bulletin, vol. 97, no. 6, 1998, pp. 205-223; quotations
from p. 210, and: Traditie en Vernieuwing in de Kerkelijke Architectuur van de Middeleeuwen,
in: Spiegel Historiael, vol. 26, no. 6 (June), 1991, pp. 293-299; quotations from pp. 293, 295,
8 A.J.J. Mekking, Het Spel met Toren en Kapel. Bouwen Pro en Contra Bourgondië van Groningen
tot Maastricht, Utrecht: Clavis, 1992.
9 A.J.J. Mekking, Het Laatste Woord?, in: E. den Hartog et al. (eds.), Bouwen en Duiden. Studies
over Architectuur en Iconologie, Leiden: Leids Kunsthistorisch Collectief, 1994, pp. 219-252;
quotations from pp. 220-222, 227, 231, 232, 234.
10 A.J.J. Mekking, Vorwort, and: Methodisches & Historiographisches zu ‘Kunst & Regio’ als
Arbeitsgruppe der Niederländischen Forschungsschule für Mediävistik, in: U.M. Bräuer et al.
(eds.), Art & Region. Architecture and Art in the Middle Ages. Contributions of a Research Group,
Utrecht: Clavis, 2005, pp. 7-13; quotations from pp. 7, 8-12.
11 A.J.J. Mekking, ‘Seeing Together.’ Een Toekomst voor de ‘Architectuurgeschiedenis’ vanuit Leids
Perspectief, in: Kunstlicht, vol. 20, no. 3/4, 1999 [Kunstgeschiedenis 2000], pp. 48-53; quotations
from p. 48.
12 A.J.J. Mekking, Architectuur als Representatie, Representatie van Architectuur. Een Schets van
Conventies en Tradities in Mondiaal Perspectief, Leiden University, unpublished, version 2001;
no page numbers.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 21

1 The Architectural Representation
of Reality
The Built Environment as the
Materialization of a Mental
Aart Mekking


This essay is about the built environment as the materialization of a mental

construct. From this point of view, architecture and urbanism are expressions
of non-material phenomena. Since it is a materialization of socio-economically
and ideologically conditioned opinions about its function, ordination and
reception, every built environment offers a range of meaningful structures and
forms which will be represented partially or as a whole in future constructions
as cognate ‘realities.’ This explains why new things-to-be-built are always and
everywhere, to a certain extent, based on a selection from already existing
building traditions. Nevertheless, most commissioners, occupants and other
‘consumers’ of architecture are only aware of liking or disliking the structural
and formal aspects of the built environment, and are very rarely conscious of
the ideas represented by them. Therefore it is more pragmatic to speak of the
representation of reality, and not of the representation of ideas, which,
although more correct, would be just too theoretical. The term reality, as a key
term of the paradigm of architectural representation, has an encompassing
meaning, including all things thinkable and tangible, such as, for instance, a
built environment.
As an intrinsically logical and consistent rendering of reality, representation
conforms to the traditions of, and the aspects inherent to, the medium used.
Consequently, when analyzing the built environment as a representation of rea-
lity, the word tradition stands for the recurrence of a specific and consistent
combination of intrinsic and formal aspects of building during a certain time
span. The more context-bound a tradition, the shorter the span of time during
which it is used, and the more confined the area in which it plays a role in

construction. It makes sense that the almost non-contextual traditions tend to
be very widespread, and that they tend to be used over a long period of time.
Using the architectural medium to represent reality, one not only has to deal
with the above-mentioned traditions, but also with the medium-inherent
aspects of building, which are of a material nature. Although these are basically
governed by physical, static, chemical and climatologic ‘laws’ and processes, the
different ways that people, since days immemorial, have been coping with these
are by no means ‘scientific.’ On the contrary, they are, at first sight, amazingly
enough, again dominated by a wide range of traditions. This explains the great
variety in the handling of comparable building materials and constructions all
over the world, under similar natural circumstances. Therefore, non-natural
aspects of a building context are the source of this variety.
The same goes for the function of a built environment, which is often mista-
kenly – but all the same, amazingly – seen as a kind of natural phenomenon,
as a data seemingly governed by natural laws and processes. This explains why
many an architectural historian describes building plans, structures and forms
as the logic, timeless, un-traditional, in short as the non-contextual, inevitable
outcome of a specific function. These explanations repeatedly fail to show why
the form at stake is following a specific function. By deliberately ignoring the
metaphysical dimension, the word ‘function’ had in his eyes, ‘functionalist’
architects and architectural historians abuse Louis Sullivan’s brief formulation
‘form follows function.’ The idealist American architect merely tried to resume
a complex vision with these few words, and not the meaningless ‘shortcut’
others made out of it. One can better understand his ideas about ‘function’
after one reads the following famous passage from his ‘Kindergarten Chats.’
There he points out ‘that which exists in spirit ever seeks and finds its physical
counterpart in form, its visible image, [the universe is one] wherein all is func-
tion, all is form …’.1 This is obviously not some kind of vulgar popular ‘func-
tionalism,’ but an interpretation of the phenomenon of architecture, which is
surprisingly close to the built environment as a representation of reality.
One does not have to be much of an expert in architectural history to notice
that new functions are initially always represented by architectural shapes
which were not explicitly designed for it, although they obviously were consid-
ered appropriate for at least a couple of reasons. Since nothing new can ever be
a ‘creatio ex nihilo,’ all architectural representation, even if it materializes a new
function, uses already existing plans and forms, and is therefore rooted in one
or more specific architectural traditions. Referring to the functional side of
architecture is nothing more than mentioning just another reality represented
by the medium. Trying to discriminate between building types on the grounds
of their functional aspect means using the term ‘building type’ in an improper
way, since all architectural typology is exclusively based on formal aspects. In
some cases, the function of a specific group of buildings and its (formal) typol-
ogy seem to match so perfectly that one would be tempted to see it as a ‘nat-
ural’ and ‘unavoidable’ combination. This ‘mental illusion’ occurs when people
have perceived, for a really long time, that a certain function was represented

24 The Architectural Representation of Reality

by the same building type. Historical ignorance causes this false conviction. In
fact, the function of a building is just one of the countless context-bound
aspects of reality represented in architecture. This explains, to name just one of
the countless examples, why mosques (Li bai si) in the Chinese interior look
very much like imperial palaces. The only aspect they have in common with
Islamic prayer halls that we are accustomed to are their qibla walls (prayer
walls) and their orientation.2


There would be no representation without the human faculty of transversal

thinking. Transversal thinking always and everywhere enables anybody to relate
people, events and other aspects of life, irrespective of their being causally
related or not. Transversal connections are triggered by someone’s mental hori-
zon, which, however individual it seems to be, is always shared by some group
of people. Because building is an identifying act of positioning oneself in pub-
lic space, the mental horizon of the patron-builder will inevitably be part of a
worldview, a religion, a political ideology, or even the marketing strategy of a
multinational. These more or less definite contexts determine, to a certain
level, to what representational tradition a group of buildings belong.
Later on in this essay, there will be an in-depth discussion on how a repre-
sentational building tradition may be characterized. For now, it is enough to
know that such a tradition is always an alliance of specific architectural forms
and aspects of reality in a certain time and context.3 Particular connections
between architectural or urban features as orientations, layouts, shapes and for-
mal motives, which to outsiders seem totally illogic and out of place, are mean-
ingful, even inevitable combinations in the eyes of those subject to the
transcendent and unifying power represented in their transversally conceived
creations. What else would be specific to ‘representation,’ apart from it being
subject to transversal thinking? It is a personal expression of someone’s ideas,
ambitions or just the conditions he or she is living in, coming into being via
some chosen media. To be comprehensible or, even more, to be influential, one
has to use traditions, which express, at a given place and moment, as clear as
possible what one would like to communicate to a certain group. If we focus
on the built environment, this means that someone orders an urban structure,
a building, or some part of one, according to a chosen tradition, which repre-
sents, by its formal and material aspects, precisely those things one would like
to have others understand as being characteristic for oneself or for one’s living
What can be concluded from all this is that the logic of representation
obviously requires a direct comparison between products, like buildings or
architectural designs, from different or similar periods and regions. Its goal has
been to build comparable environments, thus a comparative confrontation is
nothing more than the continuation of a building tradition in order to repre-

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 25

sent an analogous reality. A rather crucial question that arises immediately is
how far the representing and the represented built environments are distinct
entities. Would that ever be a goal of representation? The answer should be
negative, since the mental space or framework in which every representation is
processed could in no way be seen as ‘objectifying’ and, on the contrary, as
providing a climate of unification or even identification. In a sizeable number
of cases, the representing and the represented are seen as identical, and so the
patrons identify with the commissioner of the represented building. This
means that it would be useless to try to discriminate between the subject and
the object. This not only goes for the ages before René Descartes formulated
his rigorous ideas about a strictly separated ‘knowing subject’ from a ‘known
object,’ but also for every representation such as a built environment through-
out the contemporary world. This is because expressing something about one’s
identity is always the goal of ordering or creating an artefact. The subject of a
building process, the person commissioning to represent another built environ-
ment, is always motivated by what the reality represented by the object – the
building to be represented – means to his own identity. Therefore, the two
built environments will, to a certain degree, share the same identity. To what
degree this occurs depends first of all on to what extent the one building is
represented in the other. Never mind how original a building or an urban
structure is presented, they are inevitably always based on earlier designs, and
therefore, they share their identities.
Since one has to conclude that, within the framework of the representational
paradigm, it is useless to discriminate between a subject and an object, dealing
with (a represented) reality from the inside is another prominent feature of the
logic of representation. Without it, no direct confrontation of objects, let alone
transversal thinking, would be possible. Since Descartes formulated his prin-
ciples on the subject-object relationship as Immanuel Kant established his
principles on the discrimination between them, ‘copying’ a building in the
West is thought to be a normal and ‘scientific’ practice, whereas prior to the
18th century in the West, and, until today, in non-Western built environments,
no ‘copied’ buildings are thought to exist at all.4 However, the idea that a
mechanically copied artefact such as a prefabricated built environment would
be a better representation than a recreated one, because all the details are the
same, is in flagrant contradiction to the nature of representation. Of course,
reproductions are still representations, but by no means better than non-
mechanically shaped ones. It simply does not matter, because the logic of
representation knows no strict or objective standards according to which peo-
ple should represent abstract or concrete things, such as a built environment.
Since the standards of representation are always part of the accepted represen-
tational tradition, none of them will ever be the same.
On the one hand, a representational tradition can be qualified as fairly stable
and uniform, being part of a ‘chain’ of representations of a specific complex of
formal, functional and material aspects of architecture representing a particular
reality. On the other, it is also a compilation of very individual representations,

26 The Architectural Representation of Reality

assembled according to the commissioner’s standards. Reproduction, however,
does not work that way. It is one of the consequences of the strict discrimina-
tion between the subject and the object, which began to revolutionize Western
thinking after Descartes urged ‘that we systematically … rely on the clear and
distinct concepts of pure mathematics’.5 Thus, the idea of an internal ‘tribunal,’
based on pure reason itself, was born. Immanuel Kant worked out the idea of
this ‘forum internum’ and called it the ‘transcendent self.’ Although many scho-
lars may still think so, it was hardly a new notion even then. Moreover, Kant’s
mental jury was eventually based on a much older transcendent instance, that
of a worldview, one of the encompassing contexts of the representation of rea-
lity we already discussed. Although it is not popular anymore in the Western
world, it remains very much alive all over the world.
Ever since Western scholars began to increasingly mistrust the human senses
and the intellect as being incapable to directly know reality, the identification
of the subject with the object is rejected more and more as a possible source of
knowledge. Therefore, the subject eventually came to be seen as an outsider, as
a court judging reality according to an increasing number of ‘true’ and ‘objec-
tive’ parameters. One should avoid dealing with reality as an object in its ‘nat-
ural’ context, and a scholar should analyze it exclusively in the isolation of his
own ‘enlightened’ mind, deprived of all sensory perception. It is here that one
should project every aspect of reality onto one’s own mental ‘screen’ to care-
fully analyze reality with the critical eye of pure reason.
However, the predominance of the ‘Kantian paradigms’ in the scholarly dis-
cussion does not alter the fact that every human endeavour, including architec-
tural and urban design, which is not subject to the ‘rules’ of nature or only
partially so, should automatically be seen as subject to representational logic.
Nevertheless, most intellectuals in the West have, since the Enlightenment,
been less inclined to see it as such. Already for about a century-and-a-half all
scholarly activity is supposed to at least look ‘scientific.’ Even an architectural
historian should act as a natural scientist in order to be taken seriously, so it
seems. Because this misunderstanding seriously distorts our view of representa-
tional reality and its consequences, we will pay special attention to this
The main strategy for converting a mostly descriptive architectural analysis
into a ‘scientific’ one involves making an absolute truth out of the rather vague
categories of connoisseurship. Subsequently, its language, which is adequately
suited to the Western art-loving elite, became a caricature of itself. Flexible
parameters of style and region had to pass for natural laws. The most popular
notion involved interpreting contextually determined stylistic changes as evolu-
tionary processes. As soon as they belonged to the ‘laws’ of merely fashionable
‘architectural science,’ they became the absolute and rigid parameters of the
‘forum internum’ of (Western) humanity. This was the beginning of an endless
process of projecting invented building ‘rules’ onto the ‘screens’ of periods and
regions. Building in the Middle Ages became ‘Gothic’ or ‘Romanesque,’ Hindu
temples were said to be built in the ‘Dravidian,’ the ‘Chalukyan’ or the ‘Indo-

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 27

Aryan’ styles, if they were not simply seen as part of the worldwide emanation
of a ‘Gothic’ way of shaping the built environment.6 The latter approach, upon
closer inspection, is nothing more than a kind of cultural colonialism, which
ended up remaining the very exception it had already been from the very
A rather widespread bias towards the contrary was the view that cultural
divergence between various regions was unbridgeable because their differences
were considered as ‘proven’ to be fundamental. Scholars imitated the natural
sciences to try to create some objective set of criteria as a mental tool to deter-
mine to what extent architectural traditions from various regions would differ.
For the most part, it turned out that the true incentive to proceed in this way
was a deeply rooted need to ‘prove’ one’s own culture as being superior. Going
through the most frequently used architectural reference books of the past hun-
dred and fifty years, it is rather shocking to see how much colonialism has con-
tributed to portraying Western building traditions as superior to and totally
isolated from, those of other cultures. After the fall of the Western colonial
empires, almost nothing was done to redress this fraudulent picture.7 Ironically,
it perfectly meets today’s popular need for higher political walls, most of all
between the so-called Muslim and non-Muslim worlds.
Even when prejudices and ideological motives did not play a very prominent
role, the mere act of turning the inevitably vague characterizations of the
respective cultures of world regions into quasi-scientific ‘definitions’ could not
have been more inconsistent with the representative nature of culture itself. As
we have already established, ‘true’ pronouncements, on which rigid descrip-
tions such as definitions should be based, always block all direct communica-
tions between objects. Therefore, all of the comparisons of cultural traditions,
the built environment included, would be impossible. This raises an interest-
ing, rhetorical question of why successful colonial strategies of superiority seem
to so perfectly match a ‘typical’ Western way of judging the nature of reality
from the outside.8


Apart from this relatively young Western bias of believing that architecture
obeys the laws of natural science, the interpretation of the built environment
always depends on the interpreter’s scope. This is doubtlessly the most impor-
tant basic fact every architectural historian has to be aware of before doing any
research on the built environment. The narrower the interpreter’s scope, the
more special the events and objects represented seems to be. While local reality
can be – unconsciously – represented by (supra-)regional phenomena, if the
scope is worldwide a local phenomenon can be recognized as the representa-
tion of a particular case of a very widespread phenomenon. All of the other
scopes fit between those two extremes. The following two examples make clear

28 The Architectural Representation of Reality

how and to what extent different scopes can influence the interpretive repre-
sentations of architecture by builders, dwellers and historians.

The Local Scope

A very clear example of the way in which a local scope can determine the inter-
pretation of a piece of architecture, is the average person’s verbal representation
of the medieval Saint Nicolas Church in Soest (Westfalia, Germany). Its main
features, the nave, the columns splitting it up, and the storied utmost-western
bay, are generally interpreted as the main features of a ‘Kogge’ {o.Engl.: Cogue},
a kind of medieval ship. The features that are supposedly represented by the
church are, respectively: the ship’s keel (nave), the masts rising out of it (col-
umns) and the aft castle {‘Kajüte’; m. English: bridge} (western altar tribune).9
This non-causal, phenomenon-internal and transversal interpretation of archi-
tecture like the one of the Soest church can only be understood by studying its
function during that period. At least from 1214 onward, it was the religious
centre of the Schleswick trading/shipping guild (‘Schleswigfahrer’).10 Because
architecture is a reality-representing medium, these local and temporarily con-
textualized verbal representations could be formulated. Even when the patron’s
motivations and formal choices were well known and crystal clear, the inter-
preting historian should never use them unquestioningly in order to explain
why a building looks the way it does. Although every historian represents reali-
ties the way writers, artists and architects do, he is different when it comes to
at least one essential detail. Since his representation must simultaneously be a
detached interpretation, he must always ask the question of what context he
should see the building’s commission and commissioner. This context should
never be a general one, but should always be as precise and specific as possible.
Therefore ‘Building in Renaissance Italy’ or ‘Architecture in Imperial China’
can only be the easy title of a glossy book, but never the context of serious
architectural research.
The artist can never be blamed for identifying himself with the reality repre-
sented. The historian can, because he must maintain a suspicious distance
from his object, otherwise he naively becomes a part of the representation. He
is then no longer the master of his research object but becomes its prisoner.
Architectural historians who identify themselves with the reception of a work
of art, such as the representation of the Saint Nicolas chapel as a Cogueship,
are hemming themselves in.11 To put it concisely: the historian’s scope should
always be at least one degree wider than his object’s, and – if necessary – a glo-
bal view.12
To stick to the Soester example, the chapel should first be thoroughly ana-
lyzed and fit into the correct and wider – but never general – context, both for-
mally as well as historically. In doing so, one would discover that about fifty
years earlier, the church’s commissioner, certainly not just any merchant, had a
very different reality in mind that he wanted represented than the popular
‘ship-’associated reception made believe. Observing it with the appropriate

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 29

scope, the architectural type is that of the double choir oratorio with a built-in
story for the seigniorial altar in the Western one. Saint Nicolas was certainly
the provost’s chapel of the nearby Saint Patrocli Minster, which served his per-
sonal liturgical representation as well as the religious needs of his Familia.
More than anything else, the door in the north-western wall of the tribune
unambiguously represents the original function and urban embedding of the
chapel. Although this element now looks embarrassingly out of place, it was
once the status-rendering main entrance of its owner, approaching over the
raised passageway, which must have connected the nearby Minster-complex
and Saint Nicolas. Whilst the tradition of the double-choir seigniorial chapel as
such was a broad one, also found throughout the Holy Roman Empire, the
way it was formally worked out in Soest and its patronage were much more
regional. The high double nave with its very slender columns reminds one of
the Episcopal chapel of Saint Bartholomew in nearby Paderborn.13 It is safe to
say that this architectural emulation represented the ambitions of the founding
provost. Naming the oratorio after the Anatolian bishop is how high clerks of
Cologne’s archbishopric, being part of Lotharingia’s old ‘Mittelreich’, used to
show their status and respectable roots. Of course, by that time Saint Nicolas
had become a patron of merchants as well, and also in old Lotharingia.
Nevertheless, the merchant’s patron never displaced the guardian of the high
clerks in the realm.14

The Worldwide Scope

Ironically enough, the apex of Indo-European architectural syncretism, the
dome covering the central or Durbar Hall of the former Viceroy’s palace in
Delhi (constructed in the period 1912-1931), is simultaneously the utmost dis-
play of the British royal ambitions to rule the world as reborn Roman emper-
ors.15 This unique combination of one of the strongest identity markers of
Western civilization, the Roman Pantheon, and a building that had to represent
the Indian Buddhism, that had long ago almost expired, the famous Stupa of
Sānchi, is an important self-idealizing representation of the fin-de-siècle colo-
nizing elite of the British Empire. Its architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens,
who shared the widespread Western aversion to Hinduism of that time, there-
fore, in his building concept represented a rather wishful armchair vision of
Indian reality.16 The architect and his patron, the king and emperor of India,
George V, along with his officials, were the first to combine the two most out-
standing representations of ‘Aryan High Civilization’ as it has been understood
since the 19th century. About a century-and-a-half ago, the British began
appreciating ancient Buddhist India as the ‘good’ orient, while viewing pre-
sent-day Hindu and Islamic Asia as the ‘bad’ and ‘barbaric’ East.17
Lutyen’s Delhi dome turns out to be a surprisingly transcultural prolonga-
tion of an age old, Eurasian tradition to represent societies based on absolute
divine power by erecting centralizing cosmic buildings. The oldest structure of
this kind that he incorporated was, most probably, developed by the Buddhist

30 The Architectural Representation of Reality

‘Cakravartin’ or cosmic Indian emperor Aşoka in the 3rd century BC as the
gigantic domed Buddha reliquary or Stupa of the Sānchi complex. Like the sec-
ond incorporated structure of this type, the Roman Pantheon (25BC/AD118-
128), which was rebuilt by the emperor Adrian, it represents the Dome of
Heaven, the four cardinal points of the cosmos and the ideal proportions of
the divine body.18
In the course of the century, preceding the conception of the Raştrapati
Bhavan (the Vice-Roy’s Palace) the Roman Pantheon had already acquired its
status as the representation of Western Civilization and genius as such. The
French revolutionary government initiated this process in 1791, when it
decided to convert the centralizing church building of Sainte Geneviève in
Paris into a ‘Panthéon des Grands Hommes’. The famous French architectural
theoretician Quatremère de Quincy (1755-1849) orchestrated the metamor-
phosis of Soufflot’s church. He advised doing away with the ‘non-classical’
towers and instead, introducing ‘true classical’ skylight by building up the win-
dows in the walls. Consequently, the sanctuary of famous men received the
heavenly light of the sanctuary of all Gods/all Saints. To take away all doubts
about Sainte Geneviève being the Roman Pantheon, the dome’s lantern was
replaced by a cylindrical finishing, which represented the Pantheon in
According to the famous statement by its architect, Donato Bramante, in
1505, that he would construct the ‘Pantheon on top of the Temple of Peace
(=Maxentiusbasilica)’, the dome of the new, centralizing Saint Peter’s in Rome
should be as big and as overwhelming as the Pantheon itself.20 One of his suc-
cessors, the leader (1514-1520) of the Lodge, Raffaelle Sanzio, was buried in
the Pantheon because he was a great admirer of ‘the most famous of all
Roman temples’ (quote: Palladio).21 Since then, the Pantheon has become the
gathering place, the exhibition space and the burial site of Rafael’s admirers, in
short the ‘Pantheon’ of some of the most outstanding ecclesiastical artists of
their time.22
Why did the patron of the New Saint Peter’s Church, Pope (1503-1513)
Julius II, prefer the centralizing ‘disegno angelico e non umano’ (‘angelic, non-
human design,’ of Michelangelo Buonarotti’s Pantheon) instead of rebuilding
the church according to its original longitudinal plan?23 Everything seemed to
point in a direction contrary to the pope’s preference including the chapter of
Saint Peter’s and the most venerable Constantinian origin of the basilica plan
itself. That is, almost everything because something very appealing must have
compelled Pope Julius II to reintroduce imperial Roman domed architecture.24
The fact that Bramante and his colleagues had studied Italian domed church
buildings purely out of professional interest, could not have been why the pope
preferred a domed concept. Because deciding on the new Saint Peter’s building
concept was in the first place, a political act.25 Julius II’s main interest was to
join a building tradition that could honourably represent his monarchic am-
bitions to ‘give to all Italy … a single ruler, the pope.’26 Since the ruler of the
other Roman capital, Constantinople (Istanbul), had already approved con-

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 31

struction on centralizing domed buildings at the various holy sites of imperial
power, the pope had to compete with him in the framework of this tradition.
The Sultan-Emperor began by erecting a huge domed mosque on the hilltop
where Constantine was buried (Mehmet Fatih Djami A.H 867-875 / AD 1462/
3-1470/1), and in the following centuries his successors built more on the rest
of the ‘seven Hills’ (Rome!) of the city.27 Since the Hagia Sophia Cathedral
(AD 532-537) had been converted into the (East-Roman) empire’s main mos-
que (A.H 857 / AD 1453), the tradition of representing the emperor of the East
with cosmic-domed temples was continued by the Muslim Sultan and head of
all believers in his realm, the Christians included.28 As a worthy follower of
Justinianus (AD 527-565) the lawgiver, Süleyman Kanunı(=legislator) the
Magnificent had erected the amazing complex of a mosque that represented
Hagia-Sophia on one of the most prominent hilltops (A.H 964 / AD 1556/7),
as well as some public buildings and a university to represent himself as a new
Solomon (=Süleyman), as Justinianus had once done.29
While the Muslim Roman emperor was finishing up on one of history’s
most grandiose domed temples in his capital, Michelangelo’s design of the
cupola of the main church of the ruler of Christianity and Roman Italy was
also nearing completion.30 Both included representations of the Solomonic
pretensions of their patrons that preferred old Roman Imperial architecture
over the existing vision of the Temple of Jerusalem. In the case of the Sultan,
the explanation is quite simple: since he had converted the Hagia Sophia, the
Great Church of the Byzantines, into his main State mosque, this imperial
Roman representation of the Temple became his standard. This goes even
more for Süleyman, since planning his great mosque and signing a treaty with
the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and with Ferdinand I of Austria coin-
cided. This made him consider himself to have wrested the Roman imperial
title from his Habsburg rivals.31 In the case of the pope, the choice of a Roman
building concept needs more elucidation. First, the irreparable loss of both
Jerusalem and Constantinople forced him to focus on the importance and con-
tinuity of Roman power. Secondly, the constant threat of the great European
monarchs on the pope’s rule over Rome forced him to concentrate on the great
Roman tradition. The Emperor-elect of the Holy Roman Empire, Maximilian,
was also extremely ambitious as his aim was to combine imperial and papal
power in one title.32
Since the underlying motives for focusing on Roman heritage is fairly clear in
the cases of the two capitals of the former empire, there is no need for further
explanations of their kindred architectural preferences. Excluding the possibility
of the triggering effect the Muslim East-Roman ruler had on the Western pre-
tenders to Roman rule, European connoisseurs narrowed their scopes to an
exclusively ‘domestic’ motivation. The late-medieval anti-German founding
myth of the North-Italian city-states, eventually named the ‘Renaissance,’ had to
subsequently pass for the scholarly explanation of Julius’s remarkable altering of
the architectural paradigm. However, as we now know, the deep-seated hatred
towards the German King-Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire fostered by the

32 The Architectural Representation of Reality

increasingly prosperous city-states stimulated their self-consciousness. This poli-
tical reality was represented in an architecturally very interesting way. Since it
was associated with German rule, Gothic architecture was rejected by these
regional powers while the Roman way of building was declared appropriate for
expressing the increasing self-consciousness of the emerging cities.33 None of
this is applicable to Julius’s architectural policy. As a peer of the emperors, his
scope had to be much wider and his motives totally different, from those of the
regional city-states.
Two more cases of narrowing one’s scope have played decisive roles in
removing the concept of the new Saint-Peter’s Cathedral from its sources. The
first has a rather comprehensive and actual character since it concerns the
exclusion of the architecture of the Muslim-ruled realm as a ‘scientific’ condi-
tion for writing architectural history. As was shown above, this kind of
pseudo-scientific ‘absolutism’ belongs to the vulgarized Kantian heritage of
Western scholarship.34 Using Christianity as an absolute parameter for the rele-
vance of architectural comparison created a bizarre paradox.35 At that time, the
one and only comparable ruler to represent himself in the Christian imperial
tradition as an ‘alter Salomo’ was the Ottoman Sultan, as we have seen. Both
written and built sources are very clear on that: ‘orthodox Shah, Solomon of
the age (A.H 964/ AD 1556-57)’ was carved into one of the walls of the
Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. The main entrance to the forecourt of the
same building represents the ‘Vestibulum’ and Throne Room of the Old-
Testament king, not to mention the domed prayer hall which represented the
Temple based on Justinian’s tradition.36 Palladio even refers to this representa-
tional tradition in his remark on religious architecture: ‘We do not doubt that
the little temples we produce ought to resemble this very great example, which,
via his immense goodness, was perfectly completed with the utterance of the
The Jewish temple had been the ‘Imago’ or ‘Recapitulatio’ Mundi from the
very beginning, which means that it was a cosmic building, like every sanctuary
of a Cosmo-centric culture.38 This explains why Christian and Muslim archi-
tects believed that the centrally planned building of worship was the manmade
reflection of God’s universe, and it is this shape that revealed ‘the unity, the
infinite essence, the uniformity and the justice of God’ (Plato, Timaeus, 33
BC)39 This paraphrase from Rudolf Wittkower’s famous book The Architectural
Principles in the Age of Humanism40 has here been enriched by expanding his
religio-cultural scope by using Muslim architecture and rectified by eliminating
his erroneous temporal confinement.
This second narrowing of scope, which consists of ignoring the span of his-
torical time properly required to explain the phenomenon of cosmic domed
architecture by confining it to the so-called ‘Renaissance’ architecture, repre-
sents another set of absolute pseudo-scientific parameters, often referred to as
‘Periodization’. It should not be trivialized because it plays a major role in all
of the historical efforts to ‘define’ the characteristics of any place and time.
Since it consists of sheer projection and has nothing to do with historical ana-

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 33

lysis as such, one should never use it. Wittkower, for instance, projected medie-
val, ancient as well as non-Western notions atop the ‘Renaissance’ screen.
There are many older domed cosmic representations of power in the West,
which reluctantly limits us to this part of the world in order to keep abreast of
Wittkower’s argument. The highest rulers, including the emperor, commis-
sioned a substantial and interesting portion of it.
If we concentrate on the most famous and influential of earlier Western cos-
mic domed sanctuaries we will notice how the same architectural tradition
continued for ages. Charlemagne (AD 742-814), for instance, represented his
cosmo-imperial ambitions by requesting that his advisors assist him in the
conception of a monumental centralizing representation of the Temple of
Solomon.41 Not long before (A.H 72/ AD 691), the Umayyad caliph ‘Abd-al
Malik had erected, as a triumphant token of his Solomonic kingship, the octa-
gonal Qubbat Al-Sakhra or Dome of the Rock on Al-Haram Al-Sharif, the
Temple Mountain in Jerusalem. It was, of course, a conscious act of represent-
ing himself as the new ruler of the realm by the grace of Allah that ‘Abd-al
Malik had chosen to rebuild the Solomonic Temple in the Byzantine tradi-
tion.42 Shortly thereafter, the Carolingian ruler and Roman emperor Charles
also rebuilt the Temple in his residence of Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle). While the
superimposed internal columns-in-arcades represent Justinian’s Temple, the
general plan of Aachen’s chapel emulates the Caliph’s Temple Dome.43 This
building would continue to be seen, well into the 18th century, as the vital
source of an impressive sequence of centralizing representations of the
Solomonic Temple.44 This well-known fact never provoked a single Western
architectural historian to broaden his scope to even superficially investigate the
Islamic building tradition, notwithstanding its obvious role as a cradle of one
of the most intriguing and monumental architectural phenomena of Europe.
In dealing with religious and cultural differences as absolute barriers that are
subject to different ‘natural laws,’ continuous historical and formal lines are cut
off and cultural wholes are divided up.
As we have already shown, broadening the scopes of architectural traditions
means opening up new perspectives regarding the themes they represent.
Therefore, we should broaden our representations of Romano-Christian imper-
ial power via the centralizing model of Solomon’s Temple to its Romano-
Islamic counterpart. It must be clearer now that the represented Roman imper-
ial idea was never bound to one specific religion. The paradigmatic switch from
Jewish Temple architecture to the domed representation of the Roman Cosmos
opens the world up to views beyond the traditions of the Abraham-based reli-
gions. Thus, older and universal ideas about cosmic kingship from the
Romano-Hellenistic world were undoubtedly the basic theme of these represen-
tations. British colonial world rule finally opened up the Western horizon to the
domed representation of universal Indian-Buddhist ambitions. Thereafter, the
existence of an almost worldwide representation of cosmic rule by centrally
domed structures should be fairly clear to everyone.45 Liberated from its colo-
nial tendencies, this process of expanding the scope of the Cosmic Dome’s

34 The Architectural Representation of Reality

architecture may prevent architectural history from interpreting even the most
local domed shrine as purely a part of a regional or even local tradition.

Sorting Out Built Representations of Reality

In order to compare the architectural representations of reality from different
cultures or ages, considered by others so far as quite incomparable, we are in
need of a theory that accounts for generally distinguishable phenomena in the
built environment. The main risk of scholars who are trying to establish a sys-
tem to analyze the architecture of the world as a whole, is that they will
develop a set of static and blank categories, which, in the end, prove to be of
more descriptive than any analytic value.46 What is almost as treacherous is the
hope that insights into the meaning and the principles of worldwide building
will appear by merely looking for case-to-case formal resemblances. This is
because similarities between individual plans, building forms and decorative
elements do not necessarily imply that they have the same meaning. As we
now know, comparable shapes and plans can easily be considered representa-
tions of different realities.
Since the built environment can represent everything that is thinkable and
tangible, not unlike all other creative media, the relationship between the form
and the represented something is very complex. On the one hand, figuring out
what the transcendent driving forces are for any one group of builders can be
helpful when trying to discriminate between various forms that mean similar
things. On the other hand, because there is such an overwhelming amount of
formally comparable groups of built environments worldwide, a criterion that
is simply too vague or general is totally inadequate as a research tool. Thus,
the first thing that should be done is to find out how builders group their pro-
ducts into certain clusters by their preferring of specific forms and materials
when it comes to the function of the structure to be built as well as their own
social positions and ambitions.
Moreover, it should be clear by now that, because architecture is a represen-
tational medium, one can never separate the analysis of its formal and material
sides from the inquiry into what it was initially representing in the eyes of the
principal proponents and what it means to the public now. To tackle these
issues means first analyzing the formal side, and then looking for the shapes
and the materials and what they meant to people at the place and the time
they were chosen. This very act sets the comparative architectural analysis into
motion. Two grouping options arise within this framework of the representa-
tional paradigm at the start of the comparative research process: one according
to formal resemblance, and the other on the criterion of functional similarity.
Both will expand our insights into the relationship between form and function,
which functionalist misunderstandings have continued to damage since the
early 20th century.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 35

The Paradigm of Revolving Traditions
While thinking about classifying built environments in light of the representa-
tional paradigm, one should also be aware of the fact that its focus on man is
fundamentally given for building concepts worldwide. Although this seems to
be stating the obvious, it is of such great importance that one should neverthe-
less begin to analyze what it truly stands for. It basically means that a person
who is busy creating a dwelling place, uses his or her coordinates and body
parts to structure, to proportion, and to orientate this structure. This is how
people make a meaningful place out of their structure. It is meaningful because
one’s own body is the bearer of what any place in time means to each builder
and inhabitant.
While we generally analyze building (design) from a human-focused, repre-
senting art per se, it seems helpful and illuminating to use the following three,
more or less individual, clusters of traditions, traceable to the worldwide, time-
honoured building practice. The main one is a cluster of anthropomorphic tra-
ditions that is based on the characteristics of the human body, such as its head,
breast, navel, limbs, and its coordinates (above, underneath, in front of,
behind, to the left or right). This cluster is, importantly enough, also based on
various measurements and proportions that are deduced from the ideal body
or from a specific person’s body. By letting man project his bodily self onto the
surrounding nature, because he or she needs a meaningful representation of it,
the dualist image of the macro-micro cosmos emerged as the worldwide basis
for the clustering of physiomorphic building traditions. Since the human body,
and every shelter, which has been shaped after it, represent the principles of
the universe. In the East, Feng-Shui and Vaastu are its comprehensive and
coherent verbal representations, while in the West, the less consistent architec-
tural allegory and the proportional systems are their counterparts.47 The third
cluster, which exists globally, consists of sociomorphic building traditions that
represent the relations between individuals and groups. Its most important fea-
tures are again based on the characteristics of the human body and their pro-
jection onto nature. These structural parameters of building concepts include
vertical and horizontal axiality, broadness and circularity.
These three clusters of building traditions, which constitute the most basic
stratum of meaning of any built environment, are, of course, nothing more
than products of the human mind to try to comprehend the surrounding
world. Their quasi-ageless omnipresence suggests an immanent and universal
meaning and thus has little relationship to any specific context. Taking position
in the ever-changing reality by conceiving and building its environment, the
human mind not only resorts to these three, long-cycle primary traditions but
also to shorter-cycle traditions, which belong to a second stratum of meaning.
In short, because these secondary traditions are highly contextual, they exhibit
more or less accurate time frames. Each age and region has seen hundreds of
thousands of these traditions, ranging from very short-lived ones, the locally
confined, to the relatively longer-lasting ones, with broader ramifications. Each

36 The Architectural Representation of Reality

of those traditions is, in fact, a reinterpretation of one or more pre-existing
ones, although patrons and architects often prefer to represent them as new.
The connection between this second stratum and an underlying long-cycle tra-
dition is, as one would expect from any representation, not logical but trans-
versal. Before proposing five representational clusters into which to roughly
group these shorter-cycle traditions so they become accessible to research, it
seems useful to adjust the conventional paradigm of the analysis of worldwide
building. It should by now be, after all that we have said about it, broadened
from ‘a mere representation of reality’ to ‘a representation of reality by revolving
traditions’. The addition of the revolving-cycle metaphor should not be surpris-
ing because it has already been proven that tradition is always part of both the
past and the future (fig. 1).
By the time we reach the end of a long and systematic grouping process, the
following five themes seem to be recurrent and distinct enough to be suitable
as a kind of working space in which specific architectural clusters, characterized
by related combinations of formal structure and represented content, can be

1. Axis Mundi & Cosmic Cross. This central theme contains all of the natural
and built body-related axial structures, representing the cosmos and its centre.
The age-old icons of the four-sided world, for instance, can be found in var-
ious regions such as South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe and
Middle- and South America. They always represent the ideal scheme of terri-
tories, cities and dwellings.48 Monumental structures often feature tower or
mountain-like vertical elements, which represent the connection between the
micro-cosmos and the macro-cosmos. The five-towered crossing (quincunx) of

Fig. 1 Schematic rendering of the built environment (O) as a product of the 5 crucial shorter-
cycle themes of architectural representation as based on the 3 long-cycle representational
building traditions.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 37

Tournai (B) Cathedral (ca. AD 1175) and the five mountain-like accents (quin-
cunx) of the four-sided Angkor Wat (KH) Temple complex (AD 1130-1150)
provide excellent examples of a very important worldwide shorter-cycle tradi-
tion that can best be analyzed from within the ‘working space’ of the Axis
Mundi & Cosmic Cross theme (fig. 2).49
It will eventually become clear that the anthropomorphic long-cycle tradi-
tion exists under the shorter-cycle tradition of the quincunx axes. In the case of
Angkor, the anthropomorphic meaning of the vertical axial elements is the
God-King connecting Heaven and Earth. In the specific context of Tournai, the
Lords of the Cathedral, being the local mediators between Heaven and Earth,
clearly represent the individualization of the anthropomorphic stratum.50
There may be a need for further explanation as to why vertical axiality some-
times belongs to the physiomorphic tradition as well. The high rising parts of
an architectural complex are usually mountain-shaped such as in the case of
Angkor, and more generally in the case of the innumerable Asian Hindu tem-
ples, which is a clear representation of nature. To be more precise, it represents
one of the holy mountains for Hindus because their gods are supposed to live

2. Horizons of Life. This theme encapsulates all of the nature- and society-
related broad structures that represent social equality as well as the limits of
world views.52 At first sight, it seems amazing that the main structural feature
of mosques and palaces in the Holy Roman Empire share the same worldwide
representational tradition. This tradition means that people use the broad-
structure space to express equality almost everywhere. In the case of a mosque,

Fig. 2 The cosmic basis of two different historical and religious ‘realities’ represented within
the framework of the same theme, using the same anthropomorphic coordinates.

38 The Architectural Representation of Reality

the prayer, or qibla wall makes them equal in the eyes of Allah. In the case of
an imperial palace, the emperor and his peers are seated along the same throne
wall, facing, as an equal group of rulers, the rest of those present. The funda-
mental equality of believers is a principle well-known to several religions.53
The sovereign who sits among his peers along a broad wall was an unmistakable
representation of the dominance of the powerful German tribes in the medieval
West Roman Empire. The palace of the count of Holland in The Hague pro-
vides a striking example of the contemporary’s awareness of its precise and
region-bound meaning. When Count William II was elected king of the Holy
Roman Empire, he began construction on a broad-structured palace in The
Hague’s Binnenhof. His son, who was the heir to the throne of Scotland, sacri-
ficed this dwelling for a longitudinal one, according to the royal English tradi-
tion. Count Floris V received his peers and his other guests, not flanked by the
noble elite of the realm, but by sitting alone at the noble high table (fig. 3).54
We do not need to offer any further explanation regarding the representa-
tional tradition of ‘The Horizon of Equality’ and how it is directly based on
the long-cycle sociomorphic tradition, and that this line of social equality is
basically nothing more than a representation of the first and most absolute
horizontal line men ever saw: the horizon itself. Therefore, the concept of a
broad-structured built representation will always automatically reactivate a
long-cycle physiomorphic tradition.

3. Boasting Façades. This theme includes the body-related, vertical structures

that represent the triumphant, the aggressive and the defensive faces of power.55

Fig. 3 The politico-religious horizons of two different ‘realities’ – the equality of feudal lords
and that of praying Muslims – represented in the frame of the same theme, using the same
physiomorphic phenomenon.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 39

No aspect of any building worldwide, apart from the ground plan, is more fre-
quently used to represent the position and the ambitions of the patron-dweller
than the façade. A very interesting and widespread building tradition that should
be analyzed in this thematic ‘working space’ is the heightened front, a façade
that rises above the building behind it to impress the beholder. This kind of
‘Façade of Power’ is found in very different cultural contexts. Of this sheer
immeasurable total number of buildings, we will present three of them as global
examples. The first is the façade of Stralsund’s medieval town hall in Germany.
The second is the 19th-century chief ’s House in Korhogo (Côte d’Ivoire), the
third is Temple I, which lies at the ceremonial centre of the huge Mayan capital
of Tikal in Guatemala, sixth and seventh centuries AD (fig. 4).
The first thing that can be concluded from this generally contextualized for-
mal confrontation of these three façades is that building a ‘boastful’ – meaning
that is not material-functionally ‘oversized’ – façade does not depend on a spe-
cific context. The effort to increase the height of the façade to impress has
nothing to do with specific religious ideas, not even considering comparable
historical or social circumstances. The beautiful vision of the heavenly city
which the Stralsund façade, with its openwork windowed gables revealed to
those sailing on the Baltic, was just an adaptation of a theme that matched the
citizens’ pride in the town’s blossoming economic situation.56 Although the
ambition to represent local society as the Heavenly City was certainly not the
idea behind the design of the chief ’s house in Korhogo, its façade bears a strik-
ingly close resemblance to the ostentatious façade in Stralsund. The reason for
it is much easier to explain than the cultural, geographical and temporal differ-

Fig. 4 Raising the façades with ‘useless’ open tops represent comparable socio-historical rea-
lities in the field of the same theme by using identical human behaviour as its long-cycle

40 The Architectural Representation of Reality

ences would lead one to expect. Both façades owe their grid-like structure of
horizontal and vertical bands to the Romano-Hellenistic Middle East-based
architectural traditions, which had a great influence on both Islamic-Arab and
greater Europe’s general building concepts. Arab invaders introduced it into
various parts of Africa, while the European ambition to expand the Christian
Holy Roman Empire allowed it to survive in so-called Gothic and subsequent
building traditions.57 The ‘cresteria,’ or immense and once richly decorated
stone comb that crowned the façade of the pyramid-based cella of Temple I of
Tikal, doubtlessly represents the similarly enormous headdress of the Maya
king. This upper zone of a temple structure without question once showed the
pantheon of the builder-king’s clan.58 Each of the three boasting ‘façades of
power’ in its own way represents the local elite: the city’s governor, the chief,
and the king. They were all elevating themselves in this manner and made their
claims of supernatural legitimacy. It surely needs no further explanation that
the anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition is the stratum in which the shorter-
cycle ‘frontal’ architectural representations of local power systems are based.

4. Including & Excluding Structures. This theme encompasses all of the society-
related topological structures, that represent the incorporation or – its anto-
nym – the exclusion of humans.59 All over the world and for ages now, people
have found their own ways to distinguish between ‘them’ and ‘us.’ In architec-
tural terms, it mainly means erecting walls to include ‘those who belong to us’
and exclude ‘those who do not belong to us.’ Governments build walls to keep
those inside who they want to exclude from society. Prisons, concentration
camps, refugee camps, ghettoes, quarantine islands are some of the common
walled-in ‘solutions.’ These built environments, depending on the living cir-
cumstances and perspectives of their inhabitants, are better described almost
everywhere in terms like ‘Inferno’ or ‘Purgatorio’ because of Dante Alighieri’s
famous literary works. On the other hand, one can also find people who have
freely chosen to live outside of society in order to find their own happiness or
holiness. Monasteries and gated communities are the current built representa-
tions of this desire. Their plans are mostly based on cosmic paradisiacal
schemes. One will not find these kinds of formal parallels among the built
representations of a human ‘Inferno’ because they belong to the socially denied
realities, which should remain beyond the reach of any of its representing
building traditions. Some of the concentration camps built by the Nazis
between ca. 1935-1945 present us with shocking examples of this. This is
because the mass destruction of an entire people could not be represented as a
part of reality even in Nazi Germany. Therefore, the concepts of these camps
belong to building traditions that are alien to its function. For instance, in
Sachsenhausen (1936) a friendly garden city layout was used to appease both
the neighbours and the camp’s personnel.60
This kind of antonym – an open and positive layout for those excluded from
society – is not usually found inside society, where the poor and disenfranchised
do not fit into the official reality, society refuses them the civil right of a live-

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 41

Fig. 5 The hidden (exclusive) and public (inclusive) urban representation of human suffering
according to various socio-political realities. Within the framework of this shorter-cycle theme,
the human implications of worldviews become much clearer.

able infrastructure. Consequently, these people have few means with which to
represent their own marginal existences. The Brazilian Favelas provide us with
some poignant contemporary examples. Why is this fourth theme, then, the
proper working space in which to compare the Nazi concentration camps and
the Favelas? (fig. 5).
Notwithstanding the principle difference between the two groups of inhabi-
tants, they are both outcasts, despised, exploited and killed by society. The sur-
vival rates of the inhabitants of the Favelas are only somewhat better. Secondly,
this reality is represented by an architecture of negation, which is a rather sad
but also an interesting concept. The perversion of the Nazi garden camp needs
no further explanation. The perversion of the ‘human’ habitat as a slum needs
no further clarification. It should by now be clear that, at the margins of
society, where the laws, the ideals and the inhabitants are seen as unworthy of
any architectural representation, a builder can basically use any architectural
tradition to ironically represent the opposite reality that it would normally
represent. Embarrassment or rather unfathomable indifference of those in
power towards the victims and the poor are the motives for housing them in
this manner.

5. Holy and unholy zones. This last of the shorter-cycle themes includes all of
the various tripartite architectural structures. It includes the horizontal zoning
of ground plans as well as the vertical zoning of the building and its façades,
which represent the socio-cosmic spheres of the living and the dead.61 It is
almost impossible to find a dwelling or a sanctuary that has no architectural

42 The Architectural Representation of Reality

references to one or more of these three cosmic domains: the unholy, lethal
and cosmic order-endangering underworld, the ambiguous terrestrial domain,
striving for the re-establishment of cosmic order, and the holy or celestial zone
as the architectural projection of Everyman’s dream of cosmic order. The
mighty foundation of massive natural stone, in the Mediterranean realm, in
India as well as in Middle- and South America, almost always represents the
world of the toiling earthlings who have to off-hold the demons of depth as
well as to support their god-miming oppressors.62 The most precise representa-
tion of the reality between the netherworld and earth is the rustic zone of
ancient Mediterranean building traditions that is still the dominant representa-
tive power-architecture of the Western World and beyond. The South Asian
tradition of concentrating livestock, or manual labour and food preparation –
mostly done by women – at the open ground floor level is very comparable.
Meanwhile, the head of the family and some of the – mostly male – members
of the household have their fixed positions on the upper floor. At the upper
level of many houses throughout this region, male and female ancestral figures
or Ragas indicate the overworld-like character of this part of the house.63 An
overwhelming amount of monumentalizing buildings found in India, Eurasia
and South America, often abundantly represents the celestial meaning of the
top story, which inevitably represents the socio-political status quo. Heavenly
beings, domes, mountains, idealized nature, tribal mementos and divine
palaces remind one respectively of godly and ancestral presences and offer
Every vertical partition of a building’s body is, in the end, a representation
of the partition of the human body. Therefore, the tripartition of this fifth

Fig. 6 The anthropomorphic, trizonal scheme of the cosmos is used here to represent the
ongoing reality of self-conscious family life as an inseparable part of creation. It is one of the
oldest transcultural representations within the shorter-cycle representational theme framework.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 43

shorter-cycle theme represents, from low to high, as far as it belongs to the first
partition, the feet, the legs and the lower parts of the human body (in terms of
architectural representation the bearing base, where the netherworld meets the
earth). It also belongs to the second partition, as it represents the upper part of
the body, the seat of the heart (in terms of architectural representation of the
earthly and epiphanic level, where heaven meets earth). Finally, it also belongs
to the third partition because it represents the head (in terms of architectural
representation of the overworld, where the living meet the dead). This aspect
certainly needs no further explication than the fact that every built environ-
ment that ‘recycles’ this representational tradition is mainly based on the
anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition (fig. 6).
The theme of the Holy and Unholy Zones is not confined to the vertical
aspects of a building; it also applies to its plan. But, depending on functions
being more public or private, male or female, older or younger, clean or
unclean, they are here distributed somewhere between the heart and the edge,
between the Holy centre and the Unholy periphery. This horizontal zoning is
also based on the anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition because it represents a
man diagonally stretched across a square (according to the Indo-European
Western tradition, the Homo ad Quadratum; according to the Indian Vedic
Indo-European tradition, the primordial Demon held in check by a Mandala)
or in a circle (according to the Indo-European Western tradition, the Homo ad
Circulum). The utmost-inner, and therefore holiest of zones, represents his
navel, in which the Axis Mundi is based. The outer, and most unholy of zones,
represents his hands and feet, being the instruments of a tough and even
unclean life of labour. The impact that horizontal, interior zoning has on pub-
lic space is, of course, much smaller than that of vertical zoning. Because this
zoning is the basis of, more or less, every dwelling’s private spheres, it has
much in common with the fourth Theme ‘Including and Excluding Structures,’
the latter relating to family, clan and society-related topological structures.
The world that had once been mostly clan-focused and is often much more
multicultural today, and the globalized future, has never before seen the scope
of architectural representation expand at such speeds as today. Moreover, never
before has it been so difficult to understand the built environment without
using a comparative analysis. The signalled, alarming lack of knowledge about
the different cultural traditions that architecture forms a part of, has made a
meaningful analysis of the built environment as such all the more urgent. Since
the representational paradigm of architecture is about the built outcome of the
(complex) process of expressing aspects of a human ‘here and now’ reality in
architecture, the researcher should be equipped with mental tools that can be
used as an interface between him and the form-context complexities, or the
building tradition that he or she would like to analyze. Furthermore, these tools
should be as kaleidoscopic as life itself, appreciated for their usefulness, and
should not be seen as a set of ‘beautiful rules’ invented by some researcher and
admired for their elegance, completeness and abstraction. As noted earlier, the
three long and five shorter-cycle revolving traditions, however asymmetrical and

44 The Architectural Representation of Reality

general they may seem, are constituted to provide precisely that usefulness to
every architectural historian interested in analyzing all kinds of architectural tra-
ditions. Although they are applicable to every question related to the architec-
ture-representational paradigm, regardless of time and place, they are by no
means meant as formulations of ’true universal building principles.’ The, more
or less, distanced and abstract character of the three and five revolving traditions
is an inevitable effect of their ‘pre-sorting’ position between the researcher and
the innumerable local traditions, recycled on an everyday basis to architecturally
represent millions of here and now realities. These ‘three and five,’ traditions
transcend all cultural and temporal differences and re-formulate the worldwide,
highly variable building reality. They not only provide the researcher with a bet-
ter grip on his subject but also primarily require comparisons in the broadest
possible scope. In doing so, the researcher will be rewarded with a much better,
deeper understanding of his subject than he would ever get by sticking to the
narrow here and now scope of his topic.
The scholar will get his reward for sufficiently widening his scope in a rather
basic way: in most cases, he will no longer come to the wrong conclusions. For
instance, the mastery of dome construction would no longer be placed in
Renaissance Italy but in the 16th-century Ottoman Empire, where it arguably
belongs.65 Perhaps, what is even more amazing is that, in recent literature on
urban history, there has been an almost total negation of the Indus Valley as
the location for, by far, the oldest grid-based urban plants. Instead, the old
myth of a ‘Western,’ Mediterranean-based origin dated much later is still pre-
ferred by most authors.66 Numerous examples, from all over the world, that
misjudge the historical position of certain architectural achievements because
of a certain narrow-mindedness that was caused by the over-estimation of
one’s own (Western) culture, should also be emphasized. Will this ever change
in our Age of Globalization?


1 Sherman Paul, Louis Sullivan, An architect in American Thought, Inglewood Cliffs (NJ), 1962,
pp. 32, 36.
2 Sun Dhazang, Islamic Buildings (Ancient Chinese Architecture vol. VIII), Wien/New York, 2003.
3 Wolfgang Welsch, Der transversale Vernunft, Frankfurt a.Main, 1995; Frank R. Ankersmit, De
Macht van Representatie, Exploraties II: Cultuurphilosophie en esthetica, Kampen, 1996, pp. 156-
4 Ankersmit,1996 (3), pp 184-189, 223 note 6, and chapter 7, section 2 and 3; Richard Rorty,
Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Princeton, 1979, p. 45; Aart J.J. Mekking, De Sint-
Servaaskerk te Maastricht. Bijdragen tot de kennis van de symboliek en de geschiedenis van de
bouwdelen en de bouwsculptuur tot ca. 1200 (Clavis Kunsthistorische Monografieën vol.2),
Zutphen,1986, pp. 184-185; A.J.J. Mekking, De Sint Nicolaaskapel op het Valkhof te Nijmegen.
Patrocinia, voorbeeld, functie en betekenis (Nijmeegse Studiën vol. XVIII), Nijmegen, 1997, esp.
pp. 32-36.
5 John Cottingham, Descartes, René, in: A Companion to Epistemology (eds.: J. Dancy and E.
Sosa), Oxford and Malden, (MA), 1992, p. 96.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 45

6 James Fergusson, Indian Architecture (ed. James Burgess) and Eastern Architecture (R. Phene
Spiers), London, 1910, vol. I, pp. 301-309; 420-423; vol. II, pp. 84-87. Karl Scheffler, Der Geist
der Gotik, Leipzig, 1919, passim. For a witty and interesting comment on this dubious labelling
practice, see: Gautam Bathia, Punjabi Baroque and Other Memories of Architecture, New Delhi,
7 For instance, Nicolaus Pevsner, An outline of European Architecture, Harmondsworth 1943;
David Wattkin, A history of Western Architecture, London 1986.
8 Ankersmit 1996 (3), pp. 186-187.
9 C. Meckseper, Kleine Kunstgeschichte der deutschen Stadt im Mittelalter, Darmstadt,1982, p. 213,
fig. Z. 73; E. Linnhof, St. Nikolai-Kapelle in Soest, Soest, 1991, pp. 1-6
10 H. Schwartz, Soest in seinen Denkmälern, II. Band (Soester wissenschaftliche Beiträge, Band
15), Soest, 1978, Die Kapelle S. Nicolai episcopi am Kolk, pp. 180-184.
11 Meckseper 1982 (9), p. 213; Schwartz 1978 (10), pp. 180-182; Linnhoff 1991 (9), pp. 2-6.
12 Theo de Boer, Pleidooi voor Interpretatie, Amsterdam, 1997, pp. 28, 37-39, 42-43.
13 Mekking 1997 (4), p. 50-51; Wolfgang Braunfels, Die Kunst im Heiligen Römischen Reich II, Die
geistlichen Fürstentümer, München 1980, p. 339-342.
14 Mekking 1997 (4), pp. 5-14.
15 Andreas Volwahsen, Imperial Delhi, München/Berlin/London/New York, 2002, pp.49, 78-82.
16 Lutyens, Edwin, in: Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects (ed.: Adolf K. Placzek), vol. III,
London, 1982, pp. 42-49; John R. McKenzie, The Uncivilized Races of Men in All Countries of
the World, vol. II, New York, 1880, p. 1407 ff; Volwahsen 2002 (15).
17 Edward W. Said, Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (with a new afterword),
London, 1995, p. 99.
18 Stupa, Sānchi: Benjamin Rowland, The Art and Architecture of India: Buddhist – Hindu – Jain,
(The Pelican history of Art), Harmondsworth, 1970, pp. 78-79; Andreas Volwahsen, Bouwkunst
der Eeuwen. India (trans. H. Manger), Amsterdam, 1971, pp. 16-21; Adrian Snodgrass, The
Symbolism of the Stupa, New York, 1985, pp. 69, 95, 360-262; Volwahsen 2002 (15), p. 102;
Pantheon, Rome: Walther Buchowiecki, Handbuch der Kirchen Roms. Wien, 1970, vol. 2, S.
Maria ad Martyres: 654-688, pp. 654-659; John B. Ward-Perkins, Roman Architecture, New
York ,1977, pp. 133-141; E. Baldwin Smith, The Dome: A Study in the History of Ideas (renewed
edition), Princeton, 1978, p. 91-93; Spiro Kostoff, A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals
(2nd ed.), New York, 1995, pp. 217-221; Volwahsen 2002 (15), pp. 116-123.
19 Emil Kaufmann, Architecture in the Age of Reason: Baroque and Post-Baroque in England, Italy,
France, New York, 1955, pp. 139-140; Yvan Christ, l’Ancienne Abbye Sainte Geneviève, in: l’Ile
Saint Louis, l’Ile de la Cité, le quartier de l’ancienne Université, Alfortville, 1974, p. 216 (figure
bottom); D. Joseph, Geschichte der Baukunst des XIX. Jahrhunderts, vol. III, 1, Leipzig, (ca.
1910), pp. 135-137; Paris Guide par les principaux écrivains et artistes de la France, vol. I: La
Science, l’Art, Paris, 1867, pp. 670-672; Udo Kultermann, Geschichte der Kunstgeschichte: Der
Weg einer Wissenschaft (2nd ed.) Frankfurt am Main, 1981, pp. 120-22; David Watkin, The Rise
of Architectural History, London, 1980, p. 24; Sylvia Lavin, Quatremère de Quincy and the
Invention of a Modern Language of Architecture, Cambridge, MA, 1992.
20 Buchowiecki 1967 (18), p. 115; James Lees-Milne, Saint-Peter’s. The Story of Saint Peter’s
Basilica in Rome, London, 1967, p. 145.
21 Andrea Palladio, I quattro libri dell’ Architettura (Venezia 1570), Facsimile, Milano, 1968, Il
Quarto Libro, p. 73.
22 G.J. Hoogewerff, Felix Roma. Uit het verleden en heden der zeven heuvelen, Zutphen, (ca. 1928),
pp. 103-104.
23 Buchowiecki 1970 (18), pp. 654-688, especially: p.659.
24 Kostoff 1995 (18), pp. 502-503; Jean Castex, De architectuur van Renaissance, Barok en
Classicisme. Een overzicht 1420-1720 (Renaissance, Baroque et Classicisme: Histoire de
l’Architecture 1420-1720, Paris, 1990), Nijmegen, 1993, pp. 109-118.
25 Lees-Milne 1967 (20), p. 144; Watkin 1980 (19), p. 191.

46 The Architectural Representation of Reality

26 Karl August Fink, Päpste der Hochrenaissance, in: Handbuch der Kirchengeschichte (Hubert
Jedin ed.) Band III, Die mittelalterliche Kirche, Zweiter Halbband, Freiburg/ Basel/Wien, 1973,
pp. 670-671; Friedrich Gontard, The Popes, London, 1964, pp. 568-569.
27 Visit:; The Garden of the Mosques. Hafiz
Hüseyin Al-Ayvansarayıˆ’s Guide to the Muslim Monuments of Ottoman Istanbul (Howard Crane,
ed.), Studies in Islamic Art and Architecture vol. VIII, Leiden/Boston/Köln 2000, pp. 11-13.
28 Wolfgang Müller-Wiener, Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls, Tübingen, 1977, pp. 19-20; The
Garden of the Mosques 2000 (27), pp. 6-7, 11-13; Nicolae Jorga, Geschichte des Osmanischen
Reiches. Nach den Quellen dargestellt, Zweiter Band bis 1538, Gotha, 1908-1913, pp. 36-37; Jane
Taylor, Imperial Istanbul: A Traveller’s Guide, London/New York, 1998, pp. 104-105, 117-121.
29 The Garden of the Mosques, 2000 (27), pp. 19-22; Gülru Necipoğlu, The Age of Sinan:
Architectural Culture in the Ottoman Empire, London, 2005, pp. 207-222; Paul von Naredi-
Rainer, Salomos Tempel und das Abendland, Köln ,1994, pp. 116-125.
30 Buchowiecki ,1967 (18), p. 121.
31 Necipoğlu, 2005 (29), p 207.
32 Fink, 1973 (26), p. 670.
33 Paul Frankl, The Gothic: Literary Sources and Interpretations through Eight Centuries, Princeton,
1960, pp. 237-414, especially: p. 248.
34 A startling example of a Western-based finalistic architectural ‘analysis’ is P.N. Oak’s The Taj
Mahal is a Hindu Palace (Bombay, 1968). The Mogul representation of Islamo-Indian imperial
reality is severely mutilated to enable it to fit into the scope of Hindu chauvinism.
35 A French art historian and Muslim convert, Roger Garaudy, joined in the belief that Islamic
architecture is a part of Qura’nic revelation. This narrow and dogmatic scope on the built
environment forced him to eliminate every historical approach to Islamic religious building
practice, putting it on a transcendent level beyond time and space and therefore beyond every
other interpretation as well. Roger Garaudy, Mosquée, Miroir de l‘Islam / The Mosque, Mirror of
Islam, Paris, 1985.
36 The Garden of the Mosques, 2000 (27), p. 20; Aart J.J. Mekking, Vorraum göttlichen Wissens.
Der Westbau der löwener Peterskirche als Repräsentation allgemeiner und kontextbedingter
Wirklichkeiten (130-144), in: Kunst & Region. Architektur und Kunst im Mittlelater, Beiträge
einer Forschungsgruppe/Art & Region. Architecture and Art in the Middle Ages, Contributions of a
research group (Uta Maria Bräuer, Emanuel Klinkenberg, Jeroen Westerman, eds.), (Clavis
Kunsthistorische Monografieën vol. XX), Utrecht, 2005: 130-144, pp. 138-141; Aart J.J.
Mekking, Neu-St.Peter in Rom. Ein Zentralbau als Tempel für den christlichen Salomo. In:
Medien der Symbolik in Spätmittelalter und früher Neuzeit – Der Fürstenhof. Studientag der
Onderzoekschool Mediëvistiek Groningen und der WWU Münster, 19 und 20 Oktober 2001
37 Palladio 1968 (21), Il Quarto Libro, p. 3.
38 Robert Jan van Pelt, Tempel van de wereld. De kosmische symboliek van de tempel van Salomon,
Utrecht, 1984, passim.
39 In the West, since late antiquity, the Timaeus was read in the Greek scholar Chalcidius’s Latin
translation (ca. AD 300); in the Arab world, most scholars could read the text in the original
language; See: Max Manitius, Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters, Zweiter Band
(1923), München 1965, p.581.
40 Rudolf Wittkower, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism (Studies of the Warburg
Institute vol. 19, 1949), London, 1676, p. 23.
41 Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH), Epistolae Carolini Aevi, vol. 4, Hannover/Berlin,
1895, p. 235
42 Priscilla Soucek, The Temple of Solomon in Islamic Legend and Art, in: The Temple of
Solomon. Archaeological Fact and Medieval Tradition in Christian, Islamic and Jewish Art (ed.:
Joseph Gutmann), Missoula, (MT), 1976: 73-123, p. 88-111; Oleg Grabar, The Shape of the
Holy: Early Islamic Jerusalem, Princeton, 1992.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 47

43 Aart J.J. Mekking, Vorbilder und Rezeption. Das Bauwerk, in: Der Dom zu Aachen. Seit 25 Jahren
Welterbe der UNESCO. In: Die Waage vol. 42, October 2003, pp. 62-66; Mekking 1997 (4);
Naredi-Rainer 1994 (29), pp. 117-130.
44 Wolfgang Goetz, Zentralbau und Zentralbautendenz in der gotischen Architektur, Berlin, 1968,
passim; Helen Rosenau, Vision of the Temple. The Image of the Temple of Jerusalem in Judaism
and Christianity, London 1979, passim; Naredi-Rainer 1994 (29), passim; Otto Höver,
Vergleichende Architekturgeschichte, München, 1923, passim; Mekking 1997 (4), pp. 32-36; Aart
J.J. Mekking, Houses of Prayer, Houses of Preaching. A structural comparison of Islamic and
Calvinist-rooted religious Architecture, in: Het kerkgebouw in het postindustriële landschap/The
church in the post-industrial landscape, Zoetermeer, 2004: 79-90, pp. 85-87.
45 Peter Sloterdijk, Sphären. Mikrosphärologie, vol. I, Blasen, Frankfurt am Main, 1998,
‘Hochkulturen Theologie’: pp. 56-57, 65; Peter Sloterdijk, Sphären. Mikrosphärologie, vol. II,
Globen, Frankfurt am Main, 1999, Exkurs 4: Pantheon. Zur Theorie der Kuppel, pp. 435-464.
46 Dagobert Frey, Grundlegung zu einer vergleichenden Kunstwissenschaft. Raum und Zeit in der
Kunst der Afrikanisch-eurasischen Hochkulturen, Innsbruck/Wien, 1949.
47 E. Lipp, Feng Shui: Environments of Power. A Study of Chinese Architecture, London, 1995; D.N.
Shukla, Vaastu Shaastra, vol. I. Hindu Science of Architecture, New Delhi, 1995; Mekking 1986
(4), On Architectural Allegory: pp. 58-86; Paul von Naredi-Rainer, Architektur und Harmonie.
Zahl, Mass und Proportion in der abendländischen Baukunst, Köln 1982.
48 Axis Mundi & Cosmic Cross is the first theme presented in a series of unpublished lectures by
Aart J.J. Mekking, called: ‘Introductions into Crucial Themes of World Architecture Studies’ C
(omparative) W(orld) A(rchitecture) S(tudies), Leiden University, 2000-2005. It includes the
following sections regarding worldwide traditions: Cosmic Man, The Mountain of the Gods,
The Tower of Heaven, The Cosmic Pillar. For a copy contact:
49 Some reading suggestions: Aart J.J. Mekking, ‘The Hague: A Capital of Centro Phobia. An
Analysis of Its Built Representation’. In: Wang and Shuguo (eds.), Research Essays Collection of
Beijing Studies in 2004. (pp. 263-280). Beijing: International Programme Departement; Werner
Müller, Die Heilige Stadt. Roma Qaudrata, himmlisches Jerusalem und die Mythe vom Weltnabel,
Stuttgart, 1961; Joseph Rykwert, The Idea of a Town: The Anthropology of Urban Form in Rome,
Italy and the Ancient World (1976), Princeton, 1995; Daigoro Chihara, Hindu-Buddhist
Architecture in Southeast Asia, Leiden, 1996; Urban Form and Meaning in South Asia: The
Shaping of Cities from Prehistoric to Precolonial Times (eds.: Howard Spodek and Doris Meth
Srinivasan.), Hannover/London 1993; Paul Wheatly, The Places Where Men Pray Together:
Cities in Islamic Lands, Seventh through the Tenth Centuries, Chicago/London, 2001; Arthur
Versluis, The Elements of Native American Traditions, Shaftesbury/Rockport/Brisbane 1993; A.
Arrelano Hernandez et al., Maya Die klassische Periode, München, 1998.
50 J. Warichez, La Cathédrale de Tournai et son Chapitre, Seconde Partie: La Cathédrale, Wetteren,
1934; J. Warichez, De Kathedraal van Doornik. Eerste Deel: Romaansche Architectuur en
Beeldhouwkunst (Ars Belgica. I), Antwerpen 1934; Henri Stierlin, Angkor, Fribourg, 1970;
Jacques Dumarçay and Pascal Royère, Cambodian Architecture, Eighth to Thirteenth Centuries
(Handbook of Oriental Studies. Southeast Asia, vol. XII), Leiden/Boston/Köln, 2001, Part two.
51 Stella Kramrisch, The Hindu Temple vol. I (1946), Delhi, 1996, ‘The image of the Mountain
and the Cavern’, pp.161 ff.
52 Horizons of Life is the second theme presented in a series of unpublished lectures by Aart J.J.
Mekking, called ‘Introductions into Crucial Themes of World Architecture Studies’ See note
48. For a copy contact:
53 Mekking 2004 (44), p. 81-90. Horizons of Life is the second theme presented in a series of
unpublished lectures by Aart J.J. Mekking, called ‘Introductions into Crucial Themes of World
Architecture Studies’ See note 48. For a copy contact:
54 Aart J.J. Mekking, Die Aula Palatii in Den Haag. Ernst Schubert zum 70. Festschrift Ernst
Schubert. Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 3 (1997), p. 308-333.
55 Boasting Facades is the third theme presented in a series of unpublished lectures by Aart J.J.
Mekking, See note 48. For a copy ask:

48 The Architectural Representation of Reality

56 Stralsund et al.: Aart J.J. Mekking, Traditie als maatstaf voor vernieuwing in de kerkelijke
architectuur van de Middeleeuwen. De rol van oud en nieuw in het proces van bevestiging en
doorbreking van maatschappelijke structuren. Bulletin Koninklijke Nederlandse Oudheidkundige
Bond (KNOB), 97(6) (1998), pp. 205-223; Korhogo: Labelle Prussin, Hatumere: Islamic Design
in West Africa, Berkeley/Los Angeles, 1986, p. 173.
57 Old Middle East: Archäologische Entdeckungen. Die Forschungen des deutschen archäologischen
Instituts im 20. Jahrhundert, Mainz 2000, Uruk – Die Wiege der Kultur, pp. 156-162; S.
Giedion, The Beginnings of Architecture, Princeton, 1964, pp. 193-214; C. Bezold, Ninive und
Babylon (ed.: C. Frank), Bielefeld/Leipzig, 1926. Africa: Nnamdi Elleh, African Architecture.
Evolution and Transformation, New York/San Francisco, et al., 1997, ch. 3, ‘Islamic Architecture
in Africa’, pp. 73-87; Prussin 1986 (56).
58 Harrelano Hernandez 1998 (49), pp. 142, 144-146; Henri Stierlin, Die Kunst der Maya,
Stuttgart 1982, pp. 42-56.
59 Including & Excluding Structures is the fourth theme presented in a series of unpublished
lectures by Aart J.J. Mekking, called ‘Introductions into Crucial Themes of World Architecture
Studies’. See note 48. For a copy contact:
60 Ludo van Eck, Het boek der kampen, Leuven, 1979, passim.
61 Holy & Unholy Zones is the fifth theme presented in a series of unpublished lectures by Aart J.
J. Mekking, called ‘Introductions into Crucial Themes of World Architecture Studies’ See note 48.
For a copy contact:
62 General West: Kostof 1995 (18), s.v. Rustication. Medieval West: C.M.H. Martin, D.J. de Vries,
Beschrijving en datering van de kern van het gebouw, in: Het Kapittel van Lebuinus in Deventer
(eds.: J.R.M. Magdelijns, et al.), Deventer, 1996, pp. 172-178. India: Kramrisch, 1996 (51), pp.
171-173; Gerard Foekema, Architecture Decorated with Architecture, New Delhi, 2003, See:
‘ad’hist ána/base, upapı́tha/pedestal, p. 21; South America: Die klassische Periode, Maya 1998
(49), for instance: Tikal.
63 Indonesian Heritage. Architecture (ed.: Gunawan Tjahjono), Singapore/Djakarta, 1998, pp. 32-
33, 42-43; Gaudenz Domenig, Tektonik im primitiven Dachbau (Göttersitz und Menschenhaus,
Exposition ETH Zürich), Zürich, 1980, pp. 127, 162; Bart Barendregt, From the Realm of Many
Rivers. Memory, Places and Notions of Home in the Southern Sumatran Highlands (diss.), Leiden,
2005, p. 371.
64 General West: Adolf Reinle, Zeichensprache der Architektur. Symbol, Darstellung und Brauch in
der Baukunst des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit, Zürich/München, 1976, pp. 259-281, 314-319; E.
Baldwin Smith, Architectural Symbolism of Imperial Rome and the Middle Ages (1st ed., 1956),
New York ,1978; Mekking 1986 (4), Chapter.V De ‘Stad God’s’ als het ‘Heilige paleis’ van de
keizer, pp. 222-278; Aart J.J. Mekking, Pro Turri Trajectensi. De positieve symboliek van de
Domtoren in de stad Utrecht en op de ‘Aanbidding van het Lam Gods’ van de gebroeders Van
Eyck, in: Annus Quadriga Mundi. Opstellen over middeleeuwse Kunst opgedragen aan prof. dr.
Anna C. Esmeijer (J.B. Bedaux ed.), (Clavis Kunsthistorische Monografieën vol, VIII), Zutphen,
1989, pp. 129-151; Emanuel S. Klinkenberg, Architectuuruitbeelding in de Middeleeuwen.
Oorsprong, Verbreiding en Betekenis van architectonische Beeldtradities in de West-Europese Kunst
tot omstreeks 1300 (diss.), Leiden, 2006, s.v. ‘Het Hemelse Jerusalem’. India: Kramrisch 1996
(51), Part Six. The Islamic World: The Superstructure; The Mosque. History, Architectural
Development & Regional Diversity (eds.: Martin Frishman, Hassan-Uddin Khan) (1st ed. 1994),
London, 2002, See: the inner and outer decorations of the Domes, the topping of walls and
roofs by structures which refer to ancestral or heavenly dwellings, decoration representing
paradisiacal nature. Middle and South America: Arrelano Hernandez 1998 (49), for instance:
Die kosmische Vorstellung der Maya von Raum und Zeit.
65 Ulya Vogt-Göknil, Sinan, Berlin, 1993, pp.17-309, esp.: p. 26; Necipoğlu 2005 (29), See: II.
Architecture in the Islamic East and Renaissance Italy.
66 Christopher Tagdell, The History of Architecture in India, London, 1990, pp. 1-2; Vijay Kumar
Thakur, Urbanisation in Ancient India, New Delhi, 1981; Spiro Kostof, The City Shaped,
London, 1991, p. 96; Léon Homo, Rome Impériale et l’urbanisme dans l’antiquite, Paris, (1951)
1971, l’Élément général, pp. 1-31.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 49

2 The Architectural
Representation of Islam
Saintly Brilliance in the New
Design for the Amsterdam
Taibah Mosque
Eric Roose


The Mobarak Mosque, The Hague
The first purpose-built mosque in the Netherlands was opened in 1955, in The
Hague by a Hindustani-Islamic missionary community from Pakistan. Since
their Mobarak Mosque supposedly did not initially incorporate any stylistic
elements from their home country, it was regarded as physically integrated into
the Dutch environment as a genuine ‘modern Dutch villa’. For years it was not
recognized as a mosque, let alone the first one. It was only after two turrets
were added at the entrance portal almost a decade later that the building was
finally described by Dutch newspapers as a ‘Pakistani mosque’. Although an
extension in the back of the building maintained the ‘Dutch’ style, a minaret
that was more recently added supposedly gave the mosque its final, distinc-
tively ‘Mogul’ image. The minaret was constructed of Dutch bricks similar to
that of the main structure, and thus it was considered a successful attempt at
integrating two distinct ‘cultural’ building styles. However, as I have shown
elsewhere, when studied in-depth, a much more explicitly religious construc-
tion arises from its design process.1 The ‘modern Dutch’ quality of the building
appears to have grown more from persistent municipal pressure than from any
cultural adaptation required by the commissioner, even if this was later claimed
to be the case by the commissioner himself. Moreover, many of the particular
building elements that were produced in the original ‘modern Dutch villa,’ as
well as in its later additions can, upon closer inspection, be linked to certain
buildings in the home area of the community that had a much more specific
religious meaning to them than merely being Hindustani-Islamic: the Mubarak

Mosque and the Minaret of the Messiah, which were built in the second half of
the 19th century by Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement, refor-
mer of Islam and self-proclaimed prophetic successor to Mohammed.

The First Taibah Mosque in Amsterdam

In 1985, the second mosque around a Hindustani-Islamic missionary commu-
nity was built in Amsterdam-Zuidoost (Southeast). Although this community
had mainly come from Surinam before it gained its independence from the
Netherlands in 1975, the community’s Pakistani connections were maintained
in the Netherlands as tightly as in the colony. The Taibah Mosque was the first
to undergo professional architectural critiques. The design’s characteristics
were generally attributed to the architect, who was seen to have successfully
combined traditional Islam with modern Dutchness, and who was under the
impression that he had built the first real mosque in the Netherlands. This
assumption was not so strange, since his commissioner would have fervently
denied, as we will see further on, any Islamicness on the part of the Mobarak
missionary community altogether. However, from this part of the Taibah’s
design process it appears that although the building was described as a modern
Dutch transformation of both a generally Islamic building tradition and a
Hindustani-Islamic building style, it actually appears to be a transformation of
particular building elements as recognized by the commissioner in some very
specific buildings within and outside the Hindustani culture area, and a mate-
rialization of an Islamic construction that fiercely contested what was being
produced in The Hague.

The Second Taibah Mosque in Amsterdam

Following a recent change in the community’s leadership, the Taibah building
has been significantly enlarged as well as being given an almost completely new
design. According to some observers, it now represents Hindustani-Islamic cul-
ture even more than its predecessor because of the increased use of ‘cultural’
building elements and the abandonment of the ‘modern Dutch’ style. However,
when looking at the design process, this design included specific building ele-
ments as identified by the new commissioner in a specific building outside the
Hindustani culture area even more than its predecessor. As such, it was meant
to surpass the latter in an ongoing competition with contesting constructions
of Islam embraced by other Hindustani-Islamic community leaders. On a dif-
ferent scale, the resulting transformations of these building elements were
explicitly imagined as modernizations for a Western audience by the commis-
sioner himself. Although the complexity and the dynamics of these Islamic-
architectural processes seem to have let most writers on architecture in the
Netherlands indifferent, with some even calling the Hindustani commissioners’
mosque design ‘Mogul’ – combined with the prefixes ‘modern’ or ‘traditional’
depending on the tastes of the author – it is exactly this continuous production

52 The Architectural Representation of Islam

of internal religious opposition that is currently shaping the mosque designs of
Hindustani commissioners in the Netherlands.

The Representational Analysis of Hindustani-Commissioned Mosque Design

Since the main purpose of a Muslim commissioner’s building activities is to
substantiate his own construction of Islam as the ultimate over other versions,
no consistent stylistic typologization will ever help us to understand exactly why
his building looks the way it does. The answer to that question can only be
found by analyzing his motivations and formal preferences in terms of the
representation of reality, with the commissioner transforming earlier built
representations, from any random time and any random region as long as it
suited the reality as mentally constructed by him, to a new context. In fact,
within the complex empirical field of Hindustani-commissioned mosque
design in the Netherlands as it eludes consistent typologies of Hindustani style
and culture, the only valid comparative criterion that can both consistently
explain the stylistic inconsistencies of the architectural objects researched as
well as the argumentational inconsistencies of their Muslim commissioners is
the commissioner’s all-pervading drive to create the ultimate Axis Mundi. In
Mekking’s terms regarding the representational cycles of architectural tradi-
tions, a mosque should be seen as a genuine cosmic centre, the very navel of
the world. Constructed to subjugate everything else, it always uses a multitude
of possible building elements cutting cleanly through imaginary boundaries of
history and geography as long as it suited its cosmic meaning. To understand
exactly why particular building elements were chosen in a particular cosmic
representation while other building elements were rejected, it is necessary to
explore the specified politico-religious context of the commission itself.


The Spread of Islam in Hindustan
For the politico-religious divergences within what many architecturally inter-
ested observers in the Netherlands still think of as a coherent Hindustani-
Islamic culture group to become even remotely intelligible, this story has to
begin centuries ago in the northern part of the South Asian sub-continent.
Here, amidst deeply embedded beliefs in ancestral saints as mediators between
the living and the gods, Sufi missionaries had spread Islam on the basis of their
intimate connections with the divine for hundreds of years. Reverence for these
Islamic holy men and the Holy Prophet Mohammed as their physical and
spiritual ancestor and – in effect – the ultimate saint, was widespread through-
out the Islamic parts of the sub-continent, and had been incorporated by
Sultans and Mogul emperors alike as a tool of politico-religious control.
Importantly, the northern part, also called Hindustan, had never been as
strictly controlled as the more central areas, so that local religious leaders, or

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 53

Pirs, here had always retained a large amount of land-based political power
around the medieval saintly tombs they inherited. With the slow decline of
Mogul rule from the 18th century onward, these leaders had been able to
enhance the legitimization of their religious power by transforming themselves
from being Sufi mediators to living holy men. While they used to derive their
authority simply from the saintly shrines located on their estates, now they
were attributed, by virtue of their ancestors and ultimately of the Holy Prophet
himself, with special powers of their own.2

The Deobandi vision of Islam

However, things started to change with the abolishment in the 19th century of
what was left of the Mogul empire by the British. In reaction to the subsequent
religious void, a number of Islamic revitalization movements sprang up, which
contested the religious traditions and political powers of the Sufi Pirs. Rival
leaders of the Deobandi School aimed at reforming the saintly cults into a
more puritan Islam, doing away with what they saw as the worship of
Mohammed, living holy men, and saintly shrines at famous mausoleum mos-
ques. As a later Deobandi Mufti explained the role of the mosque in Islam:
‘Three mosques, the Masjid-al-Haram [at Makkah], the Prophet’s mosque at
Madinah and the Masjid-al-Aqsa at Jerusalem have an exalted position in view
of their historical position and religious sanctity. No other mosque has such an
exalted position. ... [A] journey especially to visit any other mosque in the
belief that one would earn a special reward (any more than his attendance at
the local mosque) is not permitted. ... [One] should not have a false notion
that a visit to, say, Jama Masjid of Delhi would get him half as much reward as
that of a Haj pilgrimage or that a visit to the Shrine at Ajmer would get him as
much reward as a Haj pilgrimage. ... During the days of ignorance, people used
to undertake pilgrimage to places which they, in their blind faith, considered
holy. This led to distortion of the faith and people started worshipping others
than the one God. The holy Prophet plugged the sources of such a distortion
so that such excursions do not serve as a step towards the worship of any other
than the one God.’3

The Brelwi vision of Islam

The traditional leaders reacted in their defence, especially Ahmad Reza Khan
(1856-1921), who created a strong current with his Brelwi School, named after
his home at Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh. His teachings focused on Mohammed as
the most important figure and as the source of Islam, a mediator between
Muslim and God, and the ever-existing Light, or Nur, that lit the dark world of
unbelief. This ‘Nur of Mohammed’ was derived from God’s own light, and had
actually existed from the beginning of creation. Mohammed’s Nur had been
sent down to earth through all prophets from Adam onward, culminating in
Mohammed himself as their Seal. The very world had been created for the

54 The Architectural Representation of Islam

Prophet, and designed for his glory. In short, Mohammed was revitalized as
the ultimate saint, and his birthday and heavenly ascension as the most impor-
tant Islamic celebrations. Later saints derived their sanctity from him and the
annual celebrations of their deaths, or Urs, were stressed. Like Mohammed,
they had a corporeal presence in their tombs and could actually hear the
prayers of believers. As a later Brelwi imam noted in a Dutch publication: ‘The
Prophet and the Saints may always be honoured, even after their deaths. When
Prophets leave the earthly domain, their miracles are not over, and when the
Saints leave us, their wondrous acts are not over either. The hadith clearly
states that [they] live in their sacred resting places. ... [They] say that it is Kufr
(heresy) and Shirk (polytheism) when one builds a dome over the grave of a
saint, burns oil lamps for those who worship and serve in mausoleums, and
pledges donations to the souls of the dead. ... [But, in fact] no Islamic learned
man has ever said that it was polytheism or heresy to build a dome or a mau-
soleum, or to visit a mausoleum.’4
Moreover, the living Pirs were confirmed in their physical and spiritual des-
cent from the saints, and in their right to control their estates and the saintly
shrines thereon. They were believed to be able to mediate between saints and
followers and to have special spiritual powers, while their images were highly
revered. The Sayyids, the claimed physical descendants of Mohammed, were
especially accorded a great deal of respect.5 Both reformist and Brelwi leaders
called themselves leaders, not of sects, but of the mainstream Muslims, while
each call their opponents infidels. Members of the Brelwi School actually
appropriated the term Ahl-I Sunnat Wa Jama’at, a classical name for the Sunni
community in general, while they consistently called their puritan opponents

The Ahmadiyya vision of Islam

The nominal emphasis on the ‘Sunni’ character of the Brelwi School was also
used to distinguish themselves from another religious community that had
emerged in the region in reaction to British upheavals of the status quo.
Ghulam Ahmad (ca. 1835-1908) from Qadian, Punjab, created this community
by claiming he had been sent by God as a Saviour to restore Islam to its origi-
nal purity. He regarded the actual worship of saints and saintly tombs to be
one of the corruptions that had exposed Islam to increasing atheist, Christian
and Hindu threats, and demanded that Muslims must first vow abstain from
Shirk.7 As Ahmad’s successors noted in their descriptions of a ‘typical’ mosque:
‘No god except God is permitted to be worshipped in a mosque. ... Hence the
idols and images which some people worship are not allowed to be brought
into the mosque .... There are no statues, pictures, memorial tablets or relics of
saints. The services are free from all artistic and emotional distractions. There
is no music or singing and no lighting of candles, [and] no ... incense.’8
This choice of words was no coincidence, since saintly images, memorial
tablets, relics, incense burning and devotional singing were all fairly standard

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 55

elements of saintly mausoleum mosques in the region. Nevertheless, Ahmad’s
own religious thoughts were also firmly tied to medieval Hindustani ideas.9 In
his teachings, he made much use of Sufi notions of the divine light descending
from God to believers on earth.10 Ahmad proclaimed himself to be the pro-
mized Messiah, or Masih, after Jesus. Jesus did not reside in heaven, waiting to
return at the End of Days, but had been taken from the cross alive, eventually
ending up in Srinagar, Kashmir, where his tomb was located. Ahmad also
claimed to be a reformer of Hinduism. But, most importantly, Ahmad claimed
to be the next Prophet or Mahdi after Mohammed, presenting himself as the
spreader of God’s Light on earth. Since Mohammed was seen as the Seal of the
Prophets by reformists and as the all-transcending saint by the Brelwi Pirs,
Ahmad’s claims evoked strong reactions in all of the contemporary Islamic
communities. However, he managed to assemble a small group of adherents
and the Ahmadiyya movement was established, in March 1889, when his fol-
lowers pledged allegiance to him in the city of Ludhyana. By claiming to be
more than a mere religious leader, with or without divine-ancestral powers,
but the next Prophet and effectively the only Muslim holy man, Ahmad essen-
tially eliminated the very basis for existing leadership in the region. In this
light, the fanatic fervour with which both reformists and contra-reformists
have since fought the community is not that surprising.
Ahmad died in May 1908. Nur al-Din, an erstwhile follower, was appointed
by the elders of the movement as his successor or Caliph al-Masih. Under Nur
al-Din, missionary activities were expanded to other countries, which resulted
in conversions in Southern India, Bengal, Afghanistan and England. When he
died in March 1914, however, the movement’s latent conflicts in leadership as
well as religious doctrine came to the fore. As soon as Ahmad’s son, Mahmud
Ahmad, was elected leader, another faction was created under Muhammad Ali.
The first group called itself the Qadiani, after their headquarters and the birth-
place of their founder, while the second based itself in Lahore and named itself
after their new headquarters. In Muhammad Ali’s Lahori version, Ahmad was
a spiritually gifted reformer, indeed, a Messiah, but not a Prophet in
Mohammed’s unique sense. While in Qadian, his claims to Prophethood were
emphasized, in Lahore his statements suggesting the contrary were regarded as
more important. The Lahore movement was much more decentralized into
regional departments, with the headquarters serving only a worldly, coordinat-
ing role.11 Mohammed was restored to his original significance as the Seal of
the Prophets, and reappearing Maulanas did show a great deal of reverence for
Ahmad but now merely as the latest in a line of God-sent saviours such as Al-
Ghazali, Abdul Qadir Jilani and Moin-ud-Din Chishti.12 Although many of
these Sufi saviours were revered among the Brelwi communities in the
Hindustani region as well, the Lahore-Ahmadi had a difficult time pressing
their case and refuting any associations with the Qadiani blasphemy as per-
ceived by the Brelwi. In fact, the latter do not seem to have made any distinc-
tions between the two schools.

56 The Architectural Representation of Islam

Hindustani Visions of Islam in Surinam
As I have already shown elsewhere, the Ahmadiyya missionaries in The Hague
had used a number of elements in their prayer hall from the Qadiani holy
places in order to represent their Qadiani-Ahmadiyya Islam. However, besides
the Punjab as a direct supplier of Hindustani Muslims to the Netherlands, an
indirect source was Surinam, a Dutch plantation colony in South America,
where slavery had been abolished in 1863. Since many of the former slaves,
mainly from West Africa, did not wish to continue working on the plantations,
colonial authorities had to recruit new labourers. In 1872, a treaty was reached
with Great Britain to hire workers from British India.13 The main recruitment
region was Uttar Pradesh, where housing and food problems were major
motives for migrating along with the desire to escape the caste system, family
problems, and seeking adventure. Muslims formed 17,5 percent of the total
Hindustani immigrants. The early years were marked by hard work and harsh
circumstances, but after the first five-year contracts ended in 1895, the authori-
ties induced workers to stay by creating special educational facilities and the
possibilities to own their own land. The Hindustani remained a closed com-
munity within the socio-cultural hierarchy in colonial Surinam, but managed
to attain a certain status mainly through its agricultural activities. Between
1873 and 1916, a total of 35,000 Hindustani emigrated to Surinam, of whom
11,000 eventually returned to British India. Between 1916-1940, also called the
‘period of establishment,’ the Hindustani community raised its standard of liv-
ing by investing in agriculture, the small crafts industries, and in the transport
and distribution sectors. They ultimately became part of middle-class colonial
society there.14
In 1929, a number of Hindustani-Islamic communities combined forces and
instituted the Surinaamse Islamitische Vereniging or SIV. However, the emigra-
tion of Hindustani Muslims to Surinam did not mean that they left their basic
divisions between Ahmadiyya and Sunni religious organizations behind. In the
literature these first shipments of workers are sometimes categorized as ‘unedu-
cated’ and ‘therefore’ almost ignorant of Islamic norms and values with only
later influences from Pakistani teachers stirring up internal animosity from the
1960s.15 This seems to be something of a simplification since, even in the pro-
cess of ‘establishment’, they were split up into factions based on existing
Hindustani-Islamic distinctions.16 Soon after the institution of the SIV, the
organization became linked to the Lahore-Ahmadiyya movement, which led to
the foundation of three rival, anti-Ahmadiyya groups in the 1930s.17 In 1950,
these groups were united in the fervently anti-Ahmadiyya SMA, Surinaamse
Moslim Associatie, or Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. Not coincidentally, this parti-
cular ‘Sunni’ denomination was also the one chosen by the aforementioned
Brelwi School. In fact, it was Maulana Mohammed Abdul Aleem Siddiqui, a
Brelwi missionary Pir who had convinced them to unite.
Aleem was a member of a well-known Sufi clan from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh,
who had moved to Pakistan after the partition of British India. He traced him-

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 57

self back directly to Abu Bakr, whom he represented as the Prophet’s most
beloved companion and the purest of his successors, having provided the plot
for the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina and his final resting place. In fact, the
Siddiquis claim the right to control this Islamic holy place and have contested
Saudi custodianship. They base themselves firmly on the writings of Ahmad
Reza Khan, who fought those who tried ‘to turn off the light of love for the
Holy Prophet.’18 In the Taibah community’s representation, the story is more
or less told as follows: ‘Muhammad Abdul Aleem Siddiqui was born in Meerut
in 1892. At that moment, Maulana Sajjad Jamaluddin Al Afghani, a direct des-
cendant of the Prophet himself, died. It was as if the successor had arrived.
Aleem’s father was a great Sufi of the Qadriyyah Order, and he became one
too. He introduced himself to the greatest Islamic teacher of that time, Ahmad
Reza Khan in Brelwi (sic), who became his mentor. After having visited Mecca
and Medina in 1919, the presence of the Prophet gave him the inspiration to
start his worldwide mission. He brought spiritual light to the hearts of thou-
sands, and was loved for the divine light that manifested itself in his person.
He fought for the independence of Pakistan and moved to Karachi with his
family in 1949. In 1950, he visited Surinam, where Muslims were being har-
assed by Ahmadi, who were being supported by the colonial government. The
Maulana inspired the Muslims to assemble and create a Sunni association, the
SMA, resulting in the later construction of the first authentic Islamic House of
God, at the Kankantriestraat. In 1954, the Maulana died and was buried near
Aisha in Medina.’19
In the Taibah community’s representation, the story of Noorani Siddiqui,
Aleem’s son-successor, is told more or less as follows: ‘He was born in 1926
in Meerut and received the spiritual leadership of the Qadiriyyah, Naqsh-
bandiyyah and Chistiyyah Sufi Orders from his grandfather and father. He also
received the Caliphate of Ala Hazrat Ahmad Reza Khan from his father. When
the Pakistani Muslim League failed to rise up against the Ahmadi, Noorani cre-
ated his own Sunni political party, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP). He
called his political ideology Nizam-e-Moestafa, as in the example of his beloved
Prophet “Mohammad Moestafa Sallallaahoe alaihi wa Sallam.” He arranged for
the constitution of Pakistan to be set up as an Islamic Republic, and had the
Ahmadi declared non-Muslims. Noorani followed in his father’s missionary
footsteps and visited these areas where Ahmadi were supported by colonial
governments to weaken the power of true Islam. The debates between Noorani
and the Ahmadi brought back the light in many houses of misled people, who
returned to Islam. In 1964, he started visiting Surinam.’20 Here, Noorani was
confronted with the fact that after his father’s death, some of the Brelwi mem-
ber communities of the SMA had begun leaving the organization again.21
Noorani then turned his attention to countering Ahmadiyya missionary
activities around the world by co-founding the World Islamic Mission or WIM
in 1972/3, during a Hajj to Mecca.22 After he had induced the Pakistani gov-
ernment to declare the Ahmadiyya heretics by a parliamentary resolution in
1974,23 animosity among Hindustani Muslims in Surinam rose even higher.

58 The Architectural Representation of Islam

When Surinam was about to gain its independence from the Netherlands, the
SMA briefly tried to have the new constitution declare that the Ahmadi were
non-Muslims. Just as his father had managed to unite the competing Brelwi
communities in Surinam by organizing the struggle against a common enemy,
Noorani attempted to get them back together again in much the same way,
emphasizing the religious differences between the Brelwi and Lahori visions
even more. Although both groups strongly focused their Islam on Sufi
saviours, with the Lahori effectively presenting their promized Messiah Ahmad
as merely the latest and greatest in a series of reforming mediators between
Muslims and God, the prominent role they bestowed on their Messiah was still
firmly rejected by Noorani. Consequently, Mohammed himself, as Light of
God and Seal of Prophets, gradually became more important in the production
of a recognizably Brelwi construction of Islam in the face of the Ahmadiyya
contestants. Whereas the SMA mosque that was built after Aleem’s death still
used the onion-shaped domes and ringed turrets that most mosques and
Muslim graveyards in Surinam incorporated, whether Lahori or Brelwi, its suc-
cessor explicitly used building elements as identified in the Prophet’s holy
places by a new community leader under Noorani’s guidance. In fact, as we
will see later, it is that very leader who would eventually have a profound influ-
ence on the new Taibah Mosque’s design in much the same way.


From Surinam to the Netherlands
In the period 1973-1975, just before independence, many of Surinam’s Hindu-
stani Muslims had moved to the Netherlands, mainly out of fear of Creole-
Christian domination. At that time, most members of the Qadiani-Ahmadiyya
communities naturally joined the Mobarak Mosque, while the Lahore-
Ahmadiyya communities used pre-existing buildings as prayer halls.24 The
Brelwi communities ended up being scattered in municipalities such as Zwolle,
Eindhoven, Lelystad, Utrecht, The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. In an
attempt to re-establish a more centralized organization, Noorani created the
WIM-NL in 1975 in Amsterdam, where some of the major SMA leaders had
moved.25 Noorani prominently used the ‘Nur of Mohammed’ representation in
order to enhance the unity of Brelwi communities under his enlightened lea-
dership in the face of the Ahmadiyya and Wahhabi rivals. After his father’s
death, the deceased was portrayed under a crescent moon and starry sky with
the Prophet’s mausoleum radiating light towards him. Subsequently, the
Prophet’s tomb, consisting of the green dome and its adjacent minaret, and
often pictured as radiating light, was conspicuously pervasive in almost every
publication that the WIM-NL printed, as was the radiating image of the
Koran. The green WIM flag, consistently called ‘the Islamic flag,’ by followers –
and therefore the unsuspecting Dutch press – consisted of the Prophet’s dome
and minaret next to a crescent moon and star, also referring to the flag of

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 59

Pakistan. Medina was frequently described as the City of Light and the
Prophet’s tomb as lighting up the world (figure 1).
The ideas behind these images express Sufi notions that involve a cosmic
relationship between heaven and earth, with heavenly domes, the revolving
moon and stars, the cosmic pillar, rays of light, Mohammed as a column of
light, and cities of light as the main components.26 In fact, the SMA’s head
imam, when he fulminated against the Wahhabi and Ahmadiyya blasphemy,
continuously compared the Prophet with the moon and the sun in a variety of
ways, and his successor-saints with the heavenly stars.27 In effect, the WIM lea-
der, as the latest in a series of Brelwi-venerated Sufi saints, was presented as the
replacement of Mohammed on earth and the channel through which the lat-
ter’s light was radiated. This very specific construction of Islam resulted in the
wish for a very specific architectural representation, although successive com-
missioners would never express it as such towards their architects.

Foundation of the SWM and WIM-NL

In 1975, the mosque organization, the Stichting Welzijn voor Moslims in
Nederland, or SWM was founded in Amsterdam, but as the name of this foun-
dation was also translated as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat in the beginning, the
link with the SMA and the Brelwi School was clear to all of those concerned.28

Fig. 1 Pictorial and verbal representations of the Holy Light (The Message International, vols.

60 The Architectural Representation of Islam

Moreover, there were strong connections between the foundation and
Noorani’s World Islamic Mission. Noorani was involved in the very foundation
of the Stichting Welzijn voor Moslims in Nederland,29 which began organizing
WIM conferences in 1977. Consequently, the SWM embraced the Brelwi, anti-
Ahmadiyya and anti-Wahhabi construction of Islam of the WIM as well. In its
statutes, the SWM declared that it based itself on the same principles as the
WIM, and aimed to reach its goals in close cooperation with them. It would
‘honour and implement the values of Ahle Soennat wa Jamaat, like the celebra-
tion of Ied Milaad-un Nabie [the Prophet’s birthday], Daroed-o-Salaam (in an
upright position honouring the Holy Prophet), the commemoration of Holy
Men in Islam (Urs), Miraadj celebration [the Prophet’s heavenly ascension]….’
‘The foundation is an Ahle Soennat Wa Jamaat organization and its board
members have to be Sunni Muslims whose actions, words and convictions are
in line with the Sunnat and the teachings of Islam, and they must also believe
that the Prophet Muhammad is the Last Prophet of Allah, and regard all pre-
tenders of prophethood as non-Muslims, and who do not offend the Prophet.’
All board members were to be appointed by the Spiritual Leader, his Eminence
Hazrat Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani Siddiqui.30
The Foundation began its activities in the Stichting Interim Beheer (SIB)
building, the organization for ‘coloured’ users of the multi-purpose neighbour-
hood centre ‘Ganzenhoef ’ in the Bijlmer. But, apparently because of ethnic and
cultural problems, the SIB began to lose its representative position, finally fold-
ing in 1981. In 1979, the Foundation moved to the ‘Hindoestaans Cultureel
Centrum’ on the Bijlmerplein. The space made available for the Muslim com-
munity included a small prayer hall, a storage room for administrative func-
tions, and a kitchen that was also used as an ablution space. Only some 300
members of the 2000 families could make use of the building at any one time,
and there were no separate prayer or washing facilities for women. The facil-
ities for the administrative department of the organization were much too
small, and problems soon arose with other users of the building involving the
celebration of Ramadan.31 So, the Foundation began actively looking to estab-
lish its own prayer hall in 1979. It was then that community leader M.I.R.
(Roel) Lachman, Secretary General of the SWM, under the spiritual guidance
of Noorani, negotiated with local authorities and possible financers to con-
struct a purpose–built mosque. A problem was that, compared to Muslims
from communities of foreign labourers like Turks and Moroccans, Surinamese
groups, being Dutch citizens, were not entitled to subsidies other than for
socio-cultural activities. However, Lachman decided to postpone the problem
of finances to go ahead with his plans and to start searching for an architect.

Starting the Design Process

Lachman, in the community’s Ganzenhoef days, had been introduced to the
Dutch architect Paul Haffmans, who had been involved in designing the multi-
functional centre.32 The architect had shown an interest in multi-cultural

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 61

design and had experience in designing housing in Iran and Nigeria, and had
gained much experience with local construction authorities during his designs
for the Ganzenhoef. Negotiations started in 1981, and in the architect’s mem-
ory, the commissioner’s initial request in terms of forms was merely that his
mosque would have to be ‘like the Kaaba Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s
mosque in Medina,’ of which he showed him two images that he had brought
with him from Surinam. According to Haffmans, it was the Medina Mosque in
particular that was revered by the commissioner since the Prophet was buried
there. The community leader, according to Haffmans, believed that the two
images were themselves holy. Haffmans had the impression at the time that the
community leader did not have much knowledge of Islamic architecture and
that there were no real mosques in Surinam at all, ‘except for a wooden build-
ing.’ All in all, in the commissioner’s initial discussion of mosque architecture
with the architect, the mosques in Medina and Mecca were the only ones
emphasized, while Mohammed’s own mosque was considered the most impor-
tant to the community leader because it housed the Prophet’s tomb.
In response to this rather vaguely formulated request, Haffmans understand-
ably began coming up with his own ideas of Islamic architecture in relation to
his commission, just like the architect Wiebenga had done in the case of the
Mobarak Mosque. Versed in the ideas of architectural functionalism, Haffmans
considered himself as part of the Rietveld and Le Corbusier school, because he
preferred buildings that had a clear structure, and were open and connected to
the outside. This was contrary to earlier design schools, which Haffmans
thought made use of ‘walls encompassing an inside,’ and he wanted to create
an architecture without walls or limitations. And, like Wiebenga, Haffmans
wanted to apply his particular ideas on architectural modernity to the subject
of mosque design. For that, he resorted to a book in which the author, a
Turkish architect, aimed to establish an interior spatial analysis of what she
defined as the three major spatial types of mosques: the pillared, the four-
Iwaned, and the domed. In this, she chose to leave out such formerly much-
studied ‘non-spatial’ elements like particular forms and decorations, and
decided to focus on the spatial functions of structural elements such as col-
umns, portals and domes.33 Basically, she categorized the world’s inconsistent
varieties of mosque architecture from a clearly functionalist viewpoint, posi-
tioning herself against the approach of using only ‘decoration’ as an Islamic
essence, since the importance of elements such as columns in opening up
spaces was, not coincidentally, greatly stressed by architects of the functionalist
school. In fact, in contemporary functionalist thought, outward appearances
were sometimes not only seen as irrelevant, but thought of as something that
could be done away with altogether. In consequence, this book gave Haffmans
the theoretical opportunity to relate his own design ideas to his mosque com-
mission: he did what Wiebenga had done before him, although he deliberately
used a different literature and did not regard Islamic architecture merely as a
decorative layer to superimpose over a ‘modern Dutch’ style. Instead,
Haffmans started looking for certain functional elements of mosques that con-

62 The Architectural Representation of Islam

stituted an Islamic essence and could thus be put into a contemporary Dutch
Since his commissioner had repeatedly mentioned the mosques of Mecca
and Medina, Haffmans focused on how his literature treated the pillared type
that the Turkish author imagined to be characteristic of all ‘early mosques in
Arabia.’ By referring to Arab Bedouin housing, trading and travelling practices,
she explained the ‘development’ of the Arab mosque from a conspicuously
functionalist perspective. From this, Haffmans extracted what he presented as
the basic characteristics of Islamic architecture in the early years of Islam, to be
translated into his Taibah design.34 So, in his first section sketch, we see that
Haffmans translated the functional-typological findings from his literature
creatively into a design that included a forecourt, covered as protection against
the Dutch climate, with a domed fountain in the centre. The prayer hall con-
sisted of barrel-vaulted naves, supported by columns, running parallel to the
Kiblah (figure 2).
In effect, the Umayyad or Arabian mosque-type, as it was referred to in his
literature, was taken as an ideal by Haffmans in representing his ideas on archi-
tecture in general and on mosque design in particular, in answer to his com-
missioner’s request for a mosque that was ‘similar to the Prophet’s holy
mosques’ in Arabia.

Introducing the Sufi Quincunx as the Axis Mundi of Brelwi Islam

This was, however, apparently not what Lachman had meant when he referred
to Mecca and Medina. In fact, the architect subsequently made a series of
sketches in reaction to comments that may arguably be characterized as contin-
uous attempts by Lachman to incorporate completely different building ele-
ments. First, he wanted four corner minarets and a central dome. Interestingly,
the architect remembers that the community leader explained his desire by
referring specifically to the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, because to him this
was also supposed to have four minarets around Mohammed’s centrally located
tomb. Although the mental foundation by commissioners of a purpose-built
prayer hall on what they see as the Primeval Mosque is common usage, in this
case the relevant tradition was not a usual, but vaguely referred-to, principle of
‘an arcaded courtyard’ or ‘a pillared prayer hall,’ but instead was the actual
construction which stands on the very spot of what is often thought of as
Mohammed’s former house and mosque. In fact, the site has always been vis-
ited and worshipped by pilgrims, not so much because of some ‘original mos-
que’ idea, but mainly because of the actual presence of Mohammed’s tomb,
although the Saudis have been doing everything they can to oppose this – in
their eyes, blasphemous – cult of the grave. The building on this particular
spot had been founded by the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid, and additions to it
had later been made by Abbasid, Mamluk and Ottoman rulers. As a conse-
quence, the structure, as it was largely visible prior to the major Saudi exten-
sions, consisted primarily of a Mamluk-built mausoleum with a dome and one

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 63

Fig. 2 Pillared Mosque Type (Vogt-Göknil 1978, p. 31); sketch for the First Taibah Mosque,
Haffmans, undated (Archive Haffmans).

accompanying minaret on the spot of the Prophet’s grave, and with three dif-
ferently shaped minarets on the corners of a rectangular complex around an
open court, that had been built and rebuilt in succeeding periods.
Nowadays, of course, the oldest dome does not constitute the centre of the
court, since the Saudis started renovating the structure in the 1950s, adding a
huge complex with multiple minarets in the 1980s. However, although the
WIM-NL seemed to prefer the pre-Saudi part of the structure as much as pos-
sible in its images, Lachman’s quincunx around the Prophet’s grave was never
clearly visible in the original building either. Like the WIM-NL imagery that
refers to the Light of Mohammed, it can be connected to Sufi cosmological
ideas, with a central point surrounded by four arches or pillars representing
the celestial garden on earth.35 In effect, the community leader’s quincunx
formed a representation of an ideal Sufi shrine scheme, and it was as clear an
example of a shorter-cycle Axis Mundi tradition as there had ever been. We
have already noted that the Hindustani region had come into contact with
Islam mainly through Sufi teachers, and their shrines had become the focal
points of powerful, estate-owning Pirs. These mausoleums, often consisting of
a hemispherical dome on a square substructure with arches on all four sides
and with non-ascendable turrets that marked its four corners, were effectively
used as houses of prayer. They invariably had an orientation in the direction of
Mecca, and large mausoleums almost always featured a Kiblah niche in the
appropriate wall.36 They had taken their basic structure and signification from
their religious predecessors, the Hindu Quincunxial Shrines or pañcayatana.37

64 The Architectural Representation of Islam

In fact, for many Hindustani Muslims, worshipping at a holy shrine, seeking
the mediation of the Pir that lay buried there and partly continuing existing
Hindu religious rituals, was the main means of coming into contact with God
before reformist movements began their attempts to further Islamize the prac-
tices.38 When Brelwi Islam reinstituted the reverence for saints and their saintly
shrines in the 19th century, it meant that saintly tombs came to dominate the
Hindustani countryside even more.39 Whenever, in the course of this research,
Brelwi commissioners from Surinam were asked to describe their architectural
reference points of ‘mosques in India and Pakistan,’ they mainly seemed to
admire Hindustani mausoleums like the Taj Mahal. The latter, with its cosmic
garden scheme and pools, is a perfect and quite literal example of the Sufi con-
cept of the tomb as a celestial garden on earth.40 As we will see later, its pools
were even used, together with the Prophet’s holy places, as a direct reference
for the construction of Noorani’s SMA mosque in Paramaribo. In fact, there is
no trace of the triple-domed and courtyarded Mogul mosque type – so confi-
dently associated by Dutch typologists with the Hindustani-Islamic culture
group – having been used in Surinam at all.41
Similarly, once in the Netherlands, Brelwi publications and images rarely
ever referred to Mogul mosques, whereas they frequently referred to the radiat-
ing shrines of Sufi saints and Mohammed. Reza Khan, the initiator of the
Brelwi school of Islam and reviver of Mohammed’s sanctity, was specifically
mentioned. At the yearly celebration of his Urs, he was represented as a radiat-
ing light and a sweet-smelling rose from the garden of the Prophet, with his
domed mausoleum in Bareilly prominently printed as an illustration of his
wondrous life story.42 Near the saintly tomb in Bareilly, significantly enough, a

Fig. 3 Pictorial Representations of Sufi mausoleum mosques (Archive Taibah Mosque;

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 65

mosque had been built that conspicuously used the pre-Saudi dome and min-
aret of the Prophet’s grave (figure 3).
Noorani actually presented the Prophet as the spiritual ancestor of a line of
almost 40 generations of holy men, culminating in the Siddiquis.43 For his new
mosque in Amsterdam, Noorani explicitly chose the name ‘Taibah,’44 not sim-
ply in its linguistic form of ‘pure’ – Lachman seems to have informed his
architect as much45 – but in order to represent the immaculate location in
Medina where Mohammed was buried.46 As we will note later on, after
Noorani had died in the course of the construction of the second Taibah
Mosque, its commissioner not only associated it with the Prophet’s tomb but
also with the shrine of Reza Khan. Moreover, the Brelwi commissioners of the
WIM-associated Noeroel Islam Mosque in The Hague even requested their
architect Oppier to insert a stone from their spiritual leader’s grave into their
own Mihrab.47 All in all, although it seems correct to point out that Brelwi
centres in the Netherlands liturgically have more in common with an ordinary
mosque than with a Sufi centre or convent, the subsequent conclusion that ‘the
tombs of their founders and deceased leaders cannot play a role as a centre of
the organization, as they are too far away (in India or Pakistan),’48 is too con-
stricted in an architecture-representational sense. It seems that sanctity and the
spiritual presence of a holy man, with Mohammed as the ultimate, sanctifying
ancestor, formed a very important value for Dutch Brelwi community leaders.
Consequently, the production of their religious constructions architecturally
culminated, not in a generalized ‘Indian building style,’ but in a Sufi shrine
quincunx as the ultimate representation of Islam as it was meant to be.
However, this particularly Brelwi representation, as it was projected onto the
Medina empirical field by Lachman, was not an outspoken one. At that time in
Amsterdam, the Prophet’s Mosque, and nothing Hindustani, was explicitly
mentioned by the commissioner as the most important building and example
for his future prayer hall. In Haffman’s memory, Lachman merely represented
the Medina dome as Mohammed, while the four corner minarets were said to
symbolize the companions of the Prophet; here as well, we see as clear an
example of a Long-Cycle Anthropomorphic Tradition as there ever has been.
Moreover, it seemed as if his representation was nominally meant to transcend
all ‘cultural’ building styles. In fact, this was in line with Noorani’s outspoken
aim of a universal Islam, with Muslims identifying themselves as Muslims and
not as citizens of some arbitrary nation or culture.49 Noorani’s WIM actually
saw itself as the real commissioner and the Taibah as the first in a long line of
WIM mosques.50 However, despite this nominal universalism, the WIM still
stood for a very particular Islamic construction. The transformation of specific
building elements from the ultimate Saint’s tomb, combined with the transfor-
mation of specific building elements from venerated shrines associated with
Sufi sanctity, was a way of representing Brelwi Islam, spreading the Nur of
Mohammed throughout the world in opposition to Wahhabi and Ahmadiyya
reformist tendencies.51 In that sense, it is important to recall that the earlier
Qadiani commissioner in The Hague had chosen to represent Ahmad’s dome-

66 The Architectural Representation of Islam

less prayer hall in Qadian, in effect avoiding any associations with the saintly
cults and holy men’s powers that the Qadiani-Ahmadi wanted to have replaced
by their own Prophet. The choice for the quincunx in Amsterdam and espe-
cially the later – as we will see – enhancement of that representation, through
even more direct and detailed references to the Tomb in Medina can only be
fully understood with the contested varieties of Hindustani Islam and architec-
ture in mind.
All this was not something that the commissioner ever clearly communicated
to the architect, with both parties basically working from – and attempting to
represent – different realities. In reaction to Lachman’s outward generalization,
Haffmans started seeking a way to represent the first mosques of Islam as they
had been built by Mohammed and his successors in Arabia insofar as they con-
formed to his own ideas of modern Dutch design principles. In accommodat-
ing his commissioner’s wish to represent the Prophet’s Mosque, Haffmans took
a functionalist view of constructional and liturgical reasons behind pillared
shades and broad rows of believers as a starting point, while it was the cosmic,
Sufi shrine scheme that mattered most to the community leader himself as the
representation of his very own Axis Mundi. In Haffman’s memory, when con-
fronted with the pillars in his future prayer room, the imam found they would
be ‘in the way of visibility’ and subsequently suggested getting rid of them by
rethinking roofing structure and form, to which the architect answered that, in
his view, ‘any roofing needs the support of columns.’ It seems that what was
presented by architect and the commissioner as a purely functional element to
be included or rejected for purely functional reasons was actually a representa-
tional element that was to be included or rejected for representational reasons.

Continuing the Design Process

In Lachman’s particular construction of Islam, the notion of light as the all-
pervading ‘Nur of Mohammed’ also played an important role and the commu-
nity leader specifically wanted it incorporated into his mosque.52 Haffmans
subsequently translated the notion into the functionalist idea of openness as a
basic characteristic of architecture in general and mosque architecture in parti-
cular. In addition to the four corner minarets and central dome, he placed
transparent domes on the roof over the columns, he devised transparent,
spared-out corners at each of the four minarets, and he drew transparent
domes over the minarets. Lachman later requested that rings be added around
his minaret shafts and he insisted upon an onion-shaped central dome; ele-
ments that were almost invariably visible in Hindustani Sufi shrines. The com-
missioner had his Brelwi contacts come up with a drawing of an onion-shaped,
vertically segmented dome ‘as Coventry’ in the UK, where this dome had
apparently been devised. The dome also had to be green; a feature which
Lachman presented as generally Islamic, but which to the commissioner him-
self particularly represented the green dome of the Prophet’s Tomb in
Medina.53 Admirably, whenever Lachman asked for building elements that

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 67

were considered indispensable components of his particular representation,
Haffmans consistently reacted successfully by adjusting, including and inter-
preting these building elements according to his own notions of functional
design while keeping them recognizable for his commissioner.
When the municipality offered the SWM an open plot of land directly adja-
cent to the Kraaiennest metro station, both Lachman and the architect agreed.
Haffmans would continue to adjust his design based on the chosen location.54
In light of the limited amount of floor space (850 m2) municipally approved,55
Haffmans had to relocate the non-prayer-related functions from a forecourt to
a first floor, with the prayer hall on a second, since the commissioner was ada-
mant about praying under a dome. As in other aspects, the difference with the
Mobarak Mosque is striking, as the latter’s commissioner had his prayer hall
built on the first floor and did not need to pray under a central dome at all.
The dome, provoking associations with saintly shrines and a powerful repre-
sentation of Sufi sanctity, apparently formed an indispensable element in the
architectural representation of Islam as embraced by the Brelwi commissioner.
On 11 January 1985, after Friday prayers in the building led by Noorani, the
official opening of the mosque was announced to the Dutch press. It was said
that the mosque was to be used by all of Amsterdam’s Muslims and that the
existing prayer halls in the older buildings would be of less importance.
Lachman called it a ‘victory of the Muslim community in the Netherlands.’ An
imam who had arrived from Pakistan that week stated that everybody who
believed in God would be welcome. The reporter noted that about 300
Javanese, Surinamese, Turkish, Moroccan and African worshippers attended the
service that day. He also stated that this piece of Amsterdam had gained ‘an
Arabian atmosphere.’ Moreover, he presented Noorani as an ‘Arabian Muslim
leader.’56 In a later interview, Noorani was also described as ‘the leader of the
Arab-speaking Muslims in the world.’57 Importantly, the overall impression the
community leaders had apparently chosen to present to the press was one of
general, Sunni Muslimness, and not one of a particularly Brelwi belief system.
At the opening on 18 January, Noorani also inaugurated the mosque with a
prayer and a speech.58 The press reported on the occasion by calling Noorani
‘the spiritual leader of all Sunni Muslims in the world.’ Noorani expressed that
he was content with the opening of the mosque ‘in this part of the world,’ and
also wished that every Dutch town would get its own mosque – which, of course,
immediately made headline news in several newspapers. According to Lachman,
Muslims from all over the world had been approached for funding, although
donations by governments, like Libya’s, had been rejected, ‘because one did not
want to become involved in politics.’ The Saudi Prince Abdul Aziz, however, and
Yusuf Islam, a.k.a. Cat Stevens, one of the guests of honour and speakers, had
given ‘an inappropriately large amount.’ Bishop Bomers had also been invited to
speak, and he said that ‘thanks to the Christians, the Muslims can practise their
faith here’. However, he regretted the fact that ‘there is such a small Christian
community in Saudi Arabia.’ The next day, the 4th World Islamic Mission
Conference in the Netherlands was held in this new mosque (figure 4).

68 The Architectural Representation of Islam

Fig. 4 Amsterdam, the First Taibah Mosque, Haffmans, 1985 (Archive Haffmans).

The First Architectural Critiques of Mosque Design in the Netherlands

After the opening, an interesting new development occurred. The Mobarak
Mosque had been aesthetically evaluated by municipal officials and journalists;
while in the Taibah’s case, the architectural critiques were written by profes-
sional architects themselves. Here, we can discern the first public attempts of
architecturally essentializing the ‘modern Dutch’ and the ‘traditionally Islamic,’
simultaneously introducing the need to dichotomize them and bring the two
together again. Maarten Kloos, who established ARCAM (the Amsterdam
Centre for Architecture) the following year, noted that in the Taibah Mosque
the ablutions were done inside, while ‘in the Middle East’ one washed oneself
‘out in the open.’ He considered this one of the thought-provoking differences
between mosques ‘there’ and ‘here’. ‘Islam has elsewhere, under completely dif-
ferent circumstances than the Dutch, already been materialized in many build-
ings. Does a mosque in Amsterdam have to refer to those mosques, or is there
room for thought about what a mosque could mean in a Dutch environment?
… A number of issues are intriguing here. If the mosque is the place for a
Muslim to find his place in Dutch society without becoming estranged from
his own culture, then the position of women becomes unavoidable. It is hoped
that a women’s mosque will soon be built next to the Taibah Mosque, but, in
the meantime – and this is particularly startling to a non-Muslim – women
can only slip in through a side door, via the storage room to the unused
library, which they have made their temporary prayer room. Islamic conviction
states that man is ‘the supervisor’ of woman, but the question remains how
long women are going to accept that here. The architect, in an explanation, sta-

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 69

ted that he only wanted to give a special form to foreign aspects, but he did
not fully live up to that promise. The structure of the side and back façades
using a number of planes is an unnecessary decorative element, and the convex
balustrades of the balcony and the fire escape demand too much attention
while the arched windows seem a little childish. That is a pity, because these
details together take much away from what seems very essential: the simplicity
of the building. Islam is based on religious concentration, purification and
meditation. The mosque is a sheltered place where the direction towards
Mecca can be found and where peace and harmony rule. An inconspicuous
white volume without any fringe would essentially form the best answer to the
Stephen Goth and C. Cantrijn pointed out that ‘Building a mosque is build-
ing inside an already centuries-old tradition in a culture that is different from
the Dutch. A great problem here is finding a balance between the recognizable,
typical mosque and the Dutch building tradition. Architects daring to take on
this design task will run into the strict tradition of Islam and its specific build-
ing typology. Paul Haffmans, who designed the mosque in the Bijlmer, has
solved this problem well. … The first impression of the mosque is a clichéd
image of a mosque, a basically cubic mass with a minaret at each corner and a
dome in its centre. It is, in abstraction, that which one imagines to be a mos-
que. The dark turquoise dome and the four minarets give it more of an
Efteling-like impression than one of thought and culture. … The minarets have
been used correctly to accentuate the corners of the main building. Two exter-
nal balconies have been nicely detailed. Further detailing and the use of materi-
als have been successfully applied … The Mohammedan will wash his feet,
hands and head ritualistically before prayer. The space designed to that end
recalls a toilet area more than of a place where a ritualistic event will take place.
… Haffmans did an excellent job inside the prayer hall of integrating his sensi-
bility as a Western architect with the Eastern examples from which he drew his
inspiration … The Mihrab has been very simply tiled. The upper part of the
niche is covered in two concrete slabs in a stylized Eastern motif. With a solu-
tion like the one for the Mihrab, we are confronted anew with the tension
between the Islamic tradition and contemporary Western architecture. Looking
at the Taibah Mosque in its entirety, one can conclude that architect Paul
Haffmans has succeeded in finding a good balance between the various
demands of the commission. The exterior is perhaps a little too extravagant.
The inside is a building with its very own character, the result of a combina-
tion of tradition, contemporary construction techniques and architectural
These critiques brought the concepts of ‘typology,’ ‘contemporaneity’ and
‘design task,’ – common usage in the world of architectural education and
applied in design and evaluation – into the world of Islamic architecture in the
Netherlands. This meant that there was no room for the design process as an
ongoing series of intensive negotiations between an architect and his influential
commissioner. The level of brilliance of the artist and his creative search for a

70 The Architectural Representation of Islam

solution to a program of practical requirements within a specific urban context
was the main aspect in interpretation. Interestingly, ‘modern Dutchness’ was
introduced onto the Islamic scene as if it was some unambiguous concept
rather than a body of divergent design preferences, while any outwardly Islamic
aspects were confirmed as un-Dutch and un-contemporary. The categorization,
constructed a century before within technical faculties, of Islamic architecture
as a system of overly decorative style-characteristics placed over non-Islamic
structures, was now combined with the contemporary belief that outer appear-
ances could be merely derived from practicalities with no deeper meaning than
function. This combination led to the regret that a mosque in the developed
world, where things had presumably been reduced to their bare essence, should
have to look like anything more than a white box. At the same time, the
‘Efteling type’ was established as an undesired category of modern Islamic
design. Effectively, these first evaluations linked any ‘Oriental’ recognizability to
the irrationality of the ‘childish’ mind, establishing extant Islamic architecture
as a type different from – and not suited for – the real, grown-up, educated
and modern world. Basically, it was not the architect who used an ‘Efteling’
perspective but his critical opponents who were busy promoting modern
Dutchness, confidently but uninformedly projecting their own Orientalist view
of Islamic architecture onto the object of interpretation and evaluation.61


The Need for a New Representation
As one might have expected, the building was soon considered too small, espe-
cially for religious festivities. According to Lachman, the community had been
growing rapidly and, during Ramadan in 1987, they had ‘some 1000’ believers
attending the mosque every day. Expansion plans were deliberated over with
Haffmans, who even made a preliminary sketch.62 However, since some com-
munity members believed that a mosque could only be built on purchased
land (some find the basis for this belief in the Koran and hadith), the rent for
the land had been paid off for 100 years as soon as the municipality made it
possible and the mosque could raise enough money by collection and a mort-
gage.63 As a consequence, the motivation for donations for the extension began
to wane.
That is, until the arrival of Mohammed Junus Gaffar, who had been chair-
man of the SMA in Surinam from 1980 to 1990. He had come to the
Netherlands at the age of 18 to follow a technical education, after which he
returned to Paramaribo and accepted a chemical engineering job at the Suralco
mining company. During one of Noorani’s lectures in Paramaribo he had been
inspired by the WIM religious philosophy, whereupon he subsequently became
active in the mission, and was eventually elected and several times re-elected as
chairman of the SMA. As leader of the Sunni community and as an engineer
with an interest in construction, he had been the driving force behind several

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 71

SMA mosques in Surinam, raising awareness, motivation and funds for their
construction. In fact, Noorani had commissioned Gaffar to rebuild the old
SMA mosque built in 1957, in an apparent attempt to re-unite the dispersed
SMA communities. After its construction in 1985, he visited Mecca and
Medina, after which he resigned from his job at Suralco and decided to give his
full attention to Noorani’s mission. In 1990, he moved to the Netherlands to
join his family, who had moved there five years earlier, and became active in
the SWM and WIM-NL. In the Netherlands, Brelwi communities in The
Hague, Rotterdam, Zwolle, Utrecht, Lelystad and Eindhoven had distanced
themselves from the old SMA organization even more than they had in
Surinam. Gaffar, under the guidance of his Pir, continued the quest of re-
assembling the communities under Noorani’s leadership, by emphasizing that
the Wahhabi and Ahmadi were the enemy. Not all of the community leaders
seemed willing to immediately give up their newfound independence, so
Gaffar, had to use all of the means available to him, from friendly persuasion
and financial support to legal procedures.64
In Eindhoven, the Brelwi Anwar-e-Medina had encountered financial pro-
blems during construction, leaving the building unfinished. In response, the
municipality threatened to appropriate the land and demolish what had been
built thus far. The Eindhoven community eventually turned to Gaffar for help.
He managed to persuade them to become a wing of the SWM under Noorani’s
WIM-NL. He then managed to raise enough funds to recommence with con-
struction, and the mosque was finally completed in 1997. Since the drawings
had already been completed and approved before he came on the scene, Gaffar
was only able to control the look of the interior. He then began concentrating
his attention on renovating the Taibah Mosque in the Bijlmer, which effectively
was meant to architecturally stimulate the unity of all Dutch Brelwi commu-
nities under Noorani’s guidance. Because experiences with Frank Domburg
and Peter Scipio, the designers of the Anwar-e-Medina, from the Eindhoven-
based architectural firm Ruimte 68,65 had been so good, he decided to
approach them for the Amsterdam commission as well.
In the ensuing talks with Taibah community leaders, several ideas were dis-
cussed. Those who had been involved in the development of Haffmans’ mos-
que wanted to keep the old building and hire Haffmans to add an extension.66
In their opinion, Islam forbade the demolition of mosques. Gaffar, however,
argued against the process of ‘gluing,’ as he saw it, opting instead for the com-
plete demolition of the old mosque and the construction of a new one.
Although this was presented as a necessary process of practical improvement
mainly in terms of an increase in capacity, he actually thought that the old
building was ‘an ugly white box with fake minarets and too many columns
impeding the view’. As far as he was concerned, the community needed a com-
pletely different architectural representation, and he did not think Haffmans
was suited for what he had in mind. As a compromise, some parts of the old
mosque would be kept, specifically the characteristic stairway, the prayer hall
floor and some of its columns. Gaffar, intent on improving on his experiences

72 The Architectural Representation of Islam

in Paramaribo and Eindhoven, would have preferred that the mosque gain a
compound with separate functional spaces instead of the placement of these
on a first floor underneath the prayer hall. This would allow the domed prayer
space, possibly spread over two floors, to create the impression of greater
height and ‘exaltedness’ (‘verhevenheid’). In fact, the domed hall rising from
ground level had been something that his predecessor preferred as well,
although he had been restricted by limitations regarding space. Haffmans’ two-
floor concept was saved for that same reason and to appease the older commu-
nity members. The dome and minarets would, however, have to be relocated
and re-designed.

Starting the Design Process

Gaffar showed the architects a picture of his 1985 SMA mosque in Paramaribo,
which had also used the two-layered quincunx scheme. Gaffar had used
arcaded galleries in the façades that referred to the Taj Mahal, although he did
not inform his designers of this. He had even enhanced the Taj Mahal repre-
sentation by designing a basin underneath the stairway to the second floor,
explicitly referring to its meaning as a celestial garden on earth, and by incor-
porating its monumental entrance portal as well (figure 5).
As we have already noted, one of the major recognizable features for expres-
sing a Brelwi vision of Islam had been the idealized Sufi shrine scheme, signify-
ing the mosque as an earthly paradise. In fact, Gaffar never tired of referring to
paradisical traditions in the Koran and hadith, suggesting that only a commu-
nity of true Muslims would be allowed into paradise; that the builder of a mos-
que would automatically have a place in paradise; and that, on Judgment Day,
only mosques would rise to heaven. However, since the Taj Mahal and other
Hindustani tombs, were inspiring reference points for the Lahori communities

Fig. 5 Paramaribo, SMA Mosque, Gaffar, 1985 (Archive Ruimte 68).

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 73

as well, in this case, Gaffar had placed the main mutual contrasting aspect in
the transformation of completely different building elements than were usual
in Paramaribo. His minarets were based on the minarets of the Kaaba Mosque
in Mecca, although the contractor had abstracted these more than Gaffar
wanted. Moreover, while other Paramaribo mosques had chosen the conspicu-
ous Taj Mahal-like onion-form, the dome had been based on the Prophet’s
mausoleum in Medina – its materials were even planned to turn green. Here,
we see that Gaffar began to represent an even more specifically Brelwi con-
struction of Islam, composed of the transformation of chosen forms from the
Prophet’s mosques, transcending the shrine-quincunx and onion domes. In the
Netherlands, in his ongoing attempt to unite the various Brelwi communities
under Noorani’s leadership, this ongoing representational process was even
more visible in mosque design.
On 15 April 1997, Scipio and Domburg made a drawing that was partly based
on Gaffar’s Paramaribo picture and partly on their own study of what they saw
as the culmination of Hindustani-Islamic architecture, the Taj Mahal, although
Gaffar had not himself specifically mentioned that building (figure 6).67
Apparently, the structure forms an image of Hindustani Islamicness to various
groups, although each one represents it using different motivations and interpre-
tations, with varied results in the design choices. Unlike Wiebenga and
Haffmans, the architects chose not to work in a pre-determined school, prefer-
ring to simply react creatively to individual commissioners and local contexts.

Fig. 6 Sketch for the Second Taibah Mosque, Scipio & Domburg, 15 April 1997 (Archive
Ruimte 68).

74 The Architectural Representation of Islam

However, during their Eindhoven commission, they started out with a basically
Ottoman dome as derived from the local Turkish Fatih mosque in a conscious
attempt to create a proper ‘Eindhoven mosque type.’ The designers had subse-
quently been requested by their commissioner to change it into an onion-dome
instead. As a matter of course, they assumed that the current community was
‘culturally linked’ to Eindhoven, and would thus also prefer a ‘Hindustani’
dome, as they also – correctly – identified elements of the Taj Mahal in the
Paramaribo façade scheme and plan. In their first sketch, they based the minarets
on the SMA mosque while façade schemes were partly based on Paramaribo and
partly on the Taj Mahal, and the multiple domes on the Taj Mahal’s. Their first
design included two minarets, as the architects argued that a symmetrical four-
fold scheme would have been impossible due to the cut-off west corner. This cor-
ner could not be demolished as it had been agreed that this side of the old design
would be kept to appease those members of the community who had not wanted
to say goodbye to Haffmans’ design.
However, it appeared that Gaffar did not only have the Paramaribo mosque
or the Taj Mahal in mind, and his preferences for building elements from the
Prophet’s Mosque in Medina came increasingly to the fore. During a meeting
with the architects, Gaffar requested three, ‘simpler’ and higher minarets.68 At
this time, he also thought a fourth minaret would be impossible due to the
cut-off west corner. Domburg and Scipio made a crude drawing of what he
had in mind: a three-tiered, octagonally planned minaret, similar to the one
next to the Prophet’s Tomb as he had seen in Medina and as he showed them
on a poster he had brought with him (figure 7).
Importantly, the other minarets around the Prophet’s Mausoleum in Medina
had divergent forms, but Gaffar imagined that his multiple Amsterdam minar-
ets would be based on that single, oldest, Mamluk-built specimen that he asso-
ciated with Mohammed’s grave and the Prophet himself. Whereas the Saudis –
or Wahhabi as Gaffar consistently referred to them – had replaced several other
minarets with their own ‘Arabian’ version, the Amsterdam community leader
conspicuously reverted back to the pre-Saudi original. It was completely irrele-
vant to the commissioner that it was generally referred to as ‘Mamluk’ and
that it had been built long after the Prophet’s funeral. It is thus not relevant to
us because it was his choice, his associations and his subsequent transforma-
tion which we need to understand in order to fully understand the meaning of
the mosque as it was eventually built in Amsterdam. On 5 June the architects
drew their newly designed, threefold minarets into a second plan (figure 8).

A Municipal Intermezzo
Meanwhile, the municipality decided that the project in general fit in very well
with a new municipal development plan for the Kraaiennest area in that it pro-
vided central and social functions for the entire neighbourhood. As a result,
the required extension of the plot was possible.69 However, it then set the
urban delimitations (‘stedelijke randvoorwaarden’) of the extendable plot in

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 75

Fig. 7 Medina, the Prophet’s mausoleum (Archive Ruimte 68); Sketch for the Second Taibah
Mosque, Scipio & Domburg, 31 May 1997 (Archive Ruimte 68).

Fig. 8 Sketch for the Second Taibah Mosque, Scipio & Domburg, 5 June 1997 (Archive
Ruimte 68).

76 The Architectural Representation of Islam

terms of sight lines.70 In effect, the municipality required that the mosque be
completely – one could even say extremely – adjusted to its physical environ-
ment. It seemed that the basic square plan that the commissioner had in mind
would have to be reduced on almost every side. In order for the mosque not to
be reduced back down to Haffman’s mosque, the extension would have to fol-
low the precise limitations that the municipality had established, making the
plan multi-faceted and in effect destroying the entire rectangular concept. On
16 April, 3D images of the mosque plan were produced, showing a white build-
ing with green domes, colours that Gaffar used to associate it with
Mohammed’s tomb in Medina (figure 9).
One of these 3D drawings was shown in a series of poster, together with the
Anwar-e-Medina as a new WIM member in Gaffar’s quest for the unification
of the Brelwi communities, under three images of Mohammed’s mausoleum
mosque in Medina and mentioning Noorani as the spiritual leader of the
world’s Sunni community.71 Gaffar then proposed his wish for a fourth min-
aret,72 subsequently requesting that the dome as well as the four minarets be
‘more like those of Medina,’ in support of which he again brought with him
the poster of Mohammed’s Tomb.73 Clearly, the association with Mohammed’s
holy sites, especially his tomb in Medina, was becoming increasingly obvious.
On 29 May, a new 3D image was produced (figure 10).
Strikingly, in March 1999, the municipal restrictions were done away with as
part of a new government programme for large cities and involving social inte-
gration, providing municipalities with funds for restructuring problematic
urban areas, while stressing the participation of local communities. The
Bijlmer had been classified as a socially problematic and unsafe neighbourhood
within the framework of this programme. It was eventually concluded that a

Fig. 9 3D sketch for the Second Taibah Mosque, Scipio & Domburg, 16 April 1998 (Archive
Ruimte 68).

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 77

pleasant and safe Kraaiennest Square was going to be essential and that in the
current situation and in the existing plans these aspects had not been taken
into account. Instead, the municipality, now provided with state funds, consid-
ered demolishing the fly-over on the square and of building a new shopping
mall – in short, the entire area was in flux. The restrictions on the mosque had
been lifted and earlier municipal suggestions were suddenly no longer valid.74
The new restrictions established the following month basically reintroduced
the rectangular plan of the architects’ and commissioner’s very first proposal.
It was specifically noted that ‘the recognizability of the mosque … is impor-
tant, independent of the development of a new Kraaiennest Square.’75 In effect,
the consistency and recognizability of the plan to its community, as opposed to
the earlier municipal requirements of physical adaptation, was now considered
an indispensable and stimulating factor in the search for harmonious cultural
cohabitation. So, the architects returned to their original ideas. On 19 April,
they presented their new plan (figure 11).
The following day, the municipality reacted very positively to the design,
especially since Gaffar had stated that the mosque would have ‘a modern
appearance.’76 On 31 August, the choice was made to maintain the first and
second floors, and the columns on the first floor as much as possible to save
on costs, besides the fact that this would also be a reminder of Haffmans’
design that some community members still liked. Gaffar’s notion of the pillars
on the first floor were that they hindered visibility of the old podium under
the Mihrab, which would be addressed by turning the direction 90 degrees and
reusing part of the old stairway into a new podium on the west wall. Gaffar
also thought that Haffman’s conspicuous prayer hall columns on the second
floor affected visibility of the Mihrab and openness in general, and therefore a

Fig. 10 3D sketch for the Second Taibah Mosque, Scipio & Domburg, 29 May 1998 (Archive
Ruimte 68).

78 The Architectural Representation of Islam

Fig. 11 Sketch for the Second Taibah Mosque, Scipio & Domburg, 19 April 1999 (Archive
Ruimte 68).

solution for reducing the number of pillars was to be investigated.77 Later, a

light roof construction was created that could be supported by the walls alone,
so that the columns in question could be significantly reduced. The concept of
the ‘pillared mosque’ that Haffmans had devised in response to his commis-
sioner’s wish to have the mosque visually refer to the Prophet’s mosque, in the
process translated as an Arabian type, was now rejected in favour of a more
open, widely domed prayer hall which more closely expressed the basic Sufi
notion of ‘exaltedness,’ in accordance with the new commissioner’s more mani-
festly Brelwi representational requirements.

Continuing the Design Process

The architects, together with Gaffar and Noorani, subsequently presented their
latest plans to the municipality,78 and on 21 October their plans were approved.79
On 8 February 2000, Aesthetics also reacted positively to the Taibah project,
pointing out that it appreciated the plan as a whole.80 Gaffar used the occasion of
the meeting with the commission’s members to express his desire to have a larger
dome.81 In his eyes, the Medina representation would be further enhanced by
inclusion of a windowed dome-drum that was similar to the one at the Prophet’s
grave. However, he did not mention this to his architects or to the municipality,
explaining his preference mainly by stating that a higher dome would be more
visible from the street level. While the drum of the actual Medina structure only

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 79

contained a few small holes, with the new design the shape of the windows would
be modelled on the silhouette of the Prophet’s dome. On 21 March, the final
plans, which included the new drum, were drawn up, and a model and an axono-
metry were made. On 30 March a 3D model was also constructed (figure 12).
An official permit application was filed which included these drawings.82 The
Aesthetics Committee then gave a positive reaction on the adjusted dome.83
Since no valid objections were filed, the provincial authorities approved the
plan, and on 8 November, the construction permit was issued.84
On 6 May 2001, Noorani laid the cornerstone. The first pole was driven on
20 February 2002, also in the presence of the spiritual leader. Despite the regret
of some community members about the demolition of their cherished mosque,
a new phase in the life of the Taibah Mosque was begun. Gaffar eventually
managed to develop enthusiasm by holding the community’s celebrations
around the Prophet partly on the construction site. Moreover, he gave his com-
munity members the opportunity to contribute financially to their new mos-
que via donations and loans, or by adopting a pillar or a Musallah – a prayer
space within the mosque. The latter could be done ‘in the name of your dear,
departed ancestors.’85 During construction, Gaffar also came up with the idea
of adding extra windows in the back façade at each side of the Mihrab. The
shapes of the windows were to be modelled on the silhouette of the Prophet’s
dome. On 18 February 2003, the architects sketched out his idea (figure 13).
By introducing these extra windows and the ones in the dome drum, Gaffar
wanted to provide for more light in the building. Light was a particularly
important aspect for the community leader; he was also the one who insisted

Fig. 12 Sketch, model, axonometry and 3D sketch for the Second Taibah Mosque, Scipio &
Domburg, 21/30 March 2000 (Archive Ruimte 68).

80 The Architectural Representation of Islam

that the glass-windowed arches be as large as possible in the façades of his mos-
que. He wanted to keep the building ‘as transparent as possible,’ since to him
light stood for the Nur of Mohammed, and represented the Prophet’s spiritual
presence in the mosque. This brings to mind the spiritual presence of the
Prophet believed to exist during the standing prayers at the yearly celebration
of his birthday, a feature typical of the Brelwi communities. Gaffar stated: ‘We
believe that on Judgment Day everything will disappear from the earth; the
mosques, however, will rise to heaven. The light of heaven that falls from the
windows on the inside of the mosque and fills everything, symbolizes the fact
that to us our prophet Mohammed is a light.’86 Also, but secondarily, Gaffar
presented the transparency of his mosque’s outer walls as a way to show the
community’s modernity and openness to Dutch society, with ‘nothing to hide’.
In the end, the Aesthetics Commission approved the extra windows.87
Unfortunately, however, the contractor went bankrupt and the community
could not access their money, which had been frozen by the bankruptcy cura-
tor, for some time. After the legal process, the situation was resolved, but con-
struction was very much slowed down. Gaffar managed to get permission to
use the mosque before it was finished for celebrations provided that the neces-
sary safety measures were taken.88
A new contractor was hired to continue with construction, but a shortage of
funds threatened the construction of the minarets. After Noorani and some of
the other community members suggested several options, with suggestions
ranging from no minarets to only one or two at the front, Gaffar managed to
cut a deal with his suppliers. They would build the four minarets, but the ones
in the back façade would only have two layers instead of three, making them

Fig. 13 Sketch for the Second Taibah Mosque, Scipio & Domburg, 18 February 2003 (Archive
Ruimte 68).

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 81

shorter but still recognizably Medina-like. Other Brelwi community leaders in
the Netherlands sometimes had to reduce their ideal of four minarets to only
one or two because of pressure from municipalities and/or the architects, but
Gaffar never considered this an option since it would have meant the total
destruction of his representation of the Prophet’s Tomb. Importantly, the fact
that it was he who had insisted on keeping the ideal quincunx means that it
was not a ‘fundamentalist’ influence from outside that had pushed for a ‘tradi-
tionalist’ design in the face of an ‘obedient’ Dutch Muslim commissioner.
Severing the financial ties with foreign sponsors may therefore not have the
effect on mosque design in the Netherlands that some expect it to have, as it
proves to be Dutch Muslim commissioners themselves who construct these
architectural representations and as there is, in a representational sense, noth-
ing traditionalist about their designs in the first place.

Noorani’s Death
Then, on 11 December, Noorani died suddenly. In a memorial publication pro-
duced by the WIM-NL, he was described as having radiated light during a lec-
ture just before his death. He was buried in Karachi ‘at the foot of his mother’s
grave,’ which brings to mind a much-quoted hadith saying that ‘paradise lies at
the feet of the mother,’ and which therefore seems to form part of an ongoing,
literal construction of Brelwi Islam. There, he was ‘surrounded by Wali’s
[saints],’ in the cemetery at the domed shrine of the saint Wali Hazrat Shah
Abdullah Ghazi. The description of the funeral procession said that ‘it looked
like the day of Eid Milaadoen Nabie [the Prophet’s birthday].’89 The cover of
this publication showed an image of Noorani with a halo and a sun rising
above him, next to the illuminated tomb of the Prophet in Medina, and in
another memorial publication he was depicted as looking at a bright light that
radiated out towards him from Mohammed’s mausoleum dome.90 Strikingly,
on the back of the latter publication, the image of the Taibah mosque was
printed underneath, and therefore likened to, a cut-out of the central, domed
part of Reza Khan’s saintly shrine in Bareilly (figure 14).91
The already much-revered Brelwi Pir had effectively attained an even greater
sanctity at death to his mourning followers, as would his son and successor
Maulana Shah Anas Noorani at some time in the future.
The basic construction was completed by the end of 2004, after which, a per-
iod of interior construction was begun by community members. In the detailing
of the Taibah’s interior decoration, Gaffar represented the Brelwi construction of
Islam against lesser versions even further by providing the inner dome with a
multitude of sparkling lights in reference to, in his own account, Mohammed’s
Nur. In effect, they remind one of the Sufi cosmological notions of the radiating
dome and revolving stars as they were depicted in the memorial image of Aleem
Siddiqui. As was shown earlier, Brelwi verbal representations of Islam compared
the saint-successors to Mohammed to sparkling stars, channelling His light from
the heavens to the earth. However, Gaffar told his architects and the press that

82 The Architectural Representation of Islam

Fig. 14 Pictorial representations of Noorani and the holy light, next to a comparison between
the Sufi Mausoleum Mosque of Reza Khan and the Second Taibah Mosque (Message
International, special editions 2003/2004).

his lights were merely meant to remind people of ‘the starry skies over Surinam’
(figure 15).92
This was yet another example of commissioners presenting themselves pub-
licly as Islamic in general with only some cultural or other non-religious char-
acteristics responsible for any divergences with other mosque designs. When
interviewed in the course of this research, however, Gaffar stated that he was
referring to the Prophet’s shrine as he had seen it during Haj down to the
choice of marble plating. At the time of writing, the mosque’s dome materials
had yet to turn green as planned and the building had still not officially
opened because the interior construction was not yet finished (figure 16).


Design Interpretation and Diverging Realities
As a first, general conclusion, it can be stated that the complex empirical field
of Hindustani-commissioned mosque design in the Netherlands lends itself
only with great distortion to reduction to a single typological scheme. Only
highly selective perception would allow the observer to see a progression from a
monolithic ‘Indian’ building style towards a ‘Dutch’ building style, to conceptua-
lize an evolution from ‘traditionalist’ designs via ‘Efteling’ designs towards a
‘modern’ design, or to observe a shift from ‘shelter’ mosques, ‘nostalgic’ mosques
and ‘emancipation’ mosques towards ‘integration’ mosques. If earlier observers
have made such observations, they did so by focusing on exactly those architec-
tural representations and representations of architecture that would seem to sup-

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 83

Fig. 15 Amsterdam, Second Taibah Mosque dome interior, 2007 (author).

port such a scheme while unknowingly or pragmatically leaving out those that
would confuse it. If typological labels such as these are upheld as analytical con-
cepts, the Mobarak Mosque could be called ‘an embarrassing shelter mosque for
an oppressed Muslim community eventually leading to the second Taibah
Mosque as the modern result of Dutch Muslim emancipation successfully com-

Fig. 16 Amsterdam, Second Taibah Mosque exterior and interior, 2007 (author).

84 The Architectural Representation of Islam

pleted,’ with as much right as it could be called ‘a successfully adapted modern
Dutch design eventually leading to the second Taibah Mosque as a traditionalist
sign of Muslim homesickness in a failed process of social integration.’ Any ana-
lyst of architecture who wishes to surpass a plain morphological exercise without
interpretation has to realize that his possible focus and personal perspective on
aspects of culture, nationality, modernity and/or integration might, but does not
need to be, a reality as represented in the design. To make things even more com-
plicated, different building elements within one object of research might very
well have been introduced from different realities and therefore have to be ana-
lyzed as different reality representations. If not, the analyst will project the wrong
intentions onto the wrong parties, in no small way assisted by the many prag-
matic reinterpretations and strategic self-attributions of the parties involved.
First of all, municipal bodies, for all their differences, mainly looked towards
their future mosque as an opportunity for Hindustani Muslims to show their
stance on incorporation into Dutch society. Existing cultural building styles
from the Hindustani home countries were generally seen as un-Dutch, to be
rejected, adjusted or stimulated according to the relevant municipal body’s
ideological position on a scale ranging from total assimilation to untouched
cultural diversity. Not surprisingly, they were basically concerned with the rela-
tions between Muslims and non-Muslims as social groups within a shared poli-
tical unit. They reacted to mosque applications by constructing ideas about the
particular architectural forms to be seen as a suitable expression of these rela-
tions and subsequently used these ideas in location proposals, the interpreta-
tion of zoning plans, the setting of urban delimitations, the evaluation of
aesthetic qualities, the reaction towards neighbourhood objections and in
architectural advices. Before anything else, in the municipal reality a mosque
was a representation of the manner in which ‘non-Dutch’ Muslims were to be
socially integrated into ‘the Netherlands.’
On the other hand, the designers mainly saw their future mosque as an
opportunity for Hindustani Muslims to construct a new building style that
would creatively overcome the presumed clash between Islamic architectural
traditions and the Dutch physical context. It could be done by blending a
Dutch cultural building style with a Hindustani cultural building style, it could
be done by reducing cultural forms to general functional or religious princi-
ples, and it could be done by somehow combining these activities. However, all
involved heavily subjective abstraction since in the chaotic field of the built
environment no such things as objective ‘cultural’ building styles or ‘decultura-
lized’ functional or religious principles were to be found except in the mental
constructions of the designers in question. The rejection and selection of build-
ing elements from the Dutch and the Hindustani architectural fields was pri-
marily based on an architect’s pre-existing design preferences in the face of
contesting visions of architectural contemporaneity. During this creative pro-
cess, a presumably shared Islamic liturgy was seen as the untouchable essential
whereas the assumed cultural building styles were seen as the variable suppli-
ants of outer imagery, to be rejected, adjusted or stimulated according to the

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 85

architect’s own stance on typological progress. Before anything else, in a
designer’s reality a mosque was the representation of the manner in which ‘tra-
ditional’ Muslims were to be incorporated into the diaspora ‘modernity.’
Diverging from these issues of nationality and modernity as they were pro-
jected onto Hindustani mosque designs by municipal bodies and architects,
however, the commissioners themselves mainly looked towards their future
mosque as an opportunity to define their religious vision towards opposing
versions. By selecting particular building elements from the complex field of
Islamic architectural history, elements whose contemporary associations had a
certain meaning to them, they distinguished an individual construction of
Islam. They were not always imams or Islamic specialists versed in religious
dogma, but they invariably took a specific interest in expressing their religious
construction by strategically focusing on its diacritica, meaning, those of its
elements that in their perception made it recognizable against contesting ver-
sions. It was a matter of focusing on the outer fringes of Islam, of producing
boundaries between Muslimness and non-Muslimness, but what steered their
design preferences was not any obvious divergence with the larger non-Islamic
context but the intrinsic divergence of the own Islamic boundary definition
with those upheld by other Muslim community leaders. As a consequence, ‘cul-
tural’ building elements were used but only to the degree and in the manner
that the commissioners found them to suit the religious construction they had
produced first, and this completely depended on the way that the ‘cultural
stuff ’ was used in the architectural representations of commissioners embra-
cing those views of Islam that were regarded to be particularly false. Before
anything else, in a commissioner’s reality a mosque was the representation of
his specific construction of Islam as opposed to contesting versions circulating
within his own culture group.
However, where the municipal bodies and the architects were reasonably
straightforward in the presentation of their architectural constructions of
nationality and modernity towards each other and towards the commissioners,
the latter were much less direct towards their municipalities and architects in
that the particularity of their religious construction was invariably completely
downplayed. Since the main purpose of a commissioner’s building activities
was to represent his own construction of Islam as the ultimate over other ver-
sions, the ‘constructional’ aspects of his Islam could not be admitted. As a
mosque is, in fact, an Axis Mundi and a genuine cosmic centre to its commis-
sioner, any explanation reducing its cosmic meaning would be deemed highly
inappropriate, if not unthinkable, by him. Therefore, he would only explicate,
when asked, the obviously ‘constructional’ aspects of his architectural represen-
tation in terms of objectified but very subjective and flexible variables like cul-
ture, style, aesthetics and function. To Mekking, as we recall, one of the most
important characteristics of architecture as a representational medium was that
it enabled a commissioner to make a profound statement towards particular
target groups without resorting to rationalization or verbalization.

86 The Architectural Representation of Islam

To put it more concretely, it simply could not be directly communicated
towards the architect or the municipality why a Hindustani mosque commis-
sioner required some very particular building elements indeed. At the point of
being asked, a commissioner would never say ‘that dome from that building
and that minaret from that area combined and transformed in that way repre-
sent this version of Islam against that one,’ generally confirming already critical
observers in their evaluation that most Muslim commissioned mosque designs
in the Netherlands have been a matter of cheap nostalgia, misplaced pride,
architecture-historical ignorance, incorrect functional choices, or plain bad
taste. However, within the complex empirical field of Hindustani mosque design
in the Netherlands as it eludes consistent typologies of Hindustani style and cul-
ture, the commissioner’s all-pervading drive to create the ultimate cosmic centre
actually is the only valid comparative criterion that can both consistently
explain the stylistic inconsistencies of the architectural objects researched as well
as the argumentational inconsistencies of their Hindustani commissioners.
In the case of the The Hague Mobarak Mosque, commissioners insisted on
the inclusion of building elements from the Qadiani holy places without ever
clearly mentioning that, and especially why, they wanted them to be included.
In their reality, the mosque was meant to be the representation of Qadiani
Islam, a continuation of the world-wide Islamic Renaissance that had begun
with the construction of their promized Messiah’s mosque and minaret in
Qadian. As much as the latter, it was to be a genuine cosmic centre, specifically
designed in reaction to contesting Islamic visions circulating within the own
culture group. Towards their architects and municipal departments, however,
the commissioners merely claimed their choices for certain building elements
to have been either generally Islamic, specifically Pakistani or aimed at blending
in with Dutch society. In the case of the first Taibah Mosque in Amsterdam,
the commissioner essentially projected a Sufi shrine quincunx with a central
dome and four corner turrets over Mohammed’s grave in Medina, with the
Prophet forming the ultimate holy man, the source of all Sufi sanctity and the
main identifying value for his Brelwi community. His mosque was to represent
the ultimate, Brelwi Islam in opposition to particularly false versions like the
one in The Hague. To the architect, however, the commissioner only spoke of
the quincunx and Mohammed’s holy places as carrying general Islamic mean-
ing, whereas to the municipality the commissioner chose to present his prayer
house as a general socio-cultural centre in which all Muslims could participate.
The commissioner of the second Amsterdam Taibah Mosque kept the old Sufi
shrine quincunx but turned attention even more towards Medina, introducing
particular building elements from the minaret and dome of Mohammed’s
grave and combining them with his own creations of lighting and transparency.
The latter were a representation of the Holy Prophet’s Light as the most impor-
tant identifying and unifying characteristic of scattered Brelwi communities
and as the only legitimate source of Islam. In his reality, the mosque was to be
a cosmic centre, the materialization of Mohammed in the face of those heretics
denying the Prophet’s unique and finalizing position in the cosmos. To his

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 87

unsuspecting architects, however, he explained his combinations and transfor-
mations with arguments of Surinamese culture, general aesthetics and everyday
practicalities of visibility, whereas towards the municipality he explained the
more transparent of his building elements to be aimed at social adaptation.

Towards a Dutch Mosque?

Any proposed ‘solution’ to the perceived ‘problem’ of mosque design in the
Netherlands that negates the reality of Muslim commissioners themselves and
merely projects issues of nationality and modernity onto their architectural
preferences, might raise public admiration and expectations but is bound to
miss the point and fail when actually confronted with the diverse field of reli-
giously contesting community leaders. For one, Dutch Muslim mosque com-
missioners do not seem to have been looking to express their stance on social
integration into Dutch society in their designs as much as has been thought by
municipalities or even as much as they themselves have claimed from time to
time. All in all, it could be said that a commissioner’s main representational
motivation, his particular construction of Islam, was invariably imagined to be
more general than it was, and variably imagined to be more socially integrating
than it was meant to be, with Dutch society having been much less of an actual
target group during the design process than those fellow Muslims who
embraced contesting views of Islam. The latently or at times even manifestly
presumed connection between physical and social integration of Muslims in
the Netherlands as upheld in the municipal reality quickly works out to be a
downright fallacy.
Moreover, Muslim commissioners have also been shown to have been much
less occupied with showing their stance on architectural incorporation into the
diaspora modernity than previously assumed by architects, even if some com-
missioners later claimed such. The New Construction style of the Mobarak
Mosque, the Functionalist style of the first Taibah Mosque, or the Mogul style of
the second Taibah Mosque: all these ‘styles’ prove to have been as good as non-
existent in the realities of commissioners themselves. As long as their own reli-
gious construction was recognizably incorporated in the form of certain combi-
nations and transformations of building elements, whatever their designers
verbally made of them or physically added to them was of minor importance as
long as it did not disturb the overall construction of Islam as produced in the
face of contesting versions. However, before that basic layer of required building
elements was reached, even the most phlegmatic architect could be condemned
to a lengthy trial-and-error process if he did not grasp his commissioner’s parti-
cular Islamic construction. Mostly, the tendency to start directly from a list of
practical requirements, a budget, and some seemingly vague images towards a
sketch proposal proved to be counterproductive. Forms invariably gained prior-
ity over costs and practicalities in the course of the design process, although the
latter were often introduced as the most important factors during first contact.
Even if the commissioner claimed to have only very general requirements of

88 The Architectural Representation of Islam

architectural imagery, he proved to think with a very particular religious con-
struction in mind requiring a very particular architectural representation. And
even if the architect thought he had more or less thoroughly studied Islamic
architecture in its religious or cultural aspects, chances were that the commis-
sioner ‘had not read that book.’
Although the procedure, generally followed by socially engaged designers
when creating an alternative mosque typology, of researching the history of
Islamic architecture and studying the new urban context and the programmatic
requirements of a particular commission genuinely aims to be very contextual,
from the commissioners’ perspective it could not be less so. As we have seen,
an architect’s pre-existing design philosophy will have ultimately determined
how he looks at architectural history. Inevitably, from the inconsistent flux of
‘Dutch’ and ‘Islamic’ architecture, he will have had to extract a limited number
of building elements, events, rules, values, principles, and developments. He
may present these as having been objectively present in the empirical field and
to have neutrally determined his proposed design alternative, but they will in
fact have been subjectively selected and adapted to fit a stylistic preference
already there. As a result, in practice there is a good chance that the particular
Muslim commissioner will react by completely dismissing the proposal. To
him, the architectural representation of Islam has nothing to do with seemingly
detailed typologies or morphologies to be extrapolated from the built environ-
ment by a detached architectural researcher, but everything with the specific
religious construction as he chose to oppose it to contesting versions, and with
the associated building elements as he selected and transformed them in the
mental creation of his ultimate cosmic centre. The ubiquitous ‘domes and min-
arets’ will not disappear from the architectural requirements of Muslim com-
missioners anytime soon, not because the latter lack the knowledge of new
approaches to old functions, or need to be reminded of home, or want to defy
Dutch society, or choose Orientalist architects, or live in paternalistic munici-
palities, or connect to fundamentalist sponsors. Domes and minarets will con-
tinue to be built, because they will remain indispensable in providing the most
obvious means for incorporating the very specific architectural diacritica
needed to identify a commissioner’s ultimate Islam against lesser versions.
In order for the Dutch public to understand the representational processes
in Muslim-commissioned architecture without getting tangled up in these
paradoxical discourses of social and physical integration, or nationality and
modernity, there is much to be gained from consistently and publicly uncover-
ing what has generally been deemed uninteresting until now: the very first
design proposals as they were actually put to real commissioners and the lat-
ter’s subsequent reactions to these in the series of intensive negotiations that
constitute design processes. Perhaps then it will be noticed that existing mos-
ques have not by definition always been designed by architects who prefer
‘retro-styles,’ many of whom already attempted to incorporate their own ideas
on ‘modern Dutch’ design. Perhaps then it will be discovered that Muslim
commissioners in the branch of mosque architecture may wish to have an

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 89

enormous amount of influence on the design of their future prayer hall, and
that only those architects who accept this are maintained during the process
whereas architects who cling too much to the concept of the autonomous artist
may just as easily be brushed aside. Perhaps then it will be accepted that
Muslim mosque commissioners are much more than the sum of a general
liturgy, a specific location and a limited number of functions waiting to be
pleasantly surprised by a supposedly objective formal improvement. And, lastly,
perhaps then energy will be put into the creation, not merely of an ‘integrative’
or ‘progressive’ design, but of a concrete methodology with which architects
and municipalities are provided with the means to lead their given Muslim
commissioners through the difficult process of explicating their specific reli-
gious realities and concurrent representational requirements. Whereas the
Mubarak Mosque, the Minaret of the Messiah, the Prophet’s tomb, the Taj
Mahal and Reza Khan’s shrine can hardly be made to look otherwise, the reli-
gious realities underlying their introduction into the Netherlands just might.
To set up the necessary method of analysis for everyday architectural practice,
breaking senseless boundaries between architectural design and architectural
history, establishing which are the long-cycle and short-cycle traditions involved,
avoiding the self-dug trap of representational miscommunication, exploring
which questions should be asked, when and what kind of references should be
asked for or presented, how basic requirements can be translated into alterna-
tive building elements and at what stage an actual design proposal should be
introduced, could be as rewarding a design task as trying to introduce the sup-
posed mother of all modern-Dutch mosques without ever having grasped the
motivations of Muslim commissioners in the Netherlands.


1 E. Roose, ‘50 years of Mosque Architecture in the Netherlands’, in: EJOS (Electronic Journal of
Oriental Studies) VIII, no. 5, pp. 1-46.
2 B.D. Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900, Princeton, 1982, pp. 25-26.
3 M. Zafeerudin, Mosque in Islam, New Delhi, 1996 [Translation from Urdu, Nizam-e-Masajid,
1956], pp. 7-8.
4 G.R. Al-Qadiri, ‘Hoofdimaam van de Surinaamse Moeslim Associatie’, Het Wahabisme. De
Pseudo-Islamitische Ondermijnende Beweging, Amsterdam, 2004, pp. 203, 237-239.
5 Metcalf, 1982 (2), pp. 264-314.
6 N. Landman, Van Mat tot Minaret. De Institutionalisering van de Islam in Nederland,
Amsterdam, 1992, p. 221.
7 I. Adamson, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, London, 1989, p. 62; A.M. Khan (ed.), Mosques
Around the World: A Pictorial Presentation, Ahmadiyya Muslim Association USA, 1994, p. 11;
Since few of the Surinamese Muslims in the Netherlands are associated with Wahhabism,
objections to the worship of Sufi saints and Pirs are still mainly found among the Ahmadiyya.
Landman 1992 (6), p. 221.
8 R.A. Chaudhri, Mosque: Its Importance in the Life of a Muslim, London, 1982, pp. 40, 55; Khan
1994 (7), pp. iix, 20.
9 Y. Friedmann, Prophecy Continuous: Aspects of Ahmadi Religious Thought and its Medieval
Background, Berkeley, et al., 1987.

90 The Architectural Representation of Islam

10 E.g., in Ahmad’s speech for the Second Conference of Great Religions in Lahore, December
26th-28th 1896, as printed in M.G. Ahmad, The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, Tilford,
1996 [Lahore 1896].
11 Friedmann 1987 (9), p. 147-162.
13 C.J.M. de Klerk, De Immigratie der Hindostanen in Suriname, Amsterdam, 1953, pp. 41-45.
14 H. van de Kerke, De Taibah-Moskee te Amsterdam in de Geschiedenis van de Hindoestaans-
Surinaamse Moslims, in: R. Kloppenburg and L. Pathmananoharan-Dronkers (eds.), Religieuze
Minderheden in Nederland, Utrecht, 1986, pp. 33-45; pp. 33-34.
15 E.g., N. Boedhoe, ‘Hindostaanse Moslims’, in: C. van der Burg, T. Damsteegt and K. Autar,
Hindostanen in Nederland, Leuven; Apeldoorn, 1990, pp. 107-123; p. 107.
16 According to Landman, in the Hindustani region where most workers had been recruited, the
Brelwi school would have been the most popular at that particular time, although he finds that
in the literature on Islam in Surinam the Brelwi connection is only mentioned after 1950.
Landman 1992 (6), p. 221, footnote 73.
17 M.S.A. Nurmohammed, Geschiedenis van de Islam in Suriname, Paramaribo, 1985, p. 15 and
18 Noorani Memorial Editie 2004, WIM Nederland, Amsterdam, November 2004.
19 The Message International, special issue 2003, Noorani Editie, WIM Youth Circle, Amsterdam,
pp. 11-16.
20 The Message International, special issue 2003, Noorani Editie, WIM Youth Circle, Amsterdam,
pp. 4-8, 21-22.
21 Nurmohamed, 1985 (17), p. 21.
22 Landman 1992 (6), p. 221.
23 Landman 1992 (6), p. 223.
24 They still do not seem to own any purpose-built mosques themselves.
25 The Message International, 2003 , p. 23.
26 E.g., see S. Akkach, Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam: An Architectural Reading of
Mystical Ideas, Albany, 2005, pp. 129-140, 177-179.
27 Al-Qadiri, 2004 (4), e.g., pp. 51, 58-59, 95, 99-100, 162, 324.
28 Van de Kerke, 1986 (14), p. 41.
29 Landman, 1992 (6), p. 223.
30 Akte van Statutenwijziging, 21 November1997.
31 Van de Kerke, 1986 (14), p. 42.
32 Since Lachman is dead, the following has largely been based on interviews with Haffmans,
Amsterdam, 3 and 29 August 2006, current Taibah community leader Mohammed Junus
Gaffar, Amsterdam, 16 August and 14 September 2006, and Lachman’s former WIM-NL
colleague Kasiem (by telephone), 26 November 2007.
33 U. Vogt-Göknil, Die Moschee. Grundformen Sakraler Baukunst, Zurich, 1978.
34 P. Haffmans, ‘Een Nieuwe Moskee in de Bijlmermeer. Minaretten terzijde van de Metrohalte
Kraaiennest’, in: Architectuur/Bouwen, 1 (3), March 1985, pp. 29-32; Moskee en Cultureel
Centrum te Amsterdam, in: Bouw, no. 9, 27 April 1985, pp. 81-85; Moskee en Cultureel
Centrum in Amsterdam, in: Bouwen met Staal, 19-3, no. 73, September 1985, pp. 35-37; and
the original notes for these articles, Archive Haffmans.
35 Akkach, 2005 (26), p. 95.
36 C.W. Ernst, ‘An Indo-Persian Guide to Sufi Shrine Pilgrimage’, in: C.W. Ernst and G.M. Smith
(eds.), Manifestations of Sainthood in Islam, Istanbul, 1993, pp. 43-67.
37 J. Pereira, The Sacred Architecture of Islam, New Delhi, 2004, p. 144.
38 A.F. Buehler, Sufi Heirs of the Prophet: The Indian Naqashbandiyya and the Rise of the
Mediating Sufi Shaykh, Columbia, SC, 1998, p. 170.
39 S.F.D. Ansari, Sufi Saints and State Power. The ‘Pirs’ of Sind, 1843-1947, Cambridge et al., 1992,
p. 9; Buehler 1998, p. 169.
40 E.g., see C.B. Asher, Architecture of Mughal India, Cambridge, 1992, pp. 209-215.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 91

41 See the photographs in Nurmohammed 1985 (17), pp. 33 and further, and the drawings in J.L.
Volders, Bouwkunst in Suriname. Driehonderd Jaren Nationale Architectuur, Hilversum, Lectura
Architectonica, 1966, pp. 82, 126-127.
42 E.g., see The Message International, vol. 2, no. 5, 2001, pp. 23-29.
43 The Message International, 2003, pp. 8-10.
44 Taibah News. ‘Speciaal Nummer in verband met de Officiële Opening van Masdjid Taibah op
19 januari 1985, en de ‘4th World Islamic Mission Conference’ op 20 januari 1985’, p. 6.
45 See Haffman’s speech at the opening ceremony, on DVD Taibah Moskee, Amsterdam ZO. Bouw
en Opening 1985, 2006, Archive Haffmans.
46 Interviews with Gaffar, Amsterdam, 16 August and 14 September 2006, and Kasiem (by
telephone), 26 November 2007. Other Brelwi mosques in the Netherlands have names that
evoke similar connotations, like Gulzar-e-Medina (Garden of Medina, Zwolle), Anwar-e-
Medina (Light of Medina, Eindhoven), Al Medina (The Hague), Noeroel Islam (Light of Islam,
The Hague), Anwar-e-Quba (Light of the Dome, Utrecht), and Shaan-e-Islam (Majesty of
Islam, Rotterdam).
47 Telephone interview with Hamid Oppier, 28 November 2007. The architect declined their
48 N. Landman, ‘Sufi Orders in the Netherlands. Their Role in the Institutionalization of Islam’,
in: W.A.R Shadid and P.S. van Koningsveld (eds.), Islam in Dutch Society. Current
Developments and Future Prospects, Kampen, 1992b, pp. 26-39; p. 38.
49 See
50 See
51 On several WIM websites, the logo of a sun rising above and lighting a dark globe is shown
next to images of the prophet’s tomb.
52 Telephone interview with Kasiem, 26-11-2007.
53 Telephone interview with Kasiem, 26-11-2007.
54 ‘Afsprakenlijst Bouwteam Gebedsruimte Moslims Bijlmermeer d.d. 12-8-’82’, HdV/AB/nr.1254/
6-9-1982, Archive Haffmans.
55 Letter from Gemeentelijk Grondbedrijf to SWM, 22-10-1982, Archive Haffmans.
56 ‘Een Overwinning voor de Moslims’, in: Het Parool, 12 January 1985.
57 ‘Eerste Vrouwenmoskee ter Wereld in De Bijlmer,’ in: De Telegraaf/Nieuws van de Dag, 17
January 1985. The position of women remains one of the main mutual differences in
distinguishing Brelwi and Ahmadiyya constructions of Islam in the Netherlands.
58 Program of Official Opening, Taibah News 1985, p. 17.
59 M. Kloos, ‘Reinheid in een Kuil van Beton’, in: De Volkskrant, 8 March 1985.
60 S. Goth and C. Cantrijn, ‘Taibah Moskee in De Bijlmer. Islamitische Traditie in Westerse
Context’, in: De Architect, vol. 16 (3), March 1985, pp. 64-67.
61 For other, more recent critiques of Dutch mosques by Maarten Kloos, see F. van Lier, ‘Zonder
Minaret is het net een Planetarium’, in: KRO Magazine, 2007,
62 ‘Moskee Taibah is te klein geworden’, in: De Nieuwe Bijlmer, 4 June 1987.
63 ‘Taibah Moskee na Jaren uit de Brand’, in: [unknown], 1990 (?), and ‘Moskee verkeert weer in
grote Geldnood’, in: [unknown], 6 December 1990, Archive Haffmans; Before, the collection of
money for the monthly payments had proposed a huge problem in the community up to the
point that the mosque was almost to the point of being publicly auctioned by the Afdeling
Grondzaken. ‘Moskee niet bezorgd over aflopen Ultimatum’, in: De Nieuwe Bijlmer, 17 August
64 See also H. Müller, ‘Zo’n Fundamentalist maakt alles Kapot’, in: De Volkskrant, 16 October
1998, p. 13. Note that parts of the content of this article have been contested by Noorani in a
legal procedure.
65 Ruimte 68 is currently run by Peter Scipio.
66 E.g., see the report of a meeting between Scipio, Domburg, Gaffar and Imandi, 31 May 1997,
Archive Ruimte 68.
67 Interviews with Scipio and Domburg, Eindhoven, 22/30 August 2006.

92 The Architectural Representation of Islam

68 Internal Memo, 31 May 1997, Archive Ruimte 68.
69 Internal Memo, 23 June 1997, and Letter from Ruimte 68 to the Stadsdeelraad Zuid-Oost, 22
July 1997, Archive Ruimte 68.
70 Fax from Stadsdeel Zuidoost to Ruimte 68, 11 November 1997, Archive Ruimte 68.
71 Archive Ruimte 68.
72 Internal Memo, 19 April 1998, Archive Ruimte 68.
73 Internal Memo, 21 April 1998, Archive Ruimte 68.
74 ‘Verslag Gesprek Moskee Taibah 3 Maart 1999’, Projectgroep Kraaiennest, and Internal Memos,
3/11 March 1999, Archive Ruimte 68.
75 Fax from Stadsdeel Zuidoost to Projectgroep Kraaiennest, ‘Stedenbouwkundige Randvoor-
waarden Moskee’, 6-4-1999, Archive Ruimte 68.
76 Internal Memo, 28 April 1999, Archive Ruimte 68.
77 ‘Notulen Bouwvergadering d.d. 31 August 1999’, Archive Ruimte 68.
78 ‘Verslag Gesprek Moskee Taibah 15 September 1999’, Projectgroep Kraaiennest, Archive Ruimte
79 Internal Memo, 18 November 1999, Archive Ruimte 68.
80 Letter from the Aesthetics Commission to Ruimte 68, 1 March 2000, Archive Ruimte 68.
81 Internal Memo, 8 February 2000, Archive Ruimte 68.
82 Construction Permit Application, 27 March 2000, Archive Ruimte 68.
83 Letter from the Aesthetic Commission to Ruimte 68, 19 April 2000, Archive Ruimte 68.
84 Construction Permit No. 200000086, Dossier No. ZO69929, Archive Stadsdeel Zuidoost.
85 See
86 ‘Surinaamse Moslims willen openheid’, in: Eindhovens Dagblad, 19 November 1997.
87 Letter from the Aesthetics Commission to Ruimte 68, Archive Ruimte 68.
88 Letter from Stadsdeel Zuidoost to Gaffar, 10 October 2003, and Letter from Stadsdeel Zuidoost
to Bestuur Moskee Taibah, 30 September 2004, Archive Stadsdeel Zuidoost.
89 The Message International, 2003, pp. 17-20.
90 Noorani Memorial Editie 2004, WIM Nederland, Amsterdam.
91 This publication also explicitly mentions, again illustrated by an image of Reza Khan’s shrine,
that Noorani had continuously referred to the saint’s name in his lectures and in his mission,
and that he had always showed him much respect and love. Noorani Memorial Editie 2004,
WIM Nederland, Amsterdam, p. 8.
92 As he also did in Eindhoven, where he had installed similar lights. ‘Eigen plek voor
Eindhovense Surinaamse Moslims’, in: Groot Eindhoven/Valkenswaards Weekblad, 19 November

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 93

3 The Architectural
Representation of Paradise
Sufi Cosmology and the Four-
ı̄wān Plan
Elena Paskaleva


The Four-ı̄wān Plan in Current Architectural Theory
Current architectural theory analyzes the existence of the four-ı¯wān com-
pounds only within the local historical scope. This leads to a misinterpretation
of the architectural plan, which is associated only with local architectural heri-
tage symbolism and superficial interpretations of Islam. The building tradition
of the four ı¯wāns has remained virtually unchanged since the 11th century. No
attempts have been made to explain the invariable use of the four-ı¯wān
scheme, since the structure has been widely used for open courtyard mosques,
madrasas and caravansarays and for centrally domed tombs and khānaqāhs.
Although the debate on their aesthetic appeal is not paramount, aesthetics has
been put forward in the existing scholarly architectural analysis by O’Kane,1
Golombek and Wilber,2 Pugachenkova,3 Ettinghausen, Grabar and Jenkins-
Godard5 explains the ubiquitous utilization of the four-ı¯wān plan as a tool
for representing Iranian national identity and attributes the origin of the four
ı¯wāns to the private houses of eastern Iran. This justification, used previously
by Van Berchem6 and Herzfeld7 cannot be sustained when applied to sacred
buildings such as mosques and madrasas. It merely shows the scholarly inabil-
ity to track down the deep religious and social changes that lead to the estab-
lishment of the four-ı¯wān plan.

Representational Analysis of the Four-ı̄wān Plan

Although the cosmological aspects of the four-ı¯wān structures have been ana-
lyzed by Hillenbrand,8 Vogt-Göknil,9 Ardalan and Bakhtiar,10 they have never
been explored in detail. Furthermore, the relationship between the Sufi tradi-
tion and the four-ı¯wān plan has never been regarded as the driving force
behind the widespread usage of the four-ı¯wāns, i.e., as a representation of a
Sufi reality. A plausible explanation that can shed more light on the ‘stale’ evo-

lution of the four-ı¯wān building tradition is the link between the Sufi commu-
nity and its growing influence on the selection of building patterns, represent-
ing Sufi cosmological concepts in Central Asia. These patterns can be analyzed
within Mekking’s11 worldwide ‘Axis-Mundi & Cosmic Cross’ shorter-cycle
theme, whereby the intersecting cross-axial design represents the four realms of
the celestial garden, which is, in turn, also a representation of the Sufi
Students and scholars will have to be aware of the representational character
of architectural heritage in order to avoid providing mere stylistic descriptions
of buildings. Therefore, they should analyze the ways in which the existing
built environment represents cosmological concepts. Awareness of cosmological
paradigms and correct interpretation of their hoc-et-nunc architectural repre-
sentation is a prerequisite for a better understanding of the architectural heri-
tage worldwide.

Axis Mundi: Passage to Paradise

The Axis Mundi is a mythopoetic concept that is visualized and instrumenta-
lised as an architectural tool in the frame of the ‘Axis-Mundi & Cosmic Cross’
shorter-cycle theme. This tool can be applied to represent most of the cosmic
realities in any built environment, regardless of their religious character. The
most characteristic aspect of the Axis Mundi is that it marks the centre of the
world. By designing a building, based on the Axis Mundi, the whole compound
– both the building and the site – represents specific sacred connotations.
The ubiquitous characteristics of the concept lie in the fact that the central
architectural space is vertically accentuated, which creates an invisible bridge
between the higher realm, usually associated with paradise, the earth and the
underworld; the Axis Mundi thus becomes a passage to paradise, which can be
analyzed within the shorter-cycle theme ‘Holy & Unholy Zones’.
The vertical aspect of the Axis Mundi coincides with the geometrical centre
of the compound and creates a representation of cosmogenic creation: the sin-
gle point of all creation (as static dimension). The axes, radiating from the cen-
tre as a Cosmic Cross, mark the created world in its totality; they can be
analyzed as cosmogenic evolution. The concept of Axis Mundi can, thus, be
interpreted as a clear spatio-temporal representation of the built environment
as it defines space, vertically emanating from the centre and spreading along
the horizontal axes of the Cosmic Cross.
Since the geometric centre is atemporal and defined by the two intersecting
axes, it can be ubiquitous, without any direct reference to a certain point in
time or space. As such, the centre is identified with the primordial unity of the
creation.12 On the other hand, the radiating axes from the centre represent the
multiplicity and plurality of the world as a divine, time-governed manifestation
by using the human coordinates as an architectural tool. This building tradi-
tion is based on the long-cycle Anthropomorphic representational theme as pro-
posed by Mekking.13 The anthropomorphic architectural elements – the
geometric centre and the radiating axes – define the world in its conceivable

96 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

Fig. 1 Centrifugal and centripetal movement after Akkach (79, p.152).

totality. Within the framework of the shorter-cycle theme ‘Axis-Mundi &

Cosmic Cross’, they represent, as such, the divine creation on earth in its multi-
ple manifestations. The vertical axis, i.e., the Axis Mundi, linking the three cos-
mological realities, defines the connection between the ‘Holy & Unholy Zones’:
the underworld, the tangible world as we perceive it (the earth) and the intan-
gible realm of paradisiacal perfection (the heavenly realm).
Furthermore, the centre evokes movement in two complimentary directions:
spreading from the centre to the axes (centrifugal) and radiating from the axes
to the centre (centripetal) (figure 1).
In this way, the unity spreads towards multiplicity and the outward turns
back to the inward. These two movements play a crucial role in the perception
and definition of interior and exterior in a building or architectural com-
pound, analyzed as a representation of any built reality. The two intersecting

Fig. 2 Geometrical centre-radiating axes after Akkach (79, p.156).

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 97

axes define the created world in its totality. This aspect is underlined when the
axes mark the four cardinal points (figure 2).
In this case, gates, wall openings or staircases are located exactly along the
axes and face the geographical directions north, south, east and west. The
architectural principle of denoting the world directions can be further under-
lined by stressing the half-cardinal points.14

The relationship ‘geometrical centre-radiating axes’ can be also metaphorically

regarded as a microcosmic representation of the macro-cosmos. The micro-
cosmos of the architectural site gains the status of a macro-cosmos, as the
marking of sacred territory stretches to all corners of the world along the inter-
secting axes, based on the Anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition. Furthermore,
the individual perception of architectural scale, defining the micro-cosmos as a
human being, automatically acquires divine dimensions when the individual
inhabits the centre of the site.
This principle of ‘staging’ oneself in the centre of the world can be observed
in every built environment when a certain reality is represented by using
anthropomorphic coordinates. It is most widely used in tombs, palaces or royal
capitals as a representation of political connotations, underlining the divine
origin of power. By representing one’s ruling domain according to cosmologi-
cal models of two intersecting axes and by staging one’s authority and hege-
mony in the centre of the communal life, the dwelling of the ruler represents
the divine nature of his power. In this setting, the ruler acts as a mediator
between the material and the divine world. When sitting at the crossroads of
the two intersecting axes along the four cardinal points, representing the
macro-cosmos, the ruler acts as a cosmic column that connects the under-
world, the earth and the upper world. By placing his throne in the centre of
the compound, the ruler asserts his divine and hegemonic authority connecting
the three ‘Holy & Unholy Zones’ of the cosmos. The emperor himself becomes
the Axis Mundi and his omnipotent power stretches along each corner of the
The current article focuses on one single building tradition based on the
four-ı¯wān plan, which represents paradise on earth using the concept of the
‘Axis-Mundi & Cosmic Cross’. The Ulugh-Beg Madrasa and Khānaqāh on the
Registan Square in Samarkand, Uzbekistan will be analyzed, whereby special
emphasis will be put on the relationship between the representation of royal
Timurid power and the growing influence of Sufism, particularly of the
Naqsbandiyya order.

Registan Square in Samarkand

The Registan15 Square in Samarkand was built over a period of three centuries
from the 15th through 18th century. The Timurid architectural ensemble is
formed by the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa (1417-1420) to the west, the Shir-Dor
Madrasa (1619-1636) to the east, the Tillya Kari Madrasa and Mosque to the

98 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

north and the 18th century Chor-Su domed market, which is behind the Tillya
Kari complex.

The most characteristic feature of the Registan Square is that it utilizes the
four-ı¯wān plan as an urban architectural principle. The square consists of three
four-ı¯wān madrasas with central courtyards, organized along two intersecting
axes. Each of the three madrasas, totally restored in the 1990s, presents its
main entrance ı¯wān to the square. The ı¯wāns are flanked by minarets, which
reinforce the symmetry of the entrance façades. In Registan, we can observe a
double utilization of the four-ı¯wān concept on two scales: single building and
urban ensemble. The monumental ı¯wāns contribute to the representational
function of the square (figure 3).16
The choice of the four-ı¯wān plan can be explained not only by the function
of the buildings as religious schools, in the case of the madrasas, but also by an
attempt to recreate a holy space on an urban scale. The different architects
who have worked on the Registan Square have managed to achieve this by
marking the four cardinal points within each of the buildings by placing ı¯wāns
along their main axes and incorporating the three madrasas into a square,
formed by the three entrance ı¯wāns of the madrasas.
What is very interesting is that the imaginary position of the fourth ı¯wān in
the urban setting of the square to the south is left open and it constitutes the
most prominent public access to the square. Thus, people (worshippers, theol-
ogy students, traders, etc.) are given the importance of the fourth element.
With their anthropomorphic presence on the square they fulfil an architectural
role by combining the existing strictly religious complex with the human ele-
ment. In this way, the religious contemplation and prayers are conceived as an
inseparable part of the human being, who is in turn also adorned with divine
presence by being part of the holy setting. The co-existence of the divine world
(represented by the religious complex of the three madrasas and a mosque)
with the human world (represented by the human presence and activities on
the square) is one of the basic philosophical concepts of Islam. Thus, the urban
utilization of the four-ı¯wān plan on Registan fulfils not only a representational
function but also a deeply philosophical concept represented by the combina-
tion of human and divine presence on an urban scale. However, the spatial
division between the solid volumes of the buildings and the miniature scale of
the human being marks the division between the two levels of existence: the
timeless (the divine) and the temporal (the human).
Yet, the Registan Square went through many architectural changes before its
current layout was formed. In the 14th century, the Registan was the main mar-
ket place (chahār su), which was the centre of trade in Samarkand during the
reign of Timur (1360-1405). Six main streets radiated out from the square,17
making it the main trading place in the city. The first building, a domed pas-
sage, was erected by Timur’s wife, Tuman-Aka, at the beginning of the 15th
century. It was during the reign of Timur’s grandson, Mı̄rzā Mohammad
Tāregh bin Shāhrokh, widely known as Ulugh-Beg (1394-1449), that the trad-

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 99

Fig. 3 Samarkand, Registan Square, plan after Pugachenkova (3, p.96), axonometry after
Herdeg (15c, p.55), present view of the three main ı̄wāns after Paskaleva (15b) and bird’s eye
view (15d).

100 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

ing role of Registan was replaced by a representational function, including mili-
tary parades and official occasions. Throughout his 40-year reign in
Samarkand (1409-1449),18 Ulugh-Beg tried to establish the city as the new
Timurid capital and used the Registan Square as an emblematic architectural
setting to represent his identity as an educated, liberal governor, who cherished
the fine arts.
The oldest building to the west of the square, which has survived to the pre-
sent day, is the Ulugh-Beg four-ı¯wān Madrasa built between 1417 and 1420,
which was originally two-storied with ‘four lofty domes and four minarets’
(figure 4).19

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 101

Fig. 4 Samarkand, Ulugh-Begh Madrasa, plan after Golombek and Wilber (2, vol 2, fig.28),
entrance ı̄wān, exterior from the south-west, and courtyard after Paskaleva (15b).

Fig. 5 Registan Square in the 15th century according to Pugachenkova and Rempel after
Brandenburg (43, p.157).

102 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

Opposite the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa, was erected the Ulugh-Beg Khānaqāh, on
the site of the current Shir-Dor Madrasa. The Mirzoi Caravansaray was built
to the north of the square and housed the tradesmen (figure 5).
In 1647, Samarkand needed a new congregational mosque, since the Bibi
Khanum Mosque was almost in ruins. That is why the Tillya Kari Madrasa and
Mosque were built on the site of the Mirzoi Caravansaray. To the south, the Alik
Kukeltash Mosque was erected in 1430, replacing the old pre-Mongol Friday
Mosque. Next to it, a small mosque Mukatta with beautiful carvings was built.20
Since the building history of the Registan Square is not the prime subject of this
article, we will focus mainly on the relation between the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa
and Khānaqāh as a representation of his ambitions as a Timurid ruler.
What is relevant is that, according to Barthold,21 the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa
was the ‘centre of learned theology as opposed to dervishism’. That is why, it is
very surprising that Ulugh-Beg himself commissioned a khānaqāh for dervishes
opposite his madrasa on Registan. In Samarkand, in the time of Ulugh-Beg,22
it was the aristocracy that enjoyed the support of the supreme power and not
the Sufi shaykhs. The interests of the popular masses were defended by the
dervish shaykhs of the Naqshbandiyya order, who were outspokenly hostile
towards Ulugh-Beg and the Shaykh al-Islam in Samarkand.23 Since the learned
theologians, according to Barthold,24 had become the leaders of the aristocracy,
the struggle of the dervishes against the learned theology in Turkestan was dif-
ferent from the one in Western Asia. In the latter, the dervishes had a more lib-
eral interpretation of the Shari’ah, as opposed to the theologians who preached
a strict interpretation of the religious laws. That is why, in the West, Sufism
became a ‘synonym for religious free-thinking’. In Turkestan, however, the der-
vishes advocated the Shari’ah and preached against both the ruling elite and
the Muslim clergy officials, by accusing them of not abiding the divine laws. In
Samarkand, the dervish shaykhs even attacked Ulugh-Beg25 and the official
head of the Muslim clergy because they disregarded the Shari’ah.
Why did Ulugh-Beg then choose to build a khānaqāh facing his madrasa,
when the two buildings would have housed opposing religious schools? The
madrasa was a centre of Islamic religious studies and strict theology while the
other, the khānaqāh, housed Sufi scholars, presumably of the Naqsbandiyya
order. This presumption is based on the fact that the Naqsbandiyya order was
the most widespread Sufi order in Transoxania at that time.
Information on the Ulugh-Beg khānaqāh is very scarce. Barthold26 states
that it is not known what exactly happened to it. Blair27 writes that ‘nothing is
known about the khānaqāh’. Golombek and Wilber28 also stress that ‘nothing
remains of the khānaqāh, which Ulugh-Beg erected opposite the madrasa.’
Pugachenkova29 mentions that the khānaqāh was built in the main axis of the
madrasa in 1424, which is only four years after the madrasa was completed.
Barthold30 quotes Babur, who points out that the khānaqāh ‘was famous for its
lofty dome, the like of which there were few in this world’. Thus, we can con-
clude that the Ulugh-Beg Khānaqāh had a huge dome, which means that it was
not an open-courtyard building.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 103

Arapov31 sheds some more light on the history of the Ulugh-Beg Khānaqāh
by noting that in the 1620s, during the period of the Astarkhanids, the power-
ful governor of Samarkand, Yalangtush renewed the construction activities on
Registan, but attempts to restore the khānaqāh failed, due to its ‘ponderous’
dome. As a result, the Shir Dor Madrasa was built on its site over the period
between 1619-1636. Arapov32 and Pugachenkova33 also point out that the
tomb of Imam Mohammed-inb-Djafar (9th-10th century) was located in the
khānaqāh or right next to it. So to sum up, the Ulugh-Beg khānaqāh had a
huge and structurally-challenged dome, it most likely incorporated the tomb of
an imam and it was built in the main axis of the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa in 1424.

Fig. 6 Bukhara, plan of the Labi Hauz Square after Gangler, Gaube and Petruccioli (35, p.115),
1. Madrasa Kukaltash, 2. Madrasa Nadir Dı̄wānbaigi, 3. Nadir Divanbaigi Khānaqāh, 4. Hauz,
exterior of the domed four-ı̄wān khānaqāh of Nadir Divanbaigi after Paskaleva (15b).

104 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

Unfortunately, we can only speculate about the existence of any ı¯wāns in the
Ulugh-Beg khānaqāh. However, the examples of other khānaqāhs we are famil-
iar with, most of them being in Bukhara,34 have a square plan with four ı¯wāns
on each side.35 Here, we will mention only two of the khānaqāhs that are rele-
vant to the current article: the khānaqāh of Nadir Dı̄wānbaigi from 1620 on
the Labi Hauz Square in Bukhara (figure 6), which also faces a madrasa (the
two-ı¯wān Nadir Dı̄wānbaigi Madrasa from 1622-1623) and the khānaqāh of
Bahauddin Bliss Bukhari (1318-1389), the widely venerated founder of the
Naqshbandiyya order (figure 7).
According to Petruccioli,36 the development of the Labi Hauz Square can be
ascribed to the rise of Sufism; the domed khānaqāh of Nadir Dı̄wānbaigi being
‘the pivot of urban planning on a monumental scale’. The increasing political
and religious importance of the Naqshbandiyya order in Bukhara led to the
construction of several monumental khānaqāhs, however, only on the Labi
Hauz Square can we trace back a similarity to the ‘kosh’ principle applied on
the Registan Square in Samarkand and in particular with the axiality of the
entrance ı¯wāns in his present organization. The Labi Hauz Square, similar to
Registan, is formed by two two-ı¯wān madrasas and a domed khānaqāh with
their entrance ı¯wāns towards the square.
The ‘kosh’ principle is an urban layout unique to Central Asia, consisting of
two large buildings that face each other, leaving enough space for the creation
of a square. Gangler, Gaube and Petruccioli37 date back the origin of the ‘kosh’
to the mid 16th century and name as a prototype the Kalan Mosque and the
Mir‘Arab Madrasa in Bukhara. However, the first ‘kosh’ in Central Asia should
be the Gur-i-Amir Madrasa and Khānaqāh from around 1401, followed by the
Ulugh-Beg Madrasa and Khānaqāh from around 1420, which were both origin-
ally conceived as two buildings facing each other. Furthermore, the ‘kosh’ prin-
ciple is not unique to Central Asia and the first prototypes of it can be found
in Anatolia and date back to the 13th century as shall be seen later in this arti-
cle. In Anatolia, the ‘kosh’ consists of a madrasa facing a dervish lodge.
The other khānaqāh relevant to the current study is of Bahauddin Bliss
Bukhari, it dates back to 1594 and is situated in the big memorial complex of
Bahauddin, in the vicinity of Bukhara. It is mentioned here because of its four
ı¯wāns and central domed space (figure 7).
This choice of the ground floor plan for the Bahauddin Khānaqāh could not
have been random, since the khānaqāh is situated on one of the holiest sites
for Sufi pilgrims and must have followed some distinguished architectural
examples from the past. Yusupova38 attributes the four-ı¯wān plan of the khāna-
qāh to the new earthquake-proof techniques that were used during the
Timurid period, in the second half of the 15th century. She explains that:

… four powerful arches overlapped the space, leaving some distance

in the corners. They rested on eight massive buttresses located on
the side of each axis of the construction. This made deep niches in

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 105

Fig. 7 Bukhara, khānaqāh of Bahauddin Bliss Bukhari, exterior view after Paskaleva (15b), iso-
metry after Gangler, Gaube and Petruccioli (35, p.150).

the hall axes at the sides that gave the structure of the building its
cross shape and enlarged its square.

Although this constructional explanation seems convincing, we cannot inter-

pret the choice of the four-ı¯wān plan only in terms of earthquake-proof solu-
tions. What is important to us is that the Bahauddin Khānaqāh obviously had
a considerable endowment and it was situated near the tomb of the most
renowned Sufi saint in Central Asia. The large ceremonial hall, the domed zikr-
khana has a cross-shaped plan, formed by the axes of the four ı¯wāns. The huge
dome may have followed the example of the Ulugh-Beg Khānaqāh, but we do
not have any direct proof of that. However, there is an obvious link between
the choice of the ground plan and the Sufi paradisiacal cosmology, which will
be analyzed in the following paragraphs.

106 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

There is very little data concerning the remaining khānaqāhs in Samarkand.
Furthermore, there is not enough evidence whether these khānaqāhs had a cen-
tral domed space and four ı¯wāns. Golombek and Wilber39 list the Khvajeh
Ahrar Khānaqāh, built around 1490. Khvajeh Ahrar was the leader of the
Naqshbandiyya order and the most powerful politician and landlord in the sec-
ond half of the 15th century in Transoxania. It is plausible that his khānaqāh
might also have followed the architectural examples of Ulugh-Beg and Timur,
but there is not enough evidence to prove this statement. Another khānaqāh,
built in 1430, that has survived till present is located to the south of
Samarkand, within the ‘Abdi Darun complex.40 The khānaqāh faces a later
mosque and is flanked by a madrasa erected in 1899. It has a large entrance
ı¯wān, built during the reign of Ulugh-Beg41 in the 15th century and it is situ-
ated in front of the 12th century mausoleum of the Islamic lawmaker Abd-al-
Mazeddin,42 which has a square domed hall with four recesses in each side.

Fig. 8 Samarkand, ‘Abdi Darun complex, sketch of the complex after Brandenburg (43, p.156)
and plan of the ‘Abdi Darun khānaqāh after Golombek and Wilber (2, vol 2, fig.30).

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 107

Although the khānaqāh is part of a ‘kosh’ ensemble, it cannot be compared to
the Registan Square, since the buildings were constructed during different peri-
ods and there is no axiality of the main entrances, apart from the fact that all
of the entrance façades are oriented towards an octagonal pool (figure 8).
The only other example of a Sufi khānaqāh facing a madrasa, which Ulugh-
Beg most certainly was aware of was Gur-i-Amir (the Tomb of the Amir), the
tomb memorial built by his grandfather Timur. The complex consists of the
tomb, in which Timur was buried in 1405, a two-ı¯wān madrasa and a Sufi khā-
naqāh (figure 9).

108 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

Fig. 9 Samarkand, Gur-i-Amir, plan reconstruction after Golombek and Wilber (2, vol 2,
fig.27), present situation, fourth ı̄wān, remains of the madrasa to the east after Paskaleva (15b).

It was Ulugh-Beg who established the tomb memorial as a dynastic mausoleum

of the Timurids. In 1424, the same year that the Ulugh-Beg khānaqāh on
Registan was built, he carried out extensions to the tomb and built an extra
chamber, which was probably meant for him.43 Ulugh-Beg further commis-
sioned the spectacular main entrance to Gur-i-Amir, i.e., the fourth ı¯wān to
the south, which completes the compound as a four-ı¯wān square (see figure
9).44 This means that he consciously chose the layout and attributed extra
importance to the four-ı¯wān plan in the Timurid dynastic mausoleum.
The Gur-i-Amir Sufi khānaqāh to the west and the two-ı¯wān madrasa to the
east of the compound were constructed as a spiritual centre at the end of the
14th century45 on behalf of Muhammad Sultan, Timur’s grandson and heir-pre-

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 109

sumptive. According to Blair46 the two were built before 1401. The tomb itself
was later added by Timur in 1404. Brandenburg’s statement47 that the madrasa
and the khānaqāh can be attributed to Ulugh-Beg is, therefore, untrue. The
Gur-i-Amir Madrasa (figure 9) had two storeys and was, according to
Arapov,48 most likely attended by children of the Timurid royal family and of
the amı̄rs. Pugachenkova49 explicitly points out that the madrasa was not a
spiritual academy but trained students from the most prominent aristocratic
families to become future governors. She also underlines the fact that the Gur-
i-Amir Khānaqāh was not a residence for dervishes but offered shelter to
renowned guests and floor for mystical discussions. Thus, we can conclude
that the tolerance of the Sufis and their explicit presence close to the royal heirs
already existed at the end of the 14th century in Samarkand. The fact that
Timur chose the site for the tomb of his heir, and was later buried there,
further corroborates this statement.
In the Baburnama50 from 1501, Babur (1483-1530), the founder of the
Mughal Empire and a direct descendent of Timur, writes: ‘After I entered the
city and took up my station in the khānaqāh…’. The fact that Babur, as a dis-
tinguished guest to Samarkand, stayed at a khānaqāh, implies that it was not
simply a residence for wandering dervishes, but for the aristocracy, including
members of the royal family. What details lead us to assume that he is referring
to the Gur-i-Amir khānaqāh? Babur himself said that upon ‘entering through
the gate, I proceeded straight to the madrasa and khanagah and sat down
under the khanagah arch.’ By ‘arch’ he may have meant the entrance portal of
the khānaqāh, which was most likely in the form of an ı¯wān. The gate, he refers
to, is probably the fourth ı¯wān Ulugh-Beg built at Gur-i-Amir (see figure 9).
The above descriptions of Babur could not have been of the Ulugh-Beg
Madrasa and Khānaqāh, since there was no – or at least there is no record of
an extra gate; their entrance ı¯wāns faced the square. So, Babur’s stay at the khā-
naqāh verifies the above statement of Pugachenkova that it was built to shelter
distinguished royal guests.
As far as Ulugh-Beg is concerned, we can summarize that in 1424 he com-
missioned the khānaqāh on Registan, while he was also busy with the refurb-
ishment of Gur-i-Amir. On Registan, Ulugh-Beg followed the ‘kosh’ prototype
of Gur-i-Amir, repeating the urban organization and building a khānaqāh
along the main axis of the madrasa. However, he mirrored the orientation of
the two buildings on Registan Square, his madrasa was built to the west and
the khānaqāh to the east. It is plausible that the Ulugh-Beg’s Khānaqāh on
Registan may have had similar functions as the khānaqāh of Gur-i-Amir, i.e., it
offered floor for mystical discussions and welcomed prominent guests, such as
Babur. So we can safely say that it was not a sanctuary for wandering dervishes
of the lower classes.
By repeating the urban layout of Gur-i-Amir (the Timurid dynastic mauso-
leum complex) on Registan, Ulugh-Beg obviously wanted to be associated with
the building activities of his grandfather Timur and to put his own architec-
tural stamp on Samarkand’s most prestigious square, by revitalizing Samarkand

110 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

as the capital of the Timurid Empire. His madrasa and khānaqāh exceeded by
far the architectural heritage of Timur with their remarkable dimensions and
decorative merits. The madrasa’s entrance ı¯wān is the largest in Central Asia.51
Even the ratio between the main façade of the madrasa to the width of the
square, i.e., 5:6, according to Bulatov,52 may have been used to determine the
proportions of the entire square.
It should also be pointed out at this point that Ulugh-Beg, the ‘astronomer-
king’53 chose to build a madrasa and a khānaqāh to outdo his predecessors
and not a mosque or a mausoleum. He probably wanted to be remembered as
a renowned scholar, since the madrasa attracted the most prominent scholars
of the time.54 If he had built a mosque, he could not have exceeded the gran-
deur and the splendour of the congregational Bibi Khanum Mosque (1399-
1404), built by Timur. It would have been structurally impossible as well.
Furthermore, Ulugh-Beg was not a particularly pious ruler; he was a scholar
with an affinity for music and the pleasures of life, which earned him the dis-
dain of the Naqshbandiyya shaykhs.55 Besides, Barthold56 presumes that the
khānaqāh was less patronized than the madrasa though both were generously
endowed with waqfs.
We can make two assumptions from the latter statement. First, the khānaqāh
was not built for direct Naqshbandiyya followers, including peasants and urban
merchants, but for the upper echelons of the order and for distinguished royal
guests. Second, it might have had a more strictly political function, i.e., by
positioning a khānaqāh along the main axis of the madrasa on the most presti-
gious square in Samarkand, Ulugh-Beg definitely acknowledged the importance
of Sufism and placed it metaphorically next to the main theological school,
represented by the madrasa. This was a smart political move to appease the
tensions that had arisen between him and the Naqshbandiyya shaykhs, who
overtly disapproved of his lifestyle.57
Where else can we find earlier similar examples of the ‘kosh’ principle of a
khānaqāh, facing a madrasa? In the following we will analyze the gradually
increasing importance of the Sufi orders in the 13th century in Anatolia and
will try to draw parallels between the political impact the ‘kosh’ principle had
on the relations between the emerging urban aristocracy, the Sufi mystics and
the ruling elite.


Social Importance of Sufism and Sufi Architecture
The spread of Sufism was initiated by the religious elite who came to Anatolia
from Iran and Central Asia during the first quarter of the 13th century. The
Mongol invasion in the cities of north-eastern Iran forced large numbers of
religious scholars to flee to Anatolia. For example, Rūmı̄ and his father settled
in Seljuq Anatolia and belonged to a larger group of theologians who followed

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 111

a popular itinerary that included leaving Balkh (Afghanistan), visiting
Damascus and Mecca and finally arriving in Anatolia. These scholars settled in
cities such as Konya, Kayseri, Sivas and Tokat. The new Sufi tradition had a
drastic effect on the cultural life of these cities and eventually on the building
activities, related to Sufi ordinations (khānaqāhs, tekke monasteries, etc.), since
demand had increased with the spread of the belief.
The second half of the 13th century and the second half of the 14th century
experienced the rise of largely independent local aristocracy with huge land
possessions and the collapse of the centralized state rule in Anatolia.58
Gradually, Sufi buildings acquired increased importance among local leaders
and became a visual representation of their divine power and religious prestige,
combined with the growing political and economic influence of the Sufi elite.
Rulers who supported Sufi institutions were eligible for tax benefits and thus
had an interest in investing in Sufi structures and in appointing their close
family members to different positions at these Sufi institutions. By endowing
Sufi buildings, the local landed aristocracy tried to establish itself at regional
level, in contrast to the ruling dynasties that operated at national level.
As a result, three types of building patrons emerged in Anatolia: amı¯rs, wazı¯rs
and beylerbeys. These were the leading building patrons during the 13th and 14th
centuries. The amı¯rs59 were able to secure extra income to remain beyond state
control by using a waqf foundation that supported a Sufi lodge. Since the amı¯rs
could no longer rely on the Seljuq forces to protect their cities, they had to form
alliances with local groups. Building less expensive dervish lodges, compared to
the considerably more costly madrasas, ensured their popularity among the eth-
nically mixed population, especially among the nomadic Turkmen tribes from
Central Asia who were increasingly influenced by Sufism.
Each Sufi lodge housed different Sufi masters and provided a centre for
communal activities, such as praying, studying, religious discussions, ritual
activities, accommodation of travellers, feeding the poor, etc. The languages of
the Sufi masters and their institutions were Arabic and Persian. Institutional
support from local leaders and the evolution of Sufi orders meant that the Sufi
buildings gained an enormous amount of importance in the spread of Sufism,
the sanctification of Sufi saints and they significantly changed the urban fabric
of the cities, they were built in.
In a way, the Sufi beliefs regulated communal life, social activities and reli-
gious practice in the cities. The trade interactions between the different ethnic
groups and the attempt to lead a peaceful urban cohabitation, lead to the wide
spread of Sufi buildings. Sufism acted as the religion of the populace. As such,
it should be pointed out that Sufism played an important role in the cities as
centres of international trade and along the trading routes across Asia. Thus,
although Sufism originated as a religious belief of the secluded helmet in the
9th century, it developed into the preferred belief of the merchants and crafts-
men of the 13th through to the 14th centuries. As such, Sufism formed a frame-
work for the creation of new self-regulating urban communities, independent
of centralized governmental structures.

112 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

Furthermore, Sufism acted as a binding religious form in heterogeneous, mul-
ticultural communities, in which Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together.
Patrons of the dervish lodges60 tried to form communities among all of the var-
ious religious groups and classes. The Sufis preached alternative religious prac-
tices, which appealed to recent Muslim converts and representatives of other
religions. Christian practices were incorporated into Sufi rituals, Christian sanc-
tuaries and sites were reused as building sites for Sufi lodges.61 Wolper62 sum-
marized that ‘for dervishes, Christianity was often seen as a transitional phase
between a corrupt Islam and the true mystical path’. Moreover, some dervish
lodges made Christian relics or Byzantine frescoes the focal point of the new
Sufi structures, for the Christian genealogy was widely recognized and cherished.
Wolper63 suggests that the main reason for the emergence of the madrasas
linked to dervish lodges goes back to the conversion of churches into caravan-
sarays after the Seljuq conquest. Ibn al-‘Arabı̄64 had advised the Seljuq sultan
Kay-Kā‘ūs (1210-1219) to make churches provide every Muslim with three
nights of lodging and nourishment. Thus, churches had to be transformed
accordingly. Wolper further points out that the remains of a church can be
seen in the Gök Madrasa lodge in Amasya and a caravansaray prototype can
be observed in the Gök Madrasa in Tokat and Sivas. As a result, the existence
of a dervish lodge distinguished the different madrasas from each other and
implied that diverse activities and ethnic groups could be associated with a
madrasa, linked with a lodge.
Since many of the patrons of the dervish lodges of the 13th century came
from Seljuq Iran, the Anatolian dervish lodges built before 1240 were similar
to those in Iran. At that time, dervish lodges acted as stations that accommo-
dated pilgrims and tradesmen and offered shelter for the night. Those built
along the borders were also used for defence purposes and military operations.
Wolper65 clusters the Anatolian dervish lodges built after 1240 in three
chronological groups. The first one consists of buildings built adjacent to the
madrasas between 1240 and 1275, as was the case, for example, in Sivas (the
Gök Madrasa), Tokat and Amasya. These were connected with the madrasas
and were dependent upon them for endowments. The second group comprised
independent buildings of one or two chambers erected between 1288 and 1302.
The result was that in Tokat, where most of these independent lodges were built,
the majority of the madrasas disappeared, since they were no longer needed.
The third group features the multi-unit complex, which spread widely in the
14th century. The formation of independent Sufi complexes can be explained by
the increasing power of the shaykhs, who were trying to attain more communal
leaders as disciples and thus ensure larger congregations.

The ‘Kosh’ Principle

In the above paragraphs, we discussed the ‘kosh’ principle, in which two build-
ings face each other across a square. As we pointed out earlier, this principle is
not indigenous to 16th century Central Asia66 and can be first seen in Anatolia
as early as the 13th century. Here, we should emphasize the fact that the Gök

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 113

Madrasa and the Çifte (double) Minaret Madrasa built in 1271 in Sivas were
four-ı¯wān madrasas. The Çifte Minaret Madrasa was endowed by the Ilkhanid
Vizier Semseddin Cuveyni (Shams al-din Juwayni). It was erected in the centre
of Sivas, which had been dominated by the Seljuq madrasa, and formed a clear
architectural statement of shift in power from the Seljuqs to the Ilkhanids. The
Çifte Minaret Madrasa was probably built on what might have been remains of a
Seljuq palace,67 thus reinforcing the dominance and legitimacy of the Ilkhanid
new rulers. This fact is very relevant to the current article, because the Seljuq
Izzeddin Keykavus hospital, a three-ı¯wān building, organized along a central
courtyard from 1217, is situated across the Çifte Minaret Madrasa. The Çifte
Minaret Madrasa and the Izzeddin Keykavus hospital form a ‘kosh’, as their

Fig. 10 Sivas, map of Sivas showing the location of dervish lodges after Wolper (58, p.41),
and the Çifte Minaret Madrasa (left) with the Izzeddin Keykavus Hospital (right) (15d).

114 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

entrance ı¯wāns face each other across the street. The second Ilkhanid madrasa in
Sivas from 1271, the Burujirdi Madrasa, also had a four-ı¯wān plan and oriented
its entrance ı¯wān towards the Çifte Minaret Madrasa and the hospital (figure
The situation of these three buildings resembles very much the lay out of the
current Registan Square. However, the political context is completely different,
as it represents the transition of power from the Seljuq rule to the Ilkhanid sul-
tans. We can conclude, that the organization of four-ı¯wān compounds along a
‘kosh’ principle has been used as an architectural tool to represent new political
realities as early as the 13th century. Although we cannot prove that Timur or
Ulugh-Beg were familiar with this architectural ensemble in Sivas, we can use
it as a prototype for the ‘kosh’ principle and as an emblematic architectural set-
ting, that could have influenced the spatial orientation of the buildings on the
Registan Square in Samarkand.
Another similarity between Sivas and Samarkand, and in particular between
the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa and Khānaqāh, is the fact that the four-ı¯wān Gök
Madrasa (of which only three ı¯wāns remain) built in 1271 had a neighbouring
dervish lodge. The Gök Madrasa, oriented towards one of the gates of the cita-
del and the market place, was endowed by the Seljuq vizier Fakhr al-Din ‘Ali
and was actually built to compete with the Ilkhanid Çifte Minaret Madrasa.
The fact that it faced the citadel, underlined its affiliation with the old Seljuq
rulers. Here, however, we will not discuss the urban impact and the choice of
building site for the two madrasas, but will focus on the relation between the
Gök Madrasa and the dervish lodge, constructed four years later in 1275 and
endowed by the same Seljuq vizier (figure 11).
The Gök Madrasa in Sivas continued training ulamā and local Muslim aris-
tocracy, who could support the vizier in his growing dynastic ambitions.69 He
could protect the building by waqf endowments that maintained other build-
ings in trading centres such as Kayseri and Konya. The dervish lodge (dār al-
diyāfa) was used to shelter the poor and mystics. The waqfiyya (1278), quoted
by Wolper,70 explains that the Gök Madrasa housed the fuqahā‘ (specialists in
religious law) and the dervish lodge provided food for the fuqarā‘ (the mystics
and the poor), the 40 fuqahā‘ of the madrasa and for some other guests among
the sayyids and Alevis. In this way, the lodge catered not only for the dervishes,
but also for the local aristocracy that studied in the madrasa. Furthermore, it
offered shelter to a broader audience and thus gave a special status of the Gök
Madrasa, compared to the other madrasas in Sivas. The support of the differ-
ent social strata perfectly suited the attempts of the Seljuq vizier Fakhr al-Din
‘Ali to establish his own dynasty. He could rely on both his aristocratic allies
and on the Sufi mystics. Similarly, by erecting a khānaqāh opposite his
madrasa, Ulugh-Beg could win the sympathy of the proponents of religious
law and the Sufi mystics of the Naqshbandiyya order, thus securing himself the
status of a sovereign ruler in Samarkand.
From an architectural point of view, the interrelationship between the madra-
sas and the dervish lodges in 13th century Anatolia can be best exemplified

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 115

Fig. 11 Sivas, Gök Madrasa, entrance ı̄wān and floor plan after Michell (15d).

through the differences between their interiors and exteriors. The madrasas
were in general larger than the lodges but had fewer windows. The exterior of
the madrasa prevented outsiders from looking inside and thus participating in
its activities. The few windows were too high to look through and thus provided
restricted access to the interior of the buildings. This aspect can be best under-

116 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

stood by analyzing it within the framework of the shorter-cycle theme of
‘Including & Excluding Structures’, as proposed by Mekking.
Several madrasas had high tomb chambers, visible from afar but impossible
to see amongst the dense urban fabric. As a result, the only way to observe the
activities in the madrasa was through the main entrance ı¯wān (see figure 11),
which was very imposing in size, compared to the rest of the madrasa.
Meanwhile, the dervish lodges had huge windows, most of them being tomb-
chamber windows. Most of the lodges contained tomb chambers, which were
the largest attraction for Sufis. These ‘prayer windows’ (niyaz penceresi) became
a standard feature of the Ottoman dervish lodges and allowed pedestrians to
look in and listen to discussions in the lodge. In a way, the lodges were open
to the public or at least audibly incorporated into it. Furthermore, mainly
rulers were entombed in the madrasas, while the tombs of the dervish lodges
honoured Sufi holy figures with a humbler origin but exceeding popularity
among the streaming pilgrims.
The differences between the exteriors of the madrasas and the dervish lodges
can be further explained by pointing out that they had been sponsored by dif-
ferent social groups. The madrasas, as Wolper71 explained, supported an emer-
ging stratum of ulamā that allied itself with the political elite and tried to
reinforce the social distance between the local population, in particular
Christians, and the governing elite. The Muslim code, taught in the madrasas
was meant to regulate social life and control administrative matters. Thus, the
madrasas became institutionalized with the Seljuq elite and were seen as a
representation of their religious power. Meanwhile, the khānaqāhs or the der-
vish lodges were endowed by the local aristocracy as an alternative to the
madrasas and they offered religious, educational and social services to a
broader public, that differed from the ruling elite and included a broad mix of
social strata. They represented the religious piety of different Sufi saints and
shaykhs, and also asserted influence on the rivalry between local Sufi commu-
nities. In this way, the patrons tried to form alliances that minimized the strict
religious and class distinctions between the various urban communities in
Anatolia. The lodges were erected in easily accessible, densely populated areas,
usually in close proximity to the market place.
It is obvious that each building represented a special social strata, as can be
seen from the following remarks, made by the biographer of Rūmı̄‘s father and
quoted by Wolper72:

shaykhs reside in khānqāhs, imāms (prayer leaders) in madrasas,

dervishes in zāwiyas, amı̄rs in sarays (palaces), merchants in khāns,
the runud (street gangs) on street corners, and strangers on the mis-
tāba (bench).

Based on the above account, we can conclude that there was a strict social hier-
archy, which was represented by the types of buildings, occupied by the differ-
ent members of society. Obviously, the khānaqāhs are associated with Sufi

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 117

shaykhs, as opposed to the ulamā, who inhabited the madrasas. Thus, the two
types of religious leaders are also spatially differentiated as they occupied differ-
ent types of buildings and the two groups did not interact.
Details about the buildings were incorporated into the texts on Sufi saints
(hagiographies) and were consequently associated with their deeds. In these
texts, buildings were related to Sufi charismatic figures, which promized
immediate popularity among believers and regular visits from foreigners,
streaming from the trade routes. Pilgrims and Sufi adherents could recognise
these buildings from afar and could interpret their architectural programmes.
As such, the buildings contributed to the establishment of the Sufi identity
within the urban landscapes and served two important purposes: they repre-
sented the new Sufi identity and spread it beyond the urban borders.

Origins of the Four-ı̄wān Plan

If we go back to the Ulugh-Beg four-ı¯wān Madrasa on Registan Square in
Samarkand, which was the most prominent building in his capital, we should
ask the following question: Why did he choose the four-ı¯wān plan? One expla-
nation might be that he followed the representational four-ı¯wān architectural
heritage of his grandfather Timur, and thus wanted to be associated with the
glorious past and assert himself as the new Timurid emperor. The largest
building commissioned by Timur was the Bibi Khanum Mosque (1399-1404),
which is based on a four-ı¯wān plan. According to Godard,73 the model for all
four-ı¯wān madrasas in Turkestan is the Bibi Khanum Mosque. Furthermore,
the choice of four minarets, as in the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa, is also exceptional
for Timurid madrasas, since only the Bibi Khanum Mosque had four minarets
(figure 12).74
Thus, Ulugh-Beg consciously adopted the architectural plan of the largest
Timurid Congregational Mosque by using it for his own madrasa in Samarkand.

Fig. 12 Samarkand, reconstruction of the Bibi Khanum Mosque after Peter (72b).

118 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

The court of the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa forms a 30-metre square, the four ı¯wāns
are situated along two intersecting axes. The ı¯wāns are not located precisely
along the ideal cardinal points, however. The south-western ı¯wān, which marks
the entrance to the mosque, is 256 to the southwest. The entrance ı¯wān is 70
to the northeast. The two side ı¯wāns are respectively 340 to the northwest and
170 to the southeast. The coordinates of the ı¯wāns are measured by a com-
pass75 from the centre of the courtyard in September 2006. All measurements
are provided in degrees, counted clockwise from the north. Yet, slight devia-
tions in the measurements are possible.
It is remarkable that the orientation of the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa’s ı¯wāns are
almost exact copies of the orientation of the Bibi Khanum Mosque’s ı¯wāns.
The entrance ı¯wān of the Congregational Mosque is 70 to the northeast. The
largest ı¯wān to the sanctuary, in which the mihrāb is situated, is 260 to the
southwest, compared to 256 to the southwest in the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa. The
Bibi Khanum’s side ı¯wāns, also leading to mosques, have the following coordi-
nates: 170 to the southeast and 350 to the northwest, respectively. Based on
these measurements, we can conclude that Ulugh-Beg commissioned his
madrasa not only according to the four-ı¯wān plan of the Bibi Khanum Mosque
and its four minarets but also meticulously copied the orientation of the ı¯wāns
along the cardinal points.
Additionally, we can also compare the orientation of the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa
to Gur-i-Amir. Measured from the centre of the courtyard, the coordinates of
the ı¯wāns in Gur-i-Amir are as follows: the entrance of the madrasa is 60 to
the northeast, the entrance of the khānaqāh is 252 to the southwest, the
entrance of the tomb is 160 to the southeast and the majestic fourth ı¯wān,
i.e., the entrance to the complex is 338 to the northwest. However, we cannot
verify whether Ulugh-Beg also followed the coordinates of the Timurid dynas-
tic mausoleum in his madrasa on Registan, since the comparison between the
geographical orientation of the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa and Gur-i-Amir do not
overlap exactly.
Furthermore, the situation of the mosque at the rear of the Ulugh-Beg
Madrasa in Samarkand is unique compared to all previous examples of
Timurid madrasas, in which the mosque was situated along the entrance ı¯wān
as part of two symmetrical rooms, and it was distinguished only by the mihrāb.
In the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa, the symmetry is carried out throughout the build-
ing. Whereby the mosque is situated in the south-western ı¯wān at the back end
of the courtyard, which is a new architectural solution that provides more
space for religious worship. Although Golombek and Wilber76 list this detail as
an innovation in the building history of Timurid madrasas, we should not con-
sider it solely within that group of buildings but also regard it as an attempt to
follow the plan of the Bibi Khanum Mosque, the greatest Congregational
Mosque, built by Timur. As we have seen above, Ulugh-Beg followed its plan
and spatial orientation closely, which allowed him to situate the mosque and
the mihrāb of his Samarkand madrasa in the south-western ı¯wān.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 119

Fig. 13 Bukhara, Ulugh-Beg Madrasa, plan after Golombek and Wilber 1988 (2, vol.2, fig.4),
north ı̄wān, Paskaleva (15b).

120 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

To further illustrate this phenomenon, we can compare the Ulugh-Beg
Madrasa in Samarkand with the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa in Bukhara (figure 13).
Both madrasas were built during the same period between 1417 and 1420.
The major difference between the two is that the madrasa in Bukhara is smaller
and has only two ı¯wāns, while the madrasa in Samarkand has four ı¯wāns.
Given Ulugh-Beg’s preference for Samarkand as the new Timurid capital, it
makes sense that he built the larger and more representative madrasa in
Samarkand. Here, we should point out that the number of ı¯wāns must have
also played a role. The four ı¯wāns were probably considered to be more monu-
mental and illustrated a better connection to the Timurid architectural heri-
tage, e.g., with the Bibi Khanum Mosque and Gur-i-Amir as noted in the
above paragraphs.
Another difference between the two Ulugh-Beg madrasas is the location of
the mihrāb. In Samarkand, the mihrāb is situated in the south-western ı¯wān,
while the Bukhara’s mihrāb is situated in a room to the left of the entrance
ı¯wān. However, both mihrābs are oriented at approximately 250 to the south-
west. The ı¯wāns of the Bukhara Madrasa follow exactly the geographical orien-
tation of the side ı¯wāns of the Samarkand Madrasa, i.e., 340 to the northwest
and 170 to the southeast.77 These coordinates are also measured from the cen-
tre of the courtyard.
We can conclude from the above measurements that the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa
in Bukhara followed all earlier examples of placing the mihrāb next to the
entrance ı¯wān. It was only in the madrasa in Samarkand that Ulugh-Beg
decided to place the mihrāb in the south-western ı¯wān, most likely following
the example of the Bibi Khanum Mosque. For the sake of clarity, all of the
above measurements are presented in a table below (figure 14).

Name Gur-i-Amir Bibi Khanum Ulugh-Beg Ulugh-Beg

Mausoleum Mosque Madrasa Madrasa
Location Samarkand Samarkand Samarkand Bukhara
South-western ı̄wān 252 260 256 –
North-western ı̄wān 338 350 340 340
South-eastern ı̄wān 160 170 170 170
North-eastern ı̄wān 60 70 70 –
Mihrāb 252 260 256 250

Fig. 14 Samarkand and Bukhara, geographical orientation of the ı̄wāns: Gur-i Amir Mausoleum,
Bibi Khanum Mosque, Ulugh-Beg Madrasas.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 121

Earlier, we explained why Ulugh-Beg particularly wanted to be associated
with the madrasa as a learning institution and not with a religious site, such as
a mosque. It is most probable that he followed the four-ı¯wān plan since it
offered a close representation of the Timurid and Ilkhanid architectural heri-
tage, and at the same time, represented paradise, with which the Ulugh-Beg
Madrasa in Samarkand was associated. Over the entrance ı¯wān of the mosque
on the south-western side of the court, the following inscription can be

This suffeh [i.e., portal or vaulted masjid] is built to resemble

Paradise … in it are teachers of the truths of sciences useful to the
religion, under the direction of the greatest of sultans … [at end of
small script] in the months of the year 822/1419.

To continue, another reference to the heavens is made on the imposing

entrance ı¯wān.79

The building of this madrasa was completed, whose magnificent

façade is of such a height it is twice the heavens and of such weight
that the spoke of the earth is about to tremble … in the year 823/

Given these two references to paradise and to the heavens, we should try to
analyze the choice of the four-ı¯wān plan within the scope of the architectural
representation of paradisiacal realities. In the paragraphs below, we will follow
the emergence of the four-ı¯wān plan, based on symbolic paradigms much older
than Islam.
Since the differentiation between the madrasa type and the mosque type
was, according to Hillenbrand,80 not very clear during the medieval period we
will focus on the mosque introduced during the 11th century as it best exempli-
fies the fourfold paradisiacal representation within the framework of the
shorter-cycle theme of the Axis Mundi. Hillenbrand points out that one reason
for that was that the four-ı¯wān madrasa emerged first and then the four-ı¯wān
plan was later adopted for the construction of mosques. This process can be
explained by the fact that communal prayers and worship, both in the madrasa
as a religious school and in the mosque, were integrated and were inseparable
parts of the communal life. In this respect, although we are here focusing on
the Ulugh-Beg Madrasa, we should not forget that it also has a mosque, similar
to all other madrasas; since some portion of the formal education of a young
Muslim have always been acquired in mosques. So, the architectural character-
istics of the two buildings: the mosque and the madrasa can be analyzed as
The mosque is a representation of the cosmos and the locus of the encounter
between man and the divine word. That is why, the mosque represents the
work of God and reminds worshippers of his creation. By quoting Ibn Arabi’s

122 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

Fig.15 Ashur, first known four-ı̄wān usage, Parthian palace 2nd century A.D., plan after Kleiss
(80b, fig.22).

treatise on Transcendent Unity (Risālat al-Ahadiyya), Akkach81 argues that the

orientation of the mosque towards the qibla can be interpreted as initiating a
horizontal link with the centre of the world and a vertical link with the celestial
centres, thus interpreting the building as one of those belonging to the shorter-
cycle themes of the ‘Axis Mundi & Cosmic Cross’.
Going back to the first Zoroastrian fire temples from the 5th century BC, the
ı¯wān was a gate or an archway into a sanctuary. In the 2nd century AD the four
ı¯wāns were used for the first time to represent the reality of Parthian kingship
in the palace at Ashur82 (figure 15).

In the 12th-14th centuries, the ı¯wāns were constructed to mark a sacred passage
to a holy site that was related to crossing the border between the sacred83 and
the profane. Although the religious reality, represented, among others, by the
ı¯wān in the four-ı¯wān mosque, is very different from the one seen in the
Zoroastrian fire temples, the motive of the holy gate, which transpositions the
human being from his or her temporal realm into the divine realm, has
remained intact. The religious strength of Islam can be found exactly in this
interconnection of the two worlds, which makes the ı¯wān the most appropriate
choice to represent the transition from the sacred space of the mosque to the
outside world. The four-ı¯wān setting can be also interpreted as a representation
of a non-historical and a-temporal/eternal truth.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 123

Fig. 16 Zavareth, floor plan of the four-ı̄wān mosque after Godard (5, p.248).

Previous statements that the four ı¯wāns were meant to house the four schools
of Sunni Islam law have gone unsubstantiated, as the four major madhhabs
were never united under the same roof. Furthermore, the assertion by Irwin84
that the four ı¯wāns were used according to the position of the sun during the
day, by giving shelter to the students, also sounds a bit farfetched.
The only author who has attempted to discuss the spiritual importance of
the four-ı¯wān plan is Vogt-Göknil.85 She regards the open courtyard as an
architectural space, which combines both the functions of an exterior and an
interior.86 The inner space of the courtyard is metaphorical and its hypothetical
ceiling is the sky itself. Moreover, the sky, open to human beings, is seen as the
lowest of the seven spheres of paradise. The sky is also regarded as the domain
of the divine and the openness of the courtyard is related to the omnipotence
of God, whose presence cannot be fixed within confined spaces. By praying in
the open courtyard, the worshippers have direct access to the sky as a divine
realm. The compound of the mosque, remains separated from the urban fabric
and yet open to the sky. The interior feature of the courtyard is determined by
its position within the mosque itself, whereby it also has an exterior nature as
it is revealed to the elements.
To stress this concept, the sky is reflected in the open water pool in the cen-
tre of the courtyard. Thus, the sky is mirrored on the ground by creating a
double projection and communication channel: between the deity communi-
cating with the worshippers in a top-down fashion by supplying them with an
open visual access to his divine realms and in a bottom-up fashion by receiving
their prayers and allowing them to flow unhindered in the open courtyard

124 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

Godard87 provides a plausible explanation for the existence of the first four-
ı¯wān mosque in Zavareth, built in AD 1135-36 (figure 16).
Considering both the political and architectural situation at the time, he
draws the following conclusions:

In der seldschukischen Periode war Iran also im Besitz aller wesent-

lichen Elemente der großen iranischen Moschee mit zentralem Hof
und vier Īwānen. Man kannte den Tschahar taq, also den weit geöff-
neten quadratischen Raum mit Kuppelgewölbe, den Īwān, sowie die
Kombination eines Īwāns mit einem Tschahar taq, sogar den Hof
mit vier Īwānen. Anderseits lehnte Iran in dieser Periode eines extre-
men Nationalismus es ab weiterhin Moscheen arabischen Typus zu
bauen, und trachtete vielmehr danach, seine eigenen Sakralbauten
zu vervollkommen und den großen, gutausgestatteten abbasidischen
Moscheen anzugleichen. Man könnte also denken, die große ira-
nische Moschee habe auf ganz natürliche Weise einem glücklichen
Zusammenspiel ihrer damals bekannten Elemente entspringen

To summarize, Godard points out two very important aspects of the introduc-
tion of the four-ı¯wān mosque plan. The first one refers to the use of the ı¯wān
as architectural vocabulary by tracing it back to the Iranian chahar taq. The
second one is the representation of a political reality: the four-ı¯wān mosque
tradition was introduced to assert the new Iranian national-religious identity,
as opposed to the identity as represented by the Arabic hypostyle mosque.
However, the ubiquitous utilization of the four-ı¯wān plan can be traced back
not only to the representation of the new national identity, an explanation,
widely used by many authors when one is unable to trace back the deep reli-
gious and social changes that led to the establishment of the new four-ı¯wān
plan. A more plausible explanation for the popularity and widespread use of
the four-ı¯wān compounds can be found in the advent of Sufism and its impact
on the introduction of new architectural plans. This aspect of Sufism has not
been discussed previously by the existing architectural theory and the current
article attempts to illustrate the ways in which it stimulated the building of
four-ı¯wān architectural ensembles as representation of Sufi cosmic realities.

The Four-ı̄wān Plan as a Representation of Sufi Paradisiacal Cosmology

Islamic tradition sustains the unified character of society while elaborating its
exoteric and esoteric dimensions. The exoteric dimension concerns the Divine
Law (Shari’ah) and man’s behaviour, but it is not directly related to the creative
principles of traditional man. Instead, it is the Gnostic aspect of Islam, the
Way, (Tariqah), where the principles that govern Islamic Art can be found.
Sufism may be defined as the mystical movement of an uncompromising
Monotheism. Sufi mystics, such as al-Hallāj, Rūmı̄, al-Ghazālı̄ and Ibn ‘Arabı̄

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 125

extended the Quranic-prophetic model and integrated the existing Islamic ter-
minology into their cosmological doctrines. By doing so, they created a sophis-
ticated semi-religious and semi-cosmological set of beliefs, partly based on the
hadı¯th (prophetic sayings), and in part on Gnosticism. Thus, Sufis created their
own cosmological codes that appealed to the audience at large, which consisted
of various ethnic groups with mostly pagan beliefs.
In Sufism, every external form is complemented by an inner reality, which is
its hidden, internal essence. The zāhir is the sensible form, which is most read-
ily comprehensible, such as the shape of a building. The batı¯n is the essential
or qualitative aspect, which all things possess. In order to know a thing in its
completeness, one must not only seek its outward, ephemeral reality (the zāhir)
but also its essential, inward reality (the batı¯n).88
These concepts of inward and outward expression, i.e., as a representation of
internal reality, go back to a deeper spiritual significance of man’s verticality,
which is regarded as a spatial representation of the eternal presence of man as
an Axis Mundi. The 9th century Sufi Sahl al-Tusturı̄89 refers to the creation of
man by divine light and explains:

When it [man] reached the veil of the Majesty (hijāb al-‘azama) it

bowed in prostration before God. God created from its prostration
(sajda) a mighty column (‘āmūd) like a crystal glass (zujāj) of light
that is outwardly (zāhir) and inwardly (batı̄n) translucent.

The unique verticality of man and his spiritual essence, derived from his close
connection to God (in order to create Muhammad, God projected his own
light), is, in the Sufi tradition, opposed to the existence of the human reality
on earth. The notion of a ‘column of light’ represents the vertical axis and
denotes its close relation to the creation of man. Man, in his spatial manifesta-
tion, is represented as an Axis Mundi, as a divine creation who mediates
between the two worlds of paradise and earthly existence. In other words, man
is the primordial representation of the micro-cosmos, which connects earthly
life to the heavenly macro-cosmos. As such, man carries within himself the two
complementarities: the zāhir and the batı¯n. Man inhabits the divine world and
perceives it in its tangible three-dimensionality (the zāhir); at the same time,
he attributes a new rendering of personalized meaning to this world, which is
qualitative and mystical (the batı¯n).
The representation of the four cardinal points by the ı¯wāns in their direc-
tions as part of the representation of the celestial garden can be also referred to
the four rivers of Paradise, i.e., the four rivers of esoteric knowledge in terms
of Sufism. These rivers include the following: the river of unchanging Water
(mā‘ ghayr āsin), representing the science of life (‘ilm al-hayāt); the river of
Wine (khamr), representing the science of the spiritual states (‘ilm al-ahwal);
the river of Honey (‘asal), representing the science of the divine revelation
(‘ilm al-wahı¯) and the river of Milk (laban), representing the science of the

126 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

secrets (‘ilm al-asrār), the essence of all science, revealed by God only to those,
who devote themselves entirely to him.
In the mysticism of Ibn ‘Arabı̄, this fourfold pattern of sciences, related to
the four rivers of paradise is connected to the tripartite structure of the human
(sensible, spiritual and imaginary) and together they generate 12 different types
of Sufi knowledge. In architectural terms, these four rivers of Sufi esoteric
knowledge can be represented by the four recesses in the Sufi tombs (see figure
8) or with the four ı¯wāns of Sufi khānaqāhs, e.g. the khānaqāh of Bahauddin
(see figure 7).
Apart from cosmological representations, Sufism also introduced another
aspect of personal experience during times of prayer, which places the indivi-
dual in a special position while communicating with God. By canonizing the
al-waqt,90 seen as spatial and temporal exercises, Ibn ‘Arabı̄ argues that they are
meaningful only in reference to man’s centrality in the world and his own per-
ception of the sun’s movements:91

But when God designated in the atlas sphere the twelve divisions,
which were precisely timed, and called them ‘signs’ (burūj)…, set an
individual standing [in the centre] about whom this sphere revolved.

Since the representation of the cosmos is based on the human body and its
proportions, any other representation of the micro/macro cosmos is thus also
based on it. In terms of the representational paradigm used in this book, this
aspect can be analyzed within the Anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition pro-
posed by Mekking. The design of the ı¯wāns is subjected to the level of the eyes,
so that the views open up before the worshipper in order to be fully enjoyed
and appreciated. In the four-ı¯wān mosque, the ı¯wāns are over-dimensional,
compared to the human scale, and are meant to be perceived as such. Their
intricate geometric decorations and Quranic inscriptions show that they are
conceived as gates to the holy realm. The human being entering the gate is
rather small compared to the giant ı¯wāns. The ı¯wāns can be regarded as a
representation of the cosmic and paradisiacal landscape and gazing upon them
is like looking at the gates of paradise. Conceived as gateways to the celestial
world, the ı¯wāns combine intimate spiritual experience with architectural man-
ifestation. Sufi scholars, such as al-Ghazālı̄, Ibn Sı̄nā and Ibn ‘Arabı̄, have writ-
ten about the delight of contemplating God’s design and thus formed a sense
of pseudo-real, first-hand experiences with God’s creation.
The basic compositional feature of the four-ı¯wān plan is its stable geometry.
Islamic art is predominantly a balance between Anthropomorphic long-cycle tra-
ditions (Mekking) based on pure geometrical forms and Physiomorphic long-
cycle traditions (Mekking) based on shapes. This polarization has associative
values with the four philosophical qualities of cold and dry as represented by
the crystallization in it geometric forms; and hot and moist as represented by
the formative forces behind the vegetation and the vascular forms. These four
qualities are related to the universal four directions.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 127

In Sufi cosmology, the fortification of the four world directions has cosmic
dimensions, whereby the four spiritual masters (awtād, ‘pegs’ or ‘pillars’) are
related to the east, west, north and south.92 Ibn ‘Arabı̄ postulates that God pre-
serves one pillar for every direction and one central ‘pole’, al-qutb, which can
be interpreted as the cosmic axis (in terms of the representational themes, the
equivalent of the Axis Mundi). Along the central axis, humans can transcen-
dent through the three Cosmic Zones: starting from the underworld, the Unholy
Zone (as in the case of tombs, in which the sarcophagus is placed underground,
as for example in the Ishrat Khaneh in Samarkand), then experiencing the hor-
izontality of the earthly world, the first Holy Zone, where the earth meets the
heavens (i.e., the building itself, the intersecting axes of the four ı¯wāns marking
its centre), and proceeding to the verticality of the heavens, the second or hea-
venly Holy Zone (which can be associated with the dome, rising above the
point of the intersecting axes as in the khānaqāhs). Akkach93 argues that verti-
cality in Sufi teachings is an expression of human uniqueness, while the
emphasis on geographical directions represents the comprehensiveness of
human reality. This proves again that the representation of the cosmos is based
on the Anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition.

In the four-ı¯wān plan, the four cardinal points are marked not by pillars but
by four monumental ı¯wāns, whose bulky architecture cannot be defined as tec-
tonically aesthetic and is meant to represent the fortification of the earthly
world. In terms of the cosmology of Ibn ‘Arabı̄, the ı¯wāns serve as fortifications
against Satanic attack, which weakens human nature and places obstacles on
the way to divine revelation. Therefore, the four-ı¯wān compound represents a
stronghold of God’s domain, a place where humans can strive for direct con-
tact with God, secured by remodelling the compound according to the princi-
ples used by God while creating the world.
This representation belongs to the realm of the ‘Excluding & Including’
shorter-cycle theme, proposed by Mekking. Within this framework, the ı¯wāns
can be associated with parallels across other temporal and cultural contexts, as
for example, in Hindu or Buddhist sacred settings. Due to the limited scope of
this article, we cannot dwell in detail on these examples. However, they will be
analyzed elsewhere,94 since the parallels are obvious and should be presented to
the audience at large. Here, we will only briefly mention the relevant points
with regard to the origin of the madrasa and the khānaqāh.
Barthold links the madrasa to the Buddhist vihara, which flourished in east-
ern Iran and Central Asia just before the Muslim conquest of the region. The
structure was a communal one, combining worship, education and burial prac-
tices. The vihara consists of several elements and the ones that have been dis-
covered have a four-ı¯wān plan overlooking a courtyard. Barthold95 further
explains that Islam was influenced by Buddhism and the original home of the
madrasa may have been the region that lies on either side of the Amu-Darya
and borders on Balkh, where Buddhism dominated prior to the Muslim con-
quest. Furthermore, with regard to Sufism, Barthold96 points out that during

128 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

the Mongol period in Central Asia, dervishes belonging to various orders co-
existed next to the learned theologians and representatives of the orthodoxy.
Their khānaqāhs were built ‘everywhere’ but especially in the regions bordering
the steppe – Bukhara, Kwarazm and the Sir-Darya. From here, the dervish
shaykhs were able to spread their beliefs among the nomads, who, for
‘unknown reasons’, as Barthold described it, were more open to their influence
than to Muslim scholarship.
Islam’s concentration on geometrical patterns and forms can be further
explained in its attempt to represent the nature of the inner self in the world at
large or the built environment. Whereas the experienced world, the world of
divine manifestation, can be perceived in its three-dimensionality; the world of
spiritual paradise, or the world of the self, of motivating intelligence, is two-
dimensional. In other words, according to Critchlow,97 the intuitive mind of
the individual tries to explain its existence and is led inward and away from
the three-dimensional world, into a two-dimensional realm of ideas and
The attempt to represent the celestial garden on earth (i.e., macro-cosmos)
is also an attempt to resolve the philosophical conflict between a two-dimen-
sional world of ideas and a three-dimensional world of reality. The four-ı¯wān
plan can be thus regarded as a scheme, which reflects the two-dimensional
Quranic descriptions, praising the celestial garden, in a three-dimensional
manner, by projecting them onto the ı¯wāns. The intersecting cross-axial design
reveals and forms the four realms of the celestial garden, the ı¯wāns, being in
line with the axial-spatial orientation, mark the four directions of the world.
Another celestial geometrical element is the equal importance of the four cardi-
nal points, reflecting the four directions of the cosmos. As such, the four-ı¯wān
plan represents the world as a micro-cosmos in its totality. What is more, it
can be analyzed as a geometrical micro version of the macro-world. Whereby,
the closed rectangular ensemble, spatially isolated from the urban landscape, is
filled in with atmosphere of sacredness and uniqueness: this is done in the field
of the ‘Excluding & Including’ shorter-cycle theme as proposed by Mekking.
The divine proportions of the four-ı¯wān plan are based on the Anthro-
pomorphic long-cycle tradition. The cosmic order of the four rivers of paradise
and the four cardinal points are also based on the anthropomorphic worldview.
Furthermore, the number four is derived from the symmetry of the human
body, which suggests a four-partite division of the horizon: a front and a back,
left and right side.98 That is why the Sufi cosmography, without a directional
anthropomorphic alignment, would have been very hard to imagine, especially
among the nomadic tribes of Central Asia. There is no doubt that the marking
of the surrounding horizon with four cardinal points and the idea of the azi-
muth were widespread long before organized religion existed. Not to mention
the fact that the words ‘azimuth’, meaning ‘way, direction’, ‘zenith’, referring to
the highest point in the heavens, directly above the observer, and figuratively
also to the greatest development of perfection and ‘nadir’, all have Arabic ori-
gins99 and are part of the Anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 129

But in the earliest religious records of the Middle East, the cardinal points
appear as symbols for the four corners of the earth, the four winds100 that
blow in the heavens and four rivers that flow through paradise.101 Together
with the liturgical alignment with the qibla, the spatial alignment with the car-
dinal and intercardinal directions, as marked by the sun’s trajectory in its diur-
nal and annual journeys, places the four-ı¯wān compound in an architectural
tradition organized by ancient cosmological practice that is much older than
Islam. Based on the above, we can argue that ‘Sufi’ architectural representation
was mainly constructed in the ‘working space’ and with the ‘tools’ of the
‘Excluding & Including’ shorter-cycle theme, based on the Anthropomorphic
long-cycle tradition.
The central organization of the four-ı¯wān plan continues the representation
of the waters of paradise and is crucial to the architectural plan of the com-
pound. Within the framework of the intercultural paradise tradition, part of
the ‘Excluding & Including’ shorter-cycle theme, this could be associated with
the ocean of creation in Hindu cosmology. The centre is at the intersecting
point of the two orthogonal axes and is the most mysterious space. The central
point of the two intersecting axes is underlined by positioning a fountain or a
pool of water: the fawwara. This element was used for sacred ablutions.
According to Kuban,102 the taharam, a prerequisite for the salah, which may be
achieved by the act of wudu, was an innovation by the caliph Omar. Originally,
the water was collected in a pool or birka, situated in the centre of the sahn
(courtyard). But the followers of Abu Hanifah refused to carry out ablution
with standing water, maintaining that it was impure and instead used a foun-
tain of running water. Later, places for ablution were located near the entrance
of the sahn and were called mi’da’a or mavadi’u.103 Generally speaking, it has
not been customary for ablutions to take place within the sanctuary.
A small basin, sihrij or siqaya, with a water jet, fawwara, was often con-
structed in the mosque for decorative purposes and/or for drinking water.
Kuban states that the pool or fountain may have been both for drinking and
ablution purposes, although the two functions of ablution and drinking were
probably strictly separated. The existence of two pools, as in the Friday
Mosque in Isfahan, for example, can be explained with the two different func-
tions, attributed to each of the pools. Perhaps during the early development of
the mosque compound, the central pool with still water had strictly metaphysi-
cal and philosophical purposes. The function of sacred ablution was probably
brought into the mosque compound at a later stage, since it is secondary to
the pool. It emerged with increasing numbers of worshippers, attending the
mosque and the need for ritual ablutions. Previously, these functions were car-
ried out either outside the mosque’s compounds or in the second pool.
However, in the majority of four-ı¯wān mosques in Iran and India, there is only
one central pool with still water.
Here, we can compare the four-ı¯wān open courtyard mosque with the
domed Seljuq mosque in Bursa, founded by Sultan Bayezid I. The second
dome-shaped roof on the central axis is made of glass and there is a large sha-

130 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

Fig. 17 Bursa, Sultan Bayezid Mosque, shadirvan after Mekking (102b).

dirvan immediately beneath it. The doors opening on three sides of the mos-
que face the shadirvan (figure 17).104
The Sultan Bayezid I Mosque is the most monumental of the multi-domed
mosques that form a very special branch of Ottoman architecture. The shadir-
van can be interpreted in this case as the source of life or as a vertical element
that acts like an Axis Mundi mediating between the Holy Earthly Zone of the
mosque (based on two intersecting axes) and the Heavenly Holy Zone of the
dome. This displays an extraordinary use of a water pool in the mosque’s
The central water tank is usually situated in the middle of the four-ı¯wān
open courtyard and functions as a representation of the divine creation by
reflecting it on the water’s smooth surface. It is part of the overall concept of
creating a sacred space along two intersecting axes (in the case of Isfahan:
north-south and east-west) and accentuating the point in which they meet. As
such, the pool represents the meeting of the cardinal points and thus creates a
visible scheme of the world in its totality – a micro-cosmos with God at its
centre and its mirror image reflected in the water pool representing the macro-
cosmos. In terms of the current article, the water pool creates an invisible Axis
Mundi, connecting the underworld (the Unholy Zone), (where the water comes
from) with the earth (the first Holy Zone, nourished by water), and the hea-
venly realm (the second Holy Zone). It can also be regarded as a micro-cosmic
version of the primordial sea, from which life originated.
The spatial factor underlying all Islamic and basically all cosmological geo-
metric patterns is symmetry. The use of the four-ı¯wān compound based on per-
fect orthogonal symmetry represents God’s perfection and transcendent purity,
similar to other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultural traditions. The
straight lines are thought to represent tawhid – the divine unity and sacred order
between man and nature. This order, created by the geometrical divine patterns

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 131

is based on mathematical regularity. The scheme of the four-ı¯wāns can thus be
interpreted as a denotation of the four quarters or directions of the universe.
The divine aspect of perfection is also underlined by bilateral symmetry. The
intersecting axes form four rectangular spaces, which are identical and mir-
rored along the main design axis that leads to the mihrāb. The ı¯wāns are also
mirrored along the two axes in a similar manner as the world, which reflects,
e.g., as the world that mirrors the divine world. As a result, the whole mosque
or madrasa is an example of bilateral symmetrical organization.
Another aspect related to symmetry is that God’s perfection, evoked and
represented by perfectly organized building and landscape schemes, is in con-
trast to the imperfections of human beings, who are seen as subordinate to the
divine organizational principles. The four-ı¯wān plan, as opposed to the organi-
cally grown urban fabric, can be regarded as a perfectly organized system based
on geometrical symmetry. In this way, we have two juxtapositions: on the one
hand, the human imperfection in contrast to the divine symmetry; and on the
other hand, the urban, unstructured frames in contrast to the place of divine
presence and worship i.e., the mosque or the madrasa. With regard to the cycles
as presented by Mekking, the unstructured urban fabric can be explained and
compared within the framework of the shorter-cycle ‘Excluding & Including’
theme as the excluded world, while the symmetrically structured compound
with four ı¯wāns is the all-encompassing perfect paradise.
The gigantic Quranic inscriptions on the ı¯wāns are another aspect of the
represented proportions. According to Critchlow,105 the nature of the letters
also has a cosmological explanation. He considers the lunar mansions to be
macrocosmic counterparts of the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet, from which
the language of the divine word can be articulated as an expression of the
divine breath (nafas-al-rahman). That is why, the gigantic inscriptions from
the Quran on the ı¯wāns can be regarded as God’s grandeur, compared to the
human dimensions. The Quran not only has a spiritual importance, but it is
also present in two-dimensional images that appear along the three-dimen-
sional ı¯wāns in the form of superb stuccos in a variety of colours.
Since Sufism asserted substantial influence on a number of architectural set-
tings, starting in the second half of the 13th century, we will also analyze the
Sufi tomb and its relation to the khānaqāh in this chapter. After all, the Sufi
khānaqāh became a focus of pilgrimages and four-ı¯wān compounds were later
erected around it.

The Sufi Tomb and the Sufi Khānaqāh

The role of the tomb is crucial for the conception of the four-ı¯wān plan. On
the one hand, the tomb is the last dwelling place of the deceased and it is,
therefore, conceived as a gate to paradise. On the other hand, the designs of
tombs employed the compact lay-out of the Zoroastrian fire temple, based on
a square or octagonal sanctuary with four wall openings, which, for the most
part, were oriented along the four cardinal points. What is most characteristic

132 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

of the Sufi tomb (buq‘a) is the dome, which has a conical shape and is usually
green. This dome could probably be recognized from far away by the arriving
Sufi pilgrims.106
During the 11th through 14th centuries, Sufi complexes emerged as a result
of the growing popularity of Sufi shaykhs and, in particular, their graves, which
became the focus of the pilgrimages. The tombs of the shaykhs thus formed an
inseparable part of the khānaqāhs, which offered shelter to the pilgrims and
floor for mystical discussions. The tomb was sometimes integrated into the
khānaqāh, as, for example, in the Abdi Darun complex in Samarkand (see fig-
ure 8). In other cases, the tomb was separated from the khānaqāh, as in the
case of the Gur-i-Amir (although it is a royal tomb, the figure of the ruler has
the same Axis Mundi connotations as the shaykh).
The shaykh secured direct communication with God during his lifetime by
performing sacred rituals and by reading or citing the word of God.
Posthumously, his tomb became a place of veneration, in which the four-ı¯wān
plan provided a perfect setting for worship and mystical experiences. The fig-
ure of the respective shaykh was used to add ‘holiness’ to the complex built as
a result of a rich endowment. The ‘holier’ the shaykh, the more people who
would come to the site to venerate him and thus further spread the word about
it and the patron along the trade and pilgrimage routes. Therefore, the Sufi
tombs and complexes were well visible within the urban fabric and brought
additional assets to the cities they were built in. Wolper,107 based on the 14th-

Fig. 18 Four Angels supporting the throne of God from ‘Illustrated Guide to Mecca and the
Hereafter’, MS Pers. d. 29, fol.66r (photo: Bodleian Library) after Begley (106, p.23).

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 133

century Sufi tomb examples in Sivas, argues that the domed tombs attracted
the attention to dervish lodges and could be discerned from a distance by the
approaching travellers. In this way, pilgrims could also find the adjacent
The floor plan of the Sufi tomb and domed khānaqāh, e.g., the Ulugh-Beg
Khānaqāh in Samarkand or the Bahauddin Khānaqāh and Nadir Dı̄wānbaigi
Khānaqāh in Bukhara, can also be interpreted as representations of the rela-
tionship between heaven and man. In architectural terms, this is done by
squaring the circles and moving from the single point of the circular dome to
the square tomb chamber or khānaqāh. The large dome is supported by four
ı¯wāns, which can be allegorically read as the four angels, holding the Throne of
God (figure 18).
In Sufi terms, the four pillars are associated with the four pillars of the tem-
ple of righteousness: Pillar one is the Quran as the Word of God, pillar two is
the study of the Life of the Prophet, pillar three is the study of the examples
and lives of the Saints, while pillar four is personal experience (the spiritual
In later mystical treatises, the four holders of the Throne of God have the
four Awtad, or the four terrestrial ‘poles’ in the Sufi hierarchy of saints as their
symbolic counterparts.108 Corbin109 explains that, according to esoteric Shi‘ah
theology, the spiritual order of the world is sustained by the cosmically hidden
Imam, who is metaphorically conceived as the Axis Mundi of the entire created
universe and is often called Quth al-Aqtab, or ‘Pole of Poles’. In many Shi‘ah
mystical treatises, the four Awtad are symbolically equated with the four arch-
angels, as well as with the four pillars of the Throne of God.
In the case of the four-ı¯wān plan, the four angels can be associated with the
four ı¯wāns as the most distinguished exterior and interior feature of the com-
pounds. In the domed four-ı¯wān compounds, such as the khānaqāhs, the

Fig. 19 Natanz, shrine of ‘Abd al-Samad, conical dome of the Sufi tomb and four-ı̄wān mosque
after Blair (108, p.37).

134 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

ı¯wāns also structurally carry the load of the dome, which symbolizes the
Throne of God. However, in the four-ı¯wān plan this tectonic function is not
represented by any visible buttresses. The ı¯wāns have a smooth surface, deco-
rated only by different tiles. In general, the basic frame of the ı¯wāns is not dis-
tinguished by any ranks, although the ı¯wāns are of various sizes and have
different decorations. The entrance ı¯wān and the sanctuary ı¯wān housing the
mihrāb are sometimes larger and have inscriptions that refer to paradise.
However, in most of the cases, the ı¯wāns simply underline the equality of the
four cardinal points.
In the shrine of shaykh ‘Abd al-Samad in Natanz, the tomb of the Sufi was
enlarged with a four-ı¯wān mosque in 1325 (figure 19). According to Blair,110
this was done during one single campaign, which means that the whole com-
pound was supposed to be based on the four-ı¯wān plan. The enlargement of
the Sufi tomb can be explained with the spread of Sufi shrine centres in Iran at
the beginning of the 14th century. By that time, Sufism had been institutiona-
lized and Sufis had established their social authority. As such, the complex in
Natanz can be analyzed in terms of the increasing popularity of Sufi shaykhs
and their sites and of the political support of these compounds by the
The figure of the shaykh was used to attract followers and to recreate ‘holy
sites’, which were obviously supported by the ruling elite. Thus the Sufi tombs
had a dual function: on the one hand, they secured the tradition of the Sufi
pilgrimage and the veneration of the pious figure of the shaykh; on the other
hand, they represented an attempt by the Ilkhanid authority to become
accepted and recognized by the different ethnic groups as ‘tolerant’ of Sufi
mysticism and placing it as equal to religious science.
In this sense, we can also analyze the choice of Timur and Ulugh-Beg to
build Sufi khānaqāhs opposite to their most prominent constructions as an
obvious example of following the Ilkhanid tolerance of Sufism. Furthermore,
both Timur and Ulugh-Beg saw themselves as glorious heirs to Cingiz Han
and their reigns were an attempt to revive the great Mongol empire. Even
Ulugh-Beg adopted the title of Gurgan111 to underline and acknowledge his
affiliation with the Ilkhanids. We should here stress the fact that it was not cus-
tomary for royals to build khānaqāhs, so Timur and Ulugh-Beg were excep-
tions. The majority of Sufi khānaqāhs were sponsored by the emerging
aristocracy and the following arguments can explain the choice of the four-
ı¯wān plan for these buildings.
The patrons chose to invest in Sufi foundations and benefit from their rev-
enues in order to protect their family assets during politically insecure times.
Patronage of Sufi architecture was a means to manifest seigniorial power and
to hold on to property and was thus connected to the gradual attainment of
political power. The four-ı¯wān plan had been a familiar one since the Seljuq
period and was used for monumental mosque architecture. At the beginning of
Sufism in the 9th century, the Sufi orders were rather poor and numerous indi-
vidual Sufi mystics inhabited rabats and caravansarays, in which they were trea-

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 135

ted as ordinary guests and not as mystics. With the ever-increasing popularity
of Sufism in the 11th and 12th centuries, and the establishment of Sufi orders,
which resulted in a boom in building activity in the 13th and 14th centuries,
Sufi shaykhs and mystics acquired a prominent role among the ruling elite. It
was a question of honour to be related to a shaykh and to patronize a building
dedicated to him, especially his tomb. In some cases, even family trees were
forged in order to ‘prove’ some remote link to a great Sufi ancestor.
As a result, larger Sufi compounds were endowed and the patrons opted for
monumental structures, such as the four-ı¯wān plan. In some cases, the four-
ı¯wān plan was chosen to represent the new ruling power of the Ilkhanids, as,
for example, in the above analyzed Çifte madrasa in Sivas. In other cases, local
aristocrats also opted for the four-ı¯wān plan to represent their legitimacy as
followers of past Seljuq glory, as in the case of the Gök Madrasa, also in Sivas.
Whereas Ulugh-Beg chose the four-ı¯wān plan following the architectural proto-
types of his grandfather Timur, with whom he wanted to be associated and
whom he wanted to surpass. So, the four-ı¯wān plan fitted into the political
agenda of the commissioners and legitimized their aspirations for power.


To summarize, in terms of Sufi cosmology, the four-ı¯wān plan can be regarded

as a representation of the overtly manifested realities. The microcosmic man
acts both horizontally and vertically. The horizontal expansion is fourfold and
relates to the four cardinal points and the four rivers of paradise. The vertical
expansion, combined with individual perception of the architectural space in
the horizontal expansion, transcends the quadrate of the earthly world to the
unity of the divine world. The idea of the Universal Man, acting as an Axis
Mundi, inhabits both cosmic and divine realities and his axiality facilitates the
communication between the worlds.
Ulugh-Beg built the four-ı¯wān madrasa on the Registan Square in Samarkand
to represent his authority as an emperor-scholar, acknowledging both orthodox
religious thought and the growing influence of the Sufi Naqshbandiyya order.
The four-ı¯wān plan was meticulously chosen since it represents paradise on
earth. By erecting a Sufi khānaqāh facing his madrasa, he followed the architec-
tonic example of the Timurid dynastic mausoleum Gur-i-Amir and paid tribute
to the Naqshbandiyya shaykhs, who openly disapproved of his disrespect for the
Shari’ah. Both of these moves were overtly political and exemplify the increas-
ing power of the Sufi shaykhs in the 15th century.


1 B. O’Kane, ‘Iran and Central Asia’, in: M. Frishman and H. Khan (eds.), The Mosque, London,
1994, p. 123.

136 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

2 L. Golombek and D. Wilber, The Timurid Architecture of Iran and Turan, vol. 1, Princeton,
1988, p. 87.
3 G. Pugachenkova, Samarkand, Bukhara, Moskva, 1968.
4 R. Ettinghausen, O. Grabar and M. Jenkins-Madina, Islamic Art and Architecture 650-1250,
Yale: Yale University Press, 2001, p. 145.
5 A. Godard, Die Kunst des Iran, Berlin: Grunewald, 1964, p. 245.
6 M. Van Berchem, Matériaux pour un Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum, I, Egypte, Cairo, 1899,
pp. 265-66.
7 E. Herzfeld, ‘Damascus’, in: Ars Islamica, 9 and 10, 1942 and 1943.
8 R. Hillenbrand, Islamic Architecture: Form, function and meaning, New York: Columbia
University Press, 1994, p. 19.
9 U. Vogt-Göknil, Die Moschee. Grundformen sakraler Baukunst, Zürich: Verlag für Architektur
Artemis, 1978, pp. 41-84.
10 N. Ardelan and L. Bakhtiar, The Sense of Unity, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973, p.
11 See chapter 1 of this volume.
12 A. Snodgrass, The Symbolism of the Stupa, New York: Cornell Southeast Asia Program, 1985, p.
13 See chapter 1 of this volume.
14 As in the case of Zoroastrian fire temples or Hindu temples, where the corners of the building
face the cardinal points and wall openings are placed in the half cardinal points. However,
these architectural examples are not covered in the current article.
15 Registan means ‘place where sand is abundant’. V.V. Barthold, Four Studies on the History of
Central Asia, vol. II, Ulugh-Beg, Leiden: Brill, 1958, p. 119.
16 E. Paskaleva, all photographs were taken in the autumn of 2006; K. Herdeg, Formal Structure
in Islamic Architecture of Iran and Turkistan, New York: Rizzoli, 1990, p.55; ArchNet Archive,
17 Pugachenkova 1968 (3), p. 99.
18 H.R. Roemer, Die Nachfolger Timurs, in: Islamwissenschaftliche Abhandlungen. Fritz Meier zum
sechzigsten Geburtstag, Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag GmbH, 1974, p. 232.
19 Barthold, 1958 (15), p. 119.
20 Pugachenkova, 1968 (3), p. 102.
21 Barthold, 1958 (15), p. 121.
22 Barthold, 1958 (15), p. 114.
23 According to the ‘History of Central Asian Darvishism’ (Rashahatu ‘ayni-hayā’t), composed in
the beginning of the 16th century and quoted by Barthold 1958 (15), p. 115.
24 Barthold, 1958 (15), p. 115.
25 Barthold, 1958 (15), p. 114.
26 Barthold, 1958 (15), p. 122.
27 S. Blair and J. Bloom, The Art and Architecture of Islam 1250-1800, New York: Penguin Books,
1994, p. 45.
28 Golombek and Wilber, 1988 (2), p. 264.
29 Pugachenkova, 1968 (3), p. 102.
30 Barthold, 1958 (15), p. 122.
31 A.V. Arapov, Masterpieces of Central Asia, Samarkand, Tashkent: San‘at, 2004, p. 42.
32 Arapov, 2004 (30), p. 44.
33 Pugachenkova, 1968 (3), p. 102.
34 This phenomena can be explained by the fact that Bukhara was the stronghold of the
Naqsbandiyya order.
35 M. Yusupova, ‘Evolution of Architecture of the Sufi Complexes in Bukhara’, in: A. Petruccioli
(ed.), Bukhara: The Myth and the Architecture, Cambridge, MA: Aga Khan Program for Islamic
Architecture, 1999, p. 130.
36 A. Gangler, H. Gaube and A. Petruccioli, Bukhara: The Eastern Dome of Islam, Stuttgart/
London: Edition Axel Menges, 2004, p. 112.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 137

37 Gangler, Gaube and Petruccioli, 2004 (35), p. 113.
38 Yusupova, 1999 (34), p. 128.
39 Golombek and Wilber, 1988 (2), p. 270.
40 Golombek and Wilber,1988 (2), pp. 267-268.
41 Pugachenkova 1968 (3), p. 95.
42 Pugachenkova 1968 (3), p. 95.
43 After the ordered assassination of his own son, Ulugh-Beg was buried in Gur-i-Amir at the feet
of his grandfather Timur.
44 D. Brandenburg, Samarkand. Studien zur islamischen Baukunst in Uzbekistan Zentralasien,
Berlin: Bruno Hessling Verlag, 1966, p. 114.
45 Arapov, 2004 (30), p. 24.
46 Blair and Bloom, 1994 (26), p. 41.
47 Brandenburg, 1966 (43), p. 113.
48 Arapov, 2004 (30), p. 24.
49 Pugachenkova, 1968 (3), p. 76.
50 Zahirudin Muhammad Babur, ‘Mizra: Baburnama’, translated by W.M. Thackston, in: Sources
of Oriental Languages and Literatures: Central Asian Sources, vol. 18, Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1993.
51 M.C. Bulatov, Geometricheska garmonizacia v arhitekture Srednej Azii IX-XV vv, Moskva:
Nauka, 1978, p. 184.
52 Bulatov, 1978 (50), p. 184.
53 Golombek and Wilber, 1988 (2), p. 263.
54 Pugachenkova, 1968 (3), p. 108.
55 54. Roemer, 1974 (17), p. 236.
56 Barthold, 1958 (15), p. 122.
57 Another similarly smart political move from the same period, 1416-1418, were the extensive
renovations to the shrine of Imam Riza in Mashhad, initiated by Gawharshad, the mother of
Ulugh-Beg. Through her intense architectural activity she tried to appease the increasingly
powerful Shiites in Iran. Also many amı¯rs from Shāhrokh’s court in the capital Herat utilized
the ‘kosh’ principle of madrasas and khānaqāhs during the 15th through 16th centuries.
58 For a detailed overview of Sufi dervish lodges see: E.S. Wolper, Cities and Saints: Sufism and
the Transformation of Urban Space in Medieval Anatolia, college Park, PA: Pennnsylvania State
University Press, 2003.
59 E.S. Wolper, ‘The Politics of Patronage: Political Change and the Construction of Dervish
Lodges in Sivas’, in: Muqarnas, vol. XII, 1995, pp. 39-40.
60 Wolper uses ‘dervish lodges’ as an umbrella term for all Sufi buildings.
61 Wolper, 2003 (57), p. 79.
62 Wolper, 2003 (57), p. 81.
63 Wolper, 2003 (57), p. 62.
64 The harsh tone of this advice stands apart from Ibn al-‘Arabı̄’s tolerance towards Christians.
65 Wolper, 2003 (57), p. 60.
66 As stated by Gangler, Gaube and Petruccioli, 2004 (35), p. 113.
67 Wolper 1995 (58), p. 43.
68 Wolper 1995 (58), p. 43.
69 Wolper 1995 (58), p. 44.
70 Wolper 1995 (58), p. 44.
71 Wolper, 2003 (57), p. 68.
72 Wolper, 2003 (57), p. 20.
73 Godard, 1964 (5), p. 247.
74 Website of B. Peter, 2006,
75 Compass type: RECTA DP6.
76 Golombek and Wilber, 1988 (2), p. 87.

138 The Architectural Representation of Paradise

77 The plans in Golombek and Wilber, 1988 (2), cat. no. 4, state that the Bukhara madrasa ı¯wāns
were ideally oriented along the cardinal points: entrance ı¯wān to the south and courtyard ı¯wān
to the north. However, according to the 2006 measurements, the ı¯wāns deviate by some 20
from the cardinal points.
78 Golombek and Wilber 1988 (2), p. 265.
79 Golombek and Wilber 1988 (2), p. 265.
80 Hillenbrand 1994 (8), p. 106.
81 S. Akkach, Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam. An Architectural Reading of Mystical
Ideas, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005, p. 171.
82 Ardelan and Bakhtiar 1973 (10), p. 70; W. Kleiss, Die Entwicklung von Palästen und
Palastartigen Wohnbauten in Iran, Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der
Wissenschaften, 1989, Abb.22.
83 In the current paper the word ‘sacred’ is used to refer to Islamic architecture. The Arabic term
for ‘sacred’ is muqaddas, denoting ‘purity’. In pre-modern Islamic texts it signified proximity
to the primordial nature (fitra). For further discussion on the usage of the term, please refer to
Akkach 2005 (79), p.164.
84 R. Irwin, Islamic Art in Context: Art, Architecture, and the Literary World, New York:
Perspectives, Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers, 1997, p. 47.
85 Vogt-Göknil 1978 (9), pp. 41-84.
86 Vogt-Göknil 1978 (9), p.82.
87 Godard, 1964 (5), p. 245, plan of the Zavareth Mosque, p. 248.
88 Ardelan and Bakhtiar, 1973 (10), p. 5.
89 Quoted by Akkach, 2005 (79), p. 93.
90 Akkach, 2005 (79), p. 95.
91 Akkach, 2005 (79), p. 95.
92 E. Paskaleva, The Four-ı¯wān Building Tradition as a Representation of Paradise, Ph.D.
dissertation, Leiden University, forthcoming.
93 Barthold, 1958 (15), p. 5.
94 Barthold, 1958 (15), p. 7.
95 K. Critchlow, Islamic Patterns: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach. London: Thames and
Hudson, 1976, p. 8.
96 A.J.J. Mekking, ‘Een kruis van kerken rond Koenraads hart’, in: Utrecht. Kruispunt van de
Middeleeuwse kerk, Zutphen: De Walburg Pers, 1988, pp. 21-55.
97 Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
98 D. Kuban, Muslim Religious Architecture, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1974, p. 12.
99 Kuban, 1974 (100), p. 9.
100 G. Goodwin, A History of Ottoman Architecture, London: Thames & Hudson, 1992, p. 52; see
also O. Aslanapa, Osmanli Devri Mimarisi, Istanbul: Inkilap Kitabevi, 1986, p. 22; A.J.J.
Mekking archive,
101 Critchlow, 1976 (95), p. 59.
102 The dome in this case becomes a visual representation of belonging to a Sufi order. This is
quite different from the Seljuq mosques, in which not the dome above the mihrab but the
minaret is seen from afar and recognized as belonging to the Seljuq architectural tradition.
103 Wolper, 1995 (58).
104 W.E. Begley, The Myth of the Taj Mahal and a New Theory of Its Symbolic Meaning, in: The
Art Bulletin, 61, 1979, pp. 7-37.
105 H. Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn-‘Arabi. Bollingen Series XCI, Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1969, p. 45.
106 S. Blair, ‘Sufi Saints and Shrine Architecture in the Early Fourtheenth Century’, in: Muqarnas,
vol. VII, 1990.
107 Roemer 1974 (17), p. 231.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 139

4 The Architectural
Representation of Taboo
Toilet Taboos as Guardians of
Old Taiwanese Representations
of Family Life
En-Yu Huang


Architectural taboos and Feng-Shui taboos
In contemporary Taiwan, numerous traditional principles and rules regarding
a building’s site, orientation and layout still exert a great influence on the pro-
cess of positioning, composing and constructing houses, although they have lit-
tle to do with modern ‘functionalist,’ aesthetic and technological notions.
Dwellers as well as designers and builders are inevitably involved in this pro-
cess. Some building specialists advise people on what should be done, while
others warn them against what should not be done. Normally, people seem to
pay more attention to the latter, the things not-to-be-done, because these are
considered to be architectural taboos. In Taiwan, as well as in many other
regions influenced by Chinese-Han culture, these architectural taboos are
usually thought to be the logical consequences of the application of Feng-Shui
theories in architectural practice and are therefore mostly called Feng-Shui
taboos. In practice, the man-in-the-street seems to care less about any of the
relevant Feng-Shui theories being fully applied in architectural practice, and
more about how not to offend some of the so-called Feng-Shui taboos directly
related to their living circumstances.
Most architectural historians regard architectural taboos as by-products of
the systematic application of Feng-Shui theories, as a consequence of which, in
their eyes, successfully exploring architectural taboos should be based on a suf-
ficient understanding of Feng-Shui theories. Two well-known exponents of that
approach, and reputable scholars in the field of Chinese architectural history,
are Bao-De Han and Ronald G. Knapp.1 Specifically, they discuss architectural

taboos as being part of two major Feng-Shui Schools: the Form School and the
Compass School.2 Bao-De Han has convincingly demonstrated that most of the
existing architectural taboos are related to the Form School,3 while Ronald G.
Knapp has argued clearly that some architectural taboos can be seen as ‘situa-
tional deficiencies’ in terms of the Form School and the Compass School, and
should be avoided during building activities.4 Nonetheless, their discussions do
not show how and why these architectural taboos, over time, developed and
were transformed within the framework of Feng-Shui theorizing, not to men-
tion the fact that they were already an important part of architectural practice
long before Feng-Shui theories came into being.

Architectural taboos are far from being exclusively based on ‘Feng-Shui’

The term Feng-Shui cannot be found in any text prior to Quo-Pu (郭璞, AD
276-324) who used the term in his book Zang-Shu (葬書) or Burial Book.5
The term Feng-Shui was introduced along with Quo-Pu’s theory, and gradually
became the regular indication for a coherent cluster consisting of the acts of
siting, arranging and orienting dwellings or tombs. However, in the much
older Shui-Hu-Di Ri-Shu bamboo-manuscript (睡虎地日書秦簡), discovered
in the 3rd century BC in the tombs of the Qin Dynasty, a multitude of compar-
able architectural taboos had already been described in detail.6 In addition, the
two major Feng-Shui Schools, the Form School and the Compass School, had
not been established before the 14th century, much later than the earliest
records of architectural taboos.7 Obviously, even many of the architectural
taboos recorded in the texts after the 14th century, were not directly relevant to
Feng-Shui theories (fig. 1).8

Fig. 1 Hui-tu Lu-ban-jing (reprint Hsinchu, 2000). Many architectural taboos have been
recorded in this 15th-century book.

142 The Architectural Representation of Taboo

As a consequence of all this, the numerous architectural taboos, which are
observed in Taiwan as well as in other culturally Chinese areas, today are still
mainly called ‘Feng-Shui taboos’. All we can say about the connection between
Feng-Shui and architectural taboos is that the development of the first is prob-
ably closely related to the development and transformation of the latter, but
that the first should never be seen as constituting the latter’s origins. For this
reason alone, it is incorrect to discuss architectural taboos merely within the
framework of Feng-Shui tradition or as if they are all based on Feng-Shui

Architectural taboos as a worldwide and dynamic phenomenon

We should be careful about seeing Chinese architectural taboos as an exclusive
phenomenon. First of all, we should remind ourselves of the impressive taboo
system of the Indian Vaastu Shastra, and, broadening our scope even more, we
should be aware of the existence of architectural taboos in completely different
cultural contexts, such as, the (Medieval) Christian or the Jewish and Islamic
ones. So we may find that the occurrence of the architectural taboo is not
restricted to one specific culture, but that it is, on the contrary, a worldwide
phenomenon whose characteristics are permanently transforming. This being
the case, architectural taboos should be analyzed with an appropriate world-
wide scope, using the methodological tools for architectural comparison based
on the paradigm as postulated by Mekking, providing us with the necessary
mental tools to fruitfully compare culturally different built environments and
the ‘realities’ they represent.
Moreover, analyzing the ‘life cycle’ of an architectural taboo over time, from
its ‘invention,’ elaboration, spread, and, finally, to its loss in ‘popularity,’ it
becomes crystal clear that the phenomenon is not static but dynamic, with a
ceaseless transformation being one of its major characteristics. Therefore, we
should also not restrict our research to the category of the so-called ‘classical’
architectural taboos and remain receptive to all other types as well, whether
documented in historical texts or still practiced in everyday architectural activ-
ities. In fact, we should treat them all as equally important.

The ‘Toilet taboo’ as an important ‘guardian’ of Taiwanese anthropo-cosmic

architectural representations
This essay focuses on the architectural toilet taboo as a widespread and very
informative Taiwanese architectural taboo. It is mainly about where the toilet
should never be placed. For example, many people are very concerned that the
toilet never be placed in the centre of the house, on the left side of the building
(if the traditional, south-facing left and right sides of a house are still discern-
able), or in front of any interior door or certain other elements of the house,
to name just a few of the most important taboos. All these toilet taboos were
prevalent in the past as well as in the present, if we study old books as well as

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 143

listen to current oral traditions. Although every toilet taboo has been – and
will always be – in a process of transformation according to the changing spa-
tial and morphological characteristics of the house it belongs to, it will also
simultaneously continue to represent some of the dwelling’s most important
characteristics and, in doing so, some of the most fundamental realities of the
society which gave birth to it.
To understand the way that Taiwanese toilet taboos continue to represent
fundamental traditional realities under changing social and architectural cir-
cumstances, one should first analyze the spatial and morphological characteris-
tics of successive kinds of Taiwanese dwellings, the Sam-Hap-Inn (三合院), the
Thau-Tinn-Chu (透天厝) and the modern apartment. Finally, in order to get a
better understanding of how Taiwanese toilet taboos ‘guard’ the houses’ basic
representational features, we will compare them to those observed in the build-
ing traditions of other cultures.


The spatial and typological characteristics of ‘Sam-Hap-Inn’ houses
The Sam-Hap-Inn house,9 characterized by a layout of three major wings
grouped around a central courtyard, is the earliest known farmhouse type in
Taiwan (fig. 2). This kind of courtyard house should be seen as part of the
age-old Chinese courtyard-house tradition. Compared to the other traditional
U-shaped building types on Mainland China, the Sam-Hap-Inn house has sim-
pler spatial and typological characteristics, and it is therefore easier to recog-
nize the morphological characteristics of the Anthropomorphic long-cycle
tradition that this kind of house, in all its variations, is ultimately based on.
In the first place, this can be derived from the anthropomorphic names for
all of its building parts. Accordingly, the Sam-Hap-Inn house is a representa-
tion of the human body, stretching out its two arms with its head looking
straight ahead. The central part is named Ciann-Sin (正身) or ‘human trunk’,

Fig. 2 Houli, Taichung, a traditional Sam-Hap-Inn house (photo: author).

144 The Architectural Representation of Taboo

whilst the direction of the main entrance of the Ciann-Sin is the same as the
orientation of the front of the whole housing complex. The two aisles attached
to the Ciann-Sin are named the Chunn-Chiu (伸手) or the ‘outstretched arms’,
with the left and right aisles respectively called the Toh-Cunn-Chiu (左伸手)
(the left outstretched arm), and the Ciann-Chunn-Chiu (右伸手) (the right
outstretched arm). The central space of the Ciann-Sin is the Sin-Bin-Thiann
(神明廳)10 or family shrine hall where people worship their ancestors and the
gods. In some Sam-Hap-Inn houses, the two rooms on the left and right sides
of Sin-Bin-Thiann are respectively called the Toh-Hinn-Pang (左耳房) and the
Ciann-Hinn-Pang (右耳房), meaning the left-ear room and the right-ear room
(figs. 3 & 4).11
The Anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition, as the underlying foundation for
the Sam-Hap-Inn housing concept, is, to get a concrete and liveable building,
in this case worked out in the framework of two architectural shorter-cycle
themes, The Holy and Unholy Zones and The Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross.
This makes it a lot easier to explore and analyze the spatial structures and the
different human ‘realities’ this housing concept represents.

Fig. 3 Houli, Taichung , The floor plan for a Sam-Hap-Inn House (drawing: author).

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 145

Fig. 4 Xikou, Chiayi, the altar in the family shrine hall of a Sam-Hap-Inn House (photo:

The shorter-cycle theme of The Holy and Unholy Zones in Sam-Hap-Inn houses
Throughout the whole of the Sam-Hap-Inn complex it is not difficult to discern
its horizontal, tripartite zoning. Firstly, the Sin-Bin-Thiann or family shrine hall,
representing the human head, represents at the same time the heavenly Holy
Zone, where people can meet their ancestors, their gods and the supreme heaven.
In the Sin-Bin-Thiann, an altar should always be present to serve as a ‘throne’ for
the ancestral tablets and the gods. Secondly, the other spaces inside the main
building of the Sam-Hap-Inn, on both sides of the Sin-Bin-Thiann, also repre-
sent parts of the human body, and, at the same time, the Terrestrial Holy Zone,
the domain where only family members should live and act. Lastly, the outside
area, which surrounds the Sam-Hap-Inn main building, is the Unholy Zone,
accommodating storage rooms, pigsties, pens, or toilets. Here, where the cattle
live, there are no anthropomorphic names for the building parts. Not surpris-
ingly, because the outside Unholy Zone, which is characterized by chaos and
dirt, can only be compared to the underworld and the earth on which all of the
labouring people and animals stand with their dirty feet.


The Sin-Bin-Thiann as the centre of a house, which enables the inhabitants
to discriminate between the human body-based parameters: front, back,
left, right
As soon as a U-shaped Sam-Hap-Inn house has been founded, it becomes clear
that its representation of ‘a-man-looking-forward-with-his-two-arms-outstretched’

146 The Architectural Representation of Taboo

is not only based on the Anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition, but that it has
developed more specifically within the framework of the Anthropomorphic
shorter-cycle theme of The Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross, in order to represent a
more particular reality. This cosmic reality is most clearly represented by the Sin-
Binn-Thiann or front-facing family shrine hall. It not only represents the heavenly
Holy Zone, but undoubtedly the Axis Mundi as well, the centre of the Cosmic
Cross. This enables the inhabitants to orient themselves in the micro-cosmos of
their home, because only in its utmost centre do the parameters front, back, left
and right have an absolute meaning.
As mentioned earlier, the front side of the complex is determined by the
orientation of the main entrance of the Sin-Binn-Thiann. Because the eyes of
the ancestors and gods should be able to look outside, these are represented by
the ‘eyes’ of the house. Therefore, the altar must be placed on the central
front-back axis and opposite the entrance. If the ancestors and gods cannot
look outside through the ‘eyes’ of the house, the dwelling will have no face or
façade, and consequently, its inhabitants will not be able to recognize the cos-
mic coordinate system of the housing space.
The fact that the Sin-Binn-Thiann represents the Axis Mundi is mirrored on
the outside by the feature that its roof is higher than any other building part,
whereas on the inside two symbolic objects indicate the connection between
the Holy Zone of the earthly house and the heavenly cosmos. One of them is
the Ba-Gua (八卦), a symbolic image of the cosmic center, placed under the
central ridge beam where the cosmic powers are believed to descend into the
earthly house, whilst stabilizing it.12
The other is the Thinn-Kong-Lo (天公爐) or incense burner, hanging from
the ceiling between the main entrance and the altar, in order to connect mortal
men to the immortal Thinn-Kong (天公) or supreme god.

The crucial Chinese tradition of the Yin-Yang and Five Elements

The representation of reality in the Sam-Hap-Inn house, within the framework
of the shorter-cycle Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross theme, is not only based on
the Anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition but also on the Physiomorphic long-
cycle tradition. The phenomenon of one single shorter-cycle architecture-repre-
sentational theme being based on two long cycle representational traditions,
should be explained by the ancient Chinese habit of trying to unify ‘the way of
heaven and human affairs’ on the one hand, with Yin-Yang (陰陽) and Five
Elements (五行) on the other hand.13
The philosopher Tung Chung-Shu (董仲書) (2nd century BC) was the first
person to systematically and completely apply the abstract Five Elements to the
cosmic spatial system, connecting each element to one of the cardinal points.
Thus, the east became linked to wood, the south to fire, the west to metal, the
north to water, while the centre was linked to the earth itself, as we can read in
his remarkable book, Chun-Chiu Fan-Lu (春秋繁露) (fig. 7). Moreover, the

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 147

Fig. 7 The Five Elements. These diagrams represent their mutual spatial positions, inter-
actions and neutralizing relationships (drawing: author).

ideal south or facial orientation on which all spatial recognizability should be

based, is also mentioned in this book.14
If the south represents the front then the north represents the back, while the
east stands for the left and the west for the right. Based on this space-time sys-
tem, which is in fact a combination of the human-body-based and the solar-
system-based spatial recognition systems, the spatial centre is connected with
the four cardinal directions, establishing the crucial, ideal, south-orientated
building layout.15
Like Tung Chung-Shu, many younger Chinese philosophers applied the the-
ory of the Yin-Yang and the Five Elements in their writings to demonstrate the
harmony between the cosmic, the natural and the ethical orders, which are
based on the Anthropomorphic and Physiomorphic long-cycle traditions.
Consequently, the wide variety of Chinese traditional fields of knowledge such
as politics, rituals, astrology, mathematics, agriculture, music, medicine, histor-
iography, architecture, urban planning and, of course, the Feng-Shui tradition,
were all inevitably deeply influenced by this all-embracing idea.16

The system of the cosmic Four Symbols as a part of the tradition of the ‘Yin-
Yang and Five Elements’
The spatial application of the cosmic Four Symbols also became a part of the
Yin-Yang and Five Elements tradition. Ancient Chinese astrologists have divided
the celestial bodies into four groups according to their positions in the sky, and
used the four spiritual animals to represent them. Consequently, the Azure
Dragon would from now on preside over the east, the White Tiger over the west,
the Vermillion Bird over the south and the Black Tortoise over the north.17 This
explains why, ever since, people have often used the four Spiritual Animals to
indicate the four cardinal directions. Using the four symbols, the spatial identifi-
cation of the built environment goes as follows: the Bird represents the front/

148 The Architectural Representation of Taboo

Fig. 8 The cosmic Four Symbols that represent the four cardinal directions (drawing: author).

south, the Tortoise the back/north, the Dragon the left/east, and the Tiger the
right/west direction (fig. 8).
For example, the old Chinese city of Xi’an (西安), which was called Chang’an
(長安) in ancient times, has an obvious south-orientated layout, with its north
gate, serving as the back gate, accordingly named the ‘Tortoise Gate’ (玄午門).18
Just because the above-mentioned concept is thought to be ‘ideal’, does not
mean that every Chinese building type has such a precise south-orientated lay-
out, since this would make too many ordinary buildings extremely perfect and
holy. Only the most honourable buildings such as temples, palaces, public
buildings and the residences of high officials were considered to be ‘sacred’
enough to face exactly the cardinal south. Consequently, many Chinese hous-
ing types, such as the Taiwanese Sam-Hap-Inn house, mostly inhabited by
farm families, should not face exactly south, but at least somewhat south.
Nevertheless, the system of the Four Symbols dominates the layout of the Sam-
Hap-Inn house, its left side being called the Dragon side and its right the Tiger

The spatial hierarchy of the Taiwanese Sam-Hap-Inn house

According to the concept of the cosmic Four Symbols, the crucial traditional
principle that ‘the left side or the Dragon side is superior to the right side or
the Tiger side’ dominates the house’s spatial hierarchy. The left/Dragon side,
being the east side, from which the Sun and other Celestial bodies always rise,
is associated with positive meanings such as beginning, ascent, prosperity and
influx, and thought to be auspicious and superior, while the right/Tiger side,
being the western one, where the sun and other celestial bodies set, is seen as

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 149

representing negative principles such as ending, descent, decline and efflux,
and is therefore thought to be the dwelling’s inauspicious and inferior side.
In the main building of the Sam-Hap-Inn, a particular hierarchy is made
visible and otherwise perceivable using building traditions, which belong to the
shorter-cycle theme of the Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross. Because the structure
of this central space represents the Axis Mundi as well as the Holy Zone, the
Sin-Bin-Thiann is undoubtedly seen as the highest-ranking space of the entire
compound. The other, flanking parts represent the Terrestrial dwelling zone for
the other members of the family. Their hierarchical architectural system is
based on both the Anthropomorphic and the Physiomorphic long-cycle traditions.
As far as the anthropomorphic tradition is concerned, the parts representing
the human trunk, which are near the head, should be ranked higher than those
representing the arms, and, accordingly, the Ciann-Sin (central section) is con-
sidered superior to the Chunn-Chiu (the two flanks). On the other hand, and
in line with the principle that the left is superior to the right, the left part of
the Ciann-Sin is thought to be superior to its right part, and the Toh-Chunn-
Chiu (the left flank) is thought to be higher than the Ciann-Chunn-Chiu (the
right flank). Therefore, the spatial hierarchy in the Terrestrial zone is as follows:
the left part of the Ciann-Sin is the highest ranking space, and, consequently,
the first son and his sub-family live here; the right part of the Ciann-Sin is sec-
ond, thus, the second son and his sub-family live here; the Toh-Chunn-Chiu is
the third most important space, and thus, the third son and his sub-family
should dwell here; while the Ciann-Chunn-Chiu, being the fourth and lowest
ranking space, is reserved for the fourth son’s family. This kind of spatial hier-
archy represents the family relationship in the framework of the two shorter
cycle themes under consideration, which, as it is based on the Anthropomorphic
long-cycle architectural representation of the micro-cosmos, it fully correlates to
the solar system. Because this last feature is, of course, a representation of a
non-human-based natural phenomenon, one could state that this representa-
tion of a familial relationship is also based on the Physiomorphic long-cycle

The Indian ‘Vaastu Shastra’ as a comparable building tradition within the

frame of the ‘Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross’ shorter-cycle theme
In this section, we are going to broaden our scope to include another culture, in
our considerations of the toilet taboo as a worldwide phenomenon, which it no
doubt is. Vaastu Shastra in Indian culture, like Feng-Shui in Chinese culture,
can be considered India’s most essential traditional knowledge (or theory) of
building and town planning. Both bodies of texts have very significant points in
common. Indian Vaastu Shastra, for instance, acknowledges the Panchabhoota
or five essential elements, ether, air, fire, water and earth, which are highly com-
parable to those in the Chinese Yin-Yang and Five Elements. Each of the
Panchabhoota (i.e., five basic principles or elements) has its own characteristics,
role and meaning, and represents one specific position in the spatial system.

150 The Architectural Representation of Taboo

The earth represents the centre, the water the northeast, the fire the southeast,
the ether the southwest, and the air the northwest. Therefore, the Indian archi-
tectural representations, based on the ideal spatial system of the five elements,
belong to the shorter-cycle theme of the Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross. Because
the solar system plays a crucial role in the architectural representation that uses
the five elements, one can say that, like the Chinese case, it is not only ulti-
mately based on the Anthropomorphic but also on the Physiomorphic long-cycle
In the practice of Vaastu Shastra, the site for a town or an individual build-
ing should be reshaped into a Vaastu Shastra Mandala, an 8x8-division square
or 9x9-division square, combined utilizing the above-mentioned spatial system.
Each plot of the Mandala has a Hindu god residing on it as well as dominating
it. The central plot, on which Brahma, the supreme god, resides, should be
seen as the supreme plot and is therefore called the Bindu or Prakara Beejam,
where all of the energies from the entire cosmic grid are concentrated, and the
source of every shape created on the Mandala.20 The hierarchical order of an
ideal site is based on the Mandala’s shape: from the centre to the rim, energy
and hierarchical levels diminish plot by plot (fig. 9).
In addition to the Vaastu Shastra Mandala, the Vaastu Purusha Mandala
should also be mentioned here. This type of Mandala can be seen as a combi-
nation of the Vaastu Shastra Mandala and the underlying, spellbound primor-
dial demon Vaastu Purusha, who has been represented in Indian mythology as
the cosmic man captivated by the gods under the Mandala’s grid. Vaastu
Purusha pivots over time, with the celestial bodies, around the Axis Mundi,
which originates from his navel.21 The Indian Vaastu Purusha Mandala is a
harmonic space-time system similar to the Chinese tradition of the Five
Elements or the cosmic Four Symbols of the Yin-Yang and Five Elements. In
both cultures, these cosmic systems combine solar-system- and human-body-
based spatial recognition traditions.

Fig. 9 The 9x9 Vaastu Shastra Mandala and the Vaastu Purusha Mandala (drawing: author).

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 151

Most practitioners of Vaastu Purusha advise that one choose a rectangular or
square site to build on, but never an odd-shaped one.22 Thus, the patron will
be able to represent the ideal spatial system on a perfect Mandala. Upon com-
mencement of the building activities, the first stone should be placed in the
northeast corner, which represents the most auspicious direction from which
the future building will be provided with cosmic energy. Subsequently, the
building plot should be defined by a fence, wall or pillars, demarcating its
boundaries.23 Finally, when the building is completed, four bricks should be
placed on its top under the finial.24 This representation of the Axis Mundi is
another clear indication that the house is a micro-cosmos of its own, while
also representing the macro-cosmos. Therefore, it belongs to the architectural
traditions grouped among the shorter-cycle theme of the Axis Mundi and
Cosmic Cross.


After having analyzed the spatial and typological characteristics of the Sam-
Hap-Inn house, the two aforementioned toilet taboos can be analyzed in terms
of the two shorter-cycle themes, which we discussed earlier. To refresh our
memory: the first taboo is that the toilet should never be placed in front of any
entrance to the house, which makes it a part of the shorter-cycle theme repre-
sentations of The Holy and Unholy Zones. The second taboo is, as we know,
that the toilet should never be placed on the left side of the house, but, instead,
on its right side. This fits the kind of representations grouped in the shorter-
cycle theme of the Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross perfectly.

The first toilet taboo and architectural representation in the framework of

the shorter-cycle theme of The Holy and Unholy Zones
The toilet taboo guarding the correct spatial relationship between the outside
toilet and the entrance of the Taiwanese ‘Sam-Hap-Inn’ house
How could a mere toilet have the power to menace the holy terrestrial zones,
just because it is a somewhat dirty, ‘functional’ element located in the unholy
zone? In Taiwan, the equivocal popular term ‘lap-sap’ is usually used to denote
dirtiness and, what is more, evil.25 Likewise, the toilet is usually considered to
be not only dirty but also a source of evil and harmful events. Moreover, in
order to truly understand how people imagine how the harmful evil powers
are able to enter the house from the outside, we should take a closer look at
the ‘Qi’, another crucial notion of traditional Chinese culture.

‘Qi’ in the tradition of the ‘Yin-Yang and Five Elements’

From the philosophical point of view, thus in the frame of the Yin-Yang and
Five Elements tradition, Qi is thought to be the breath of life, ether, cosmic

152 The Architectural Representation of Taboo

energy, or essential forces, with both metaphysical and physical meanings.26 In
common people’s opinions however, the physical meaning of Qi, the fluid
medium filling the cosmos, seems to be much more alive than its metaphysical
one. As a physical phenomenon, Qi can be contaminated by dirt and the lat-
ter’s evil qualities, which it subsequently can transmit to other things. It stands
to reason that people will try very hard to prevent the dirty Qi from circulating
inside the house, where it may do great harm by letting dirt and evil in from
the outside, especially via the toilet.
In the framework of the Anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition, the entrance
of the house is often interpreted as a representation of the human mouth, and
consequently, the house breathing Qi is often seen as a representation of a man
breathing air.27 That is the reason why people often hang amulets, such as the
Ba-Gua, on the door’s lintel, to ward off any evil power that tries to enter.28
Therefore, the toilet, being a source of evil-causing phenomena, should not be
placed in front of the entrance of the Sam-Hap-Inn House. Otherwise, the evil
quality emitted by the toilet and conveyed by the Qi, may easily enter the
house through the ‘mouth’ of its entrance.

Comparable toilet taboos recorded in Chinese historical texts

This toilet taboo has also been recorded in many Chinese historical texts, for
instance, in the Yang-Zhai Ji-Cheng (陽宅集成), a representative 18th-century
Feng-Shui text, where it is said, that ‘When the door is opened, it would be
better if the toilet cannot be seen.’ (莫對當門并眼見。), and ‘If there is a toilet
placed in front of the entrance, the inhabitants will be troubled by litigations’
(門前若有坑廁屋, 官災心痛發幾場).29 Moreover, in the Shui-Hu-Di Ri-Shu
bamboo-script compiled in the 3rd century BC, which is, of course, much ear-
lier than the beginning of the development of the Feng-Shui tradition, it is said
that ‘Setting the toilet behind the house is auspicious; setting the toilet in front
of the house is inauspicious’ (屏居宇後, 吉; 屏居宇前, 不吉).30 Therefore,
according to these words, putting a toilet in front of a house can be interpreted
as putting it in front of the main entrance, which, as has already been shown,
should not be done.

Comparable architectural taboos and rules concerning the toilet in ancient

Jewish, Islamic and medieval North-/ Middle-European houses
The toilet taboos as observed in Taiwanese Sam-Hap-Inn houses or addressed
in historical texts definitely makes it clear that the toilet, as part of the Unholy
Zone in the mentally constructed space of the house, is thought to be a source
of evil powers. In many other cultures, such as the ancient Jewish, medieval
European and Islamic cultures, a multitude of architectural taboos, rules and
legends also present the toilet as a source of evil. Thus, it is very helpful to
broaden our scope to include these other spheres to gain a better understand-
ing of the Taiwanese toilet taboos.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 153

In the Book of Deuteronomy (23:9-14), a section of the Jewish Torah, God
instructs the soldiers not to defecate inside the camp but to do so in a desig-
nated place outside of the camp’s confines. Because God supposedly always tra-
velled along with the camp, God should always reside in an unpolluted Holy
Zone.31 This toilet taboo was repeated and underlined in the War Scroll, one
of the Dead Sea Scrolls from the 2nd BC, which says that where bowel move-
ments take place should be located more than 3000 feet from the camp, lest
the filth should contaminate the Holy Zone reserved for Jaweh, his chosen peo-
ple and his Holy Angels.32 In the ancient Jewish written tradition, especially in
the Apocalyptic one, the dualism of clean/dirty, light/dark and holy/evil is
clearly defined, which can be traced to various regulations concerning hygiene,
food, offering and built environments. The concept of evil has usually been
associated with dirt and darkness, and is rightfully considered the cause of
many diseases. As God’s chosen people, Jews usually regarded their living space
as the Holy Zone that should not be endangered or polluted by evil, because
their awe-inspiring God and many of his Angels were supposed to live among
In Islamic religious culture, twelve significant rules concerning the impure
and unholy character of people’s bowel movements in the toilet have been
clearly addressed in the Muslim Code of Conduct (‫)ﻓﺘﻮﻯ‬. For instance, during
a bowel movement, one should not face Mecca or turn one’s back to Mecca.33
It is not difficult to understand why these rules should be observed. Since the
Qibla (‫ )ﻗﺒﻠﺔ‬is the holy Mecca direction that should be faced all over the world
when a Muslim prays, this should not be done when a person is having a
bowel movement, which is – of course – considered a very unholy or evil
action. The same goes for turning one’s back on the Mecca-Qibla during such
an activity, because it is regarded as the holiest place of Islam.
In medieval Northern and Middle European culture, the toilet hole has often
been associated with evil or even seen as the gate to the underworld/Hell.
While in Taiwan and the Middle East, a toilet should never be placed near a
Terrestrial Holy Zone, on the famous map of the ideal Carolingian Monastery
(circa AD 825) for instance, preserved in the library of the Swiss St. Gallen
Abbey, the toilet is located at an ‘impractical’ large distance from the main
monastery buildings, which was only accessible via a long pathway. The only
reasonable explanation for this seems to be to prevent the toilet’s evil from
contaminating the Monastery’s Holy Zone.34 According to another conviction
from Carolingian times, people had to bring their sick children to a toilet in
order to let them ‘pass through the toilet’s hole’, to cast out the evil with the
evil, as the Bible (Matthew 12:22-29) notes. They obviously believed, as many
other people from many different cultures did, that evil powers caused
Because people throughout history have regarded the toilet as a source of
evil, they have at all cost, attempted to eliminate any possible connection
between their holy dwelling zones and the unholy zone. Thus they attempted
to eliminate this dangerous link by strictly maintaining certain architectural

154 The Architectural Representation of Taboo

taboos, which they established in various building codes or legends that pro-
vided the correct spatial distance or directional relationship between the toilet
and the holy terrestrial or celestial zones of the house.

The toilet taboos as part of the shorter-cycle theme of the Axis Mundi and
Cosmic Cross
How the taboo to build the toilet on the left (Dragon) side is observed in
Taiwanese Sam-Hap-Inn-type houses
The taboo that ‘the toilet should not be placed on the left or the Dragon side
but on the right or the Tiger side’ can be satisfactorily explained within the fra-
mework of the shorter-cycle theme of the Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross. The
left side of a house, which is based on the ‘ideal south-orientated layout’ as
developed in the traditional Yin-Yang and Five Elements concept, represents the
east side of the compass and its positive notions, such as beginning, ascent,
prosperity, influx and the auspicious. Within the framework of the same lay-
out, the right side of the house represents the western side of the compass and
its negative connotations such as ending, descent, decline, efflux and the inaus-
picious. This means, as we have already explained earlier, that the crucial prin-
ciple that the left is superior to the right was formulated here. Therefore, it is
not difficult to understand why people living in a Sam-Hap-Inn house would
prefer not to place the inauspicious toilet on the cosmic auspicious left side.
The following example of Mrs. Huang, who has lived for more than 25 years
in a Sam-Hap-Inn house, is very illustrative in the way that inhabitants experi-
ence the left-side toilet taboo. During our interview, this older woman men-
tioned that ‘the toilet should not be placed on the left but on the right side’.
‘I’m not sure when our family’s old Sam-Hap-Inn house was built’, she contin-
ued, ‘The toilet seems to have always been located on the outside, on the right
front-side of the house…. I remember that our sub-family lived in the part of
the Toh-Chunn-Chiu (the left flank aisle). For me, using the toilet on wintery
nights was always problematic, because it was a long way from the house … I
also remember that most of the Sam-Hap-Inn houses in our village seemed to
have their toilets on the right front-side, front-left side or back-left side.
Usually, the toilets were combined with the pigpens, in order to collect the
excrements from both the people and the pigs to use as manure’.36
A second person interviewed regarding the toilet taboo was Mr. Hsu, who
has lived for more than 40 years in a Sam-Hap-Inn house in Nantou. He
pointed out: ‘We are convinced that the Dragon (left) side is the auspicious
side for good things to enter the house. Therefore, we usually place the toilet
near the other filthy things like the pigpens, on the right side of the house;
otherwise the inauspicious things may easily enter it’.37 Most peasants, like Mr.
Hsu who live in rural Sam-Hap-Inn homes with a basically south-orientated
layout, can easily recognize the cosmic dualism displayed by the east-to-west
motion of celestial bodies. Consequently, the toilet as the most negative hous-
ing element should always be placed on the negative side.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 155

Why the taboo that ‘the toilet should not be placed on the left (Dragon) but
the right (Tiger) side’ is ignored in the ‘Feng-Shui’ texts
The rule that one should place the toilet on the Tiger (right) or east side seems
to have been absent in all of the historical Feng-Shui texts. This goes along with
the absence of the opposite, that the main entrance in the wall connecting the
eastern and western aisles of the traditional courtyard house should be placed
on the Dragon (left) or west side. Why has the obvious Taiwanese building tra-
dition, concerning the left/right side positioning, or east-west cosmic dualism,
been disregarded by all of the Feng-Shui practitioners or theoreticians?
As we know, the Taiwanese Sam-Hap-Inn House is usually more or less
orientated toward the south, and consequently its inhabitants can always be
aware of the cosmic order marked by the well-known astronomical phenomena.
The awareness of the link between the Dragon (left)/Tiger (right) sides and,
respectively, the east/west directions of the compass has never diminished for
those who live in a Sam-Hap-Inn House, on the contrary, it has only been rein-
forced by their daily experiences of the motions and seasonal changes of the
celestial bodies. That is to say, only the homes with an ‘ideal south-orientated
layout’, which are mostly found in the countryside, enable its inhabitants to
fully experience the cosmic east/west order. However, most of the dwelling-
related Feng-Shui texts and theories were written and developed after the 14th
century and usually concerned architectural practices in an urban environ-
ment.38 Compared to those who have built their mostly free-standing Sam-
Hap-Inn houses in the countryside, people living in an urban environment
have much more difficulty when it comes to following the ‘ideal south-orien-
tated layout’, because most of these urban buildings have to be arranged
according to the limited space of the site and its haphazard orientation on an
arbitrary street. Therefore, these buildings may be orientated to any direction,
which may not necessarily be the south. Since urban dwellers cannot directly
perceive the east-west motion of the celestial bodies, the cosmic dualism of the
east/west axis lost its dominant position in the people’s mental concepts and
experiences of their homes. As Feng-Shui represents building in an urban con-
text rather than the very different reality of building in a rural one, this
explains why Feng-Shui practitioners and theoreticians since the 14th century
have ignored, intentionally or unintentionally, the cosmic dualism represented
by the Dragon(left)/Tiger(right) side, based on the cosmic east/west solar axis
and the ‘ideal south-orientated layout’.

Toilet taboos based on the cosmic dualism of individual constellations as

recorded in Chinese historical texts
Although the toilet taboo, based on the notion of the left/right, east/west princi-
ple is absent in old Chinese Feng-Shui texts, this does not mean that the ways to
build represented in these texts do not belong to those of the shorter-cycle Axis
Mundi and Cosmic Cross theme, which are also rooted in this kind of cosmic

156 The Architectural Representation of Taboo

dualism. For instance, in the Ba-Zhai-Ming-Jing (八宅明鏡), a Feng-Shui book
from the Compass School, written in the 18th century, it is said: ‘In a house, it is
better to place the toilet on the inauspicious side, determined by the house-
holder’s horoscope. The toilet placed on the inauspicious side will effectively
suppress the evil spirit, and free good fortune’s way…. Do not make the mistake
of placing the toilet on the auspicious side of the house.’ (凡出穢之所宜壓於本
命之凶方, 鎮住凶神, 反發大福(…)不可混錯, 或誤改於屋之吉方).39 As this
text reveals, the auspicious/inauspicious side of a house is not simply based on
the awareness of the cosmic left/right-east/west Axis, but more specifically on
the homeowner’s horoscope. After a complicated calculation, based on several
disciplinary rules of the Compass School, one of which is the owner’s horoscope,
the auspicious/inauspicious side can be determined. Consequently, each of the
eight principle sides – the four cardinal sides along with the four diagonal ones
– can be either auspicious or inauspicious (figure 10).
The auspicious and the inauspicious side, though not necessarily being the
east and the west sides, are normally also each other’s opposite, because the
cosmos is represented by the symmetrical human body, the oldest ‘map’, which
belongs to the Anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition.

Fig. 10 Yang-Zhai Ji-Xheng, 18th-century (reprint). According to the principles of the Compass
School, the auspicious/inauspicious side can be determined by the owner’s horoscope along
with the eight principle sides of a house.40

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 157

Comparable cosmic dualisms in the building practices based on the Indian
Vaastu Shastra concepts
Sashikala Ananth, an Indian, architect(ural historian) and practitioner of
Indian Vaastu Shastra, mentions in her well-known book: Vaastu: The Classical
Indian Science of Architecture and Design, the principle of the placement of the
toilet and the water inlet, which is comparable to the meaningful dyad of the
toilet and the entrance gate to the Sam-Hap-Inn house. According to her, the
toilet should not be placed opposite to the water inlet or water tank. These
should be placed on the northeastern, eastern or northern side, because the
north(eastern) side belongs to the element of water, being its ‘residence’ and
therefore is seen as the direction which is best nourished by cosmic energy.41
Like Sashikala Ananth, Talavane Krishna is also a practitioner of Vaastu
Shastra, and confirms that the northeast should be seen as the most beneficial
direction because positive energy continuously comes from that side. Its oppo-
site compass side, the southwest, should be seen as the most malefic direction
because negative energies always come from that side. Knowing this, it seems
logical that gates and windows should be placed in the northern, the northeast-
ern or the eastern walls of a house.42
The entrance gate and the toilet are respectively the positive and the negative
pole of the Sin-Bin-Thiann or holy centre/holy celestial zone of the Taiwanese
Sam-Hap-Inn house, while the water inlet and the toilet have, according to the
Vaastu Shastra concept, the same dualist function in relation to the holy cen-
tre/holy celestial zone of an Indian house. Sashikala Ananth makes the very
meaningful and traditional comparison between the central area of a house
and the central square of the Vaastu Shastra Mandala, where Brahma, the
supreme Hindu god, resides. This explains why the central space of the house
is seen as the holy celestial zone, which always has the most cosmic energy. For
that reason, it should not be used for everyday living, but should be arranged
as the ceremonial gathering place for family members.

Comparable cosmic dualism according to the shorter-cycle theme of the

‘Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross’ in other worldwide building concepts
In addition to the Chinese and Indian building concepts, respectively influ-
enced by the sophisticated Yin-Yang and Five Elements and Vaastu Shastra the-
ories, this kind of architectural cosmic dualism in the framework of the
shorter-cycle representational theme of the Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross can
also be readily found in a variety of other comparable worldwide building con-
cepts. For instance, the English architectural historian, Paul Oliver, in his book
Dwellings: The Vernacular House Worldwide, analyzed many cases of traditional
building concepts which, without exception, represented this significant cosmic

158 The Architectural Representation of Taboo

Spatial and typological characteristics of Thau-Thinn-Chu houses
Since the late 18th century, when many smaller villages began to grow into
towns and many people moved from other villages to these (new) towns, a dif-
ferent kind of house was developed. A single-story, terraced housing based on
a deep and narrow plan began to dominate the (new) towns. Since the early
20th century, this kind of housing has been transformed into a multi-storied
one, which is called Thau-Thinn-Chu (透天厝) or the ‘sky-touching house’.
This new mixed-usage version simultaneously accommodates shops and hous-
ing, and is primarily characterized by a long corridor that runs as a horizontal
axis from the front to the rear side connecting all the interior spaces.
Moreover, the staircase, as a second and vertical axis, connects the home’s var-
ious floors (figs. 11 and 12).

The Thau-Thinn-Chu house and the representation of socio-cosmic realities

within the framework of The Holy and Unholy Zones shorter-cycle theme
Whenever you compare the tripartite zoning of the Thau-Thinn-Chu house
and the Sam-Hap-Inn house in the framework of the shorter-cycle theme of
The Holy and Unholy Zones, you will see that, apart from some minor changes,
the location of the central Sin-Bin-Thiann or family shrine hall has been chan-
ged. According to the aforementioned principle that the ancestors and gods in
the Sin-Bin-Thiann should be able to look outside, risking losing their heavenly
powers, the family shrine hall should not be placed in the centre or at the rear
side of such a narrow and deep kind of dwelling as the Thau-Thinn-Chu

Fig. 11 Changhua, Thau-Thinn-Chu House façades (photo: author).

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 159

Fig. 12 Changhua, the Thau-Thinn-Chu plans for the house in fig. 11 (drawing: author).

In the older single-storied terraced houses without a courtyard, people started

to move the Sin-Bin-Thiann to the front room, making sure that their ances-
tors and the gods could look outside, as they were used to. However, using this
space, which is, as a rule, a shop, at the same time as a Sin-Bin-Thiann, would
harm the latter’s sacred character. Hence, in a lot of houses of this kind, the
family shrine hall has been placed in the second or next space. In doing so, the
ancestors and the gods were given a place that was, on the one hand, not too
far from the outside but, on the other hand, inevitably without a full view of
the world outside. After the multi-storied Thau-Thinn-Chu was developed,
people started to move the Sin-Bin-Thiann to a superior position, in both
senses of the word: locating it in the first space on the top floor. Henceforth,
the ancestors and the gods would have an excellent view and a place in the
upper Zone of the building, which commonly represents the holy zone of

During an interview with Mr. Wu, a Taiwanese architect who has designed
many contemporary Thua-Thinn-Chu houses, it became clear how people
think of this new Sin-Bin-Thiann position in their new homes: ‘When design-
ing a Thau-Thinn-Chu house, I usually placed the Sin-Bin-Thian on the top

160 The Architectural Representation of Taboo

floor, because people don’t want their ancestors and gods to be under their
feet, or otherwise their ancestors and gods might be offended. Besides, the Sin-
Bin-Thian must be placed in the front room, otherwise the ancestors and gods
cannot look outside, and thus they would not have the heavenly powers they
need to protect the house.’
Since the Sin-Bin-Thiann was moved to this new ‘top’ position, the tripartite
zoning has changed from a horizontal (= Sam-Hap-Inn house) to a vertical
one, which intrinsically belongs to the architectural representations in the
realm of the Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross shorter cycle theme as well.
Because the Thau-Thinn-Chu House has a narrow and deep plan, it is almost
impossible to maintain the ‘correct’ Anthropomorphic/Physiomorphic long-cycle
traditions-based spatial hierarchy on the inside, which presupposes that the left
side is superior to the right one. Nevertheless, people still value living spaces
which are close to the Sin-Bin-Thiann as higher ranking. Therefore, the spatial
hierarchy is reformulated as follows: the rooms close to the front should be
ranked higher than those near the rear. According to the Holy and Unholy
Zones theme, rooms that are adjacent to the top floor normally have a higher
status than those closer to or on the ground floor. However, this kind of spatial
hierarchy is not as absolutely and strictly maintained as in the much older
Sam-Hap-Inn houses.
What about the cosmic ‘entrance gate and toilet’ dualism, which represents
the old left-right hierarchical order? As we will see further on, this question
can be best discussed within the framework of the shorter-cycle Axis Mundi
and Cosmic Cross representational theme.


Re-formulated toilet taboos and the struggle for maintaining old
representations in the framework of the shorter-cycle theme of the Axis
Mundi and Cosmic Cross
Maintaining the cosmic dualism by respecting old taboos in new ‘Thau-Thinn-Chu’
As discussed earlier, representational traditions in the field of the shorter-cycle
theme of the Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross are still present in (new) Thau-
Thinn-Chu houses, although the principle that ‘the left side is superior to the
right side’ seems to be losing ground. After having explored many cases, we
can conclude that the toilet taboo still exists in Thau-Thinn-Chu houses, and is
taken seriously especially by former inhabitants of Sam-Hap-Inn houses. The
case of Mr. Hsu’s family is a very convincing example of this phenomenon.
During our interview, Mr. Hsu told us that, after the family Sam-Hap-Inn
house was destroyed in the 1999 earthquake, they decided to divide the site
into six lots, one for each sub-family. Their sub-family built a new Thau-
Thinn-Chu house on the allotted site, and, in doing so, decided to respect the

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 161

old features of the Sam-Hap-Inn house as much as possible: ‘So the orientation
of our new Thau-Thinn-Chu to the south represents the old Sam-Hap-Inn’s
traditional direction’. They again placed the toilet on the Tiger side (the right
side) and the front main entrance of the new Thau-Thinn-Chu house is on the
left (Dragon) side as it was in their old Sam-Hap-Inn house.43 Apparently, the
cosmic dualism represented by the left and right sides of a south-facing dwell-
ing still dominates Mr. Hsu’s mental construction of a proper housing space,
as it continues to rule the notions of many others as well (fig. 13).


The spatial and structural characteristics of modern apartment houses
After World War II, some two million Chinese people migrated from mainland
China to Taiwan, mainly settling in its cities. A large number of Taiwanese villa-
gers also began migrating from the countryside to the bigger cities. This resulted

Fig. 13 Nantou, façade of the Hsu family’s Thau-Thinn-Chu house, built after the 1999 earth-
quake. The entrance door traditionally occupies the left side of the façade (photo: author).

162 The Architectural Representation of Taboo

in an overwhelming process of rapid urbanization, an enormous increase in the
urban population and, consequently, resulted in tremendous social and eco-
nomic changes. Since the 1960s, the modern apartment building has gradually
become the dominant kind of urban housing. Apartments differ from the tradi-
tional Sam-Hap-Inn or Thau-Thinn-Chu houses, because they are mostly
designed by modern architects and built by real estate developers (fig. 14).
The plans of modern apartment complexes differ much more from one
another than those of the U-shaped Sam-Hap-Inn group and the deep and nar-
row Thau-Thinn-Chu dwellings ever did. Nevertheless, they are very similar in
terms of their supposed ‘Modern functionalism’, design and technology.44 How
do the residents of modern apartment houses buildings experience their living
spaces when compared to the past? If the old, traditional toilet taboos of the
Sam-Hap-Inn and Thau-Thinn-Chu houses are represented in today’s Taiwanese
apartment buildings, how is this done? In order to be able to answer these ques-
tions, one has to analyze and compare the old and new representations of build-
ing concepts within the frameworks of the shorter-cycle themes of the Holy and
Unholy Zones and the Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross.

Fig. 14 Taipei, a contemporary apartment building (photo: author).

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 163

Old building concepts represented as part of the reality of modern
apartment buildings within the framework of the shorter-cycle theme of The
Holy and Unholy Zones
Since the ‘boundaries’ between the holy celestial, the holy terrestrial and the
unholy zones in the concept of today’s apartment architecture have become
fairly blurred, it is difficult to represent the traditionally required tripartite
zoning in this context.
One of the consequences of this is that fewer and fewer modern apartments
have Sin-Bin-Thiann spaces. Even though some families still worship their gods
and ancestors at home, they usually confine themselves to erecting an altar
instead of designing a Sin-Bin-Thiann inside their apartments. Even though
they may still be seen as the focus of the Holy Zone, the altar has usually been
reduced to nothing more than a piece of furniture in the sitting or dining
room. Consequently, it is almost impossible to discern how the traditional holy
celestial and holy terrestrial Zones are architecturally represented, and where
they meet. This is all the more so for apartments that do not have a family
altar. Do these homes represent the traditional trizonal concepts in any way at
all? As a reaction, a new spatial focus or Li-Ji point (立極點) has been con-
ceived to secure the continuity of the architectural representation of the celes-
tial holy zone and the Axis Mundi in the modern living environment.

Old building concepts represented as part of the reality of modern

apartments within the framework of the shorter-cycle theme of Axis Mundi
and Cosmic Cross
Losing your sense of orientation in modern apartments
Without either a Sin-Bin-Thiann or the traditional anthropomorphically based
plan like that found in the Sam-Hap-Inn or Thau-Thinn-Chu house, apartment
dwellers often seem to lose their sense of orientation.
Apartment dwellers with a family altar are often unsure of how to orient
their altars towards the main entrance (i.e., the door leading to the staircase or
elevator lobby) or the main opening (i.e. usually the big French window lead-
ing to a balcony). When we interviewed Mr. Gao on this topic, he noted: ‘Of
those families who have an altar in their apartments, some prefer to orient the
family altar toward the entrance side, treating this direction as the (representa-
tion of the) front (of the traditional house), while others prefer to orient the
altar toward the French windows, treating this direction as the (representation
of the traditional) front because they believe that the ancestors and gods on
the altar need to look outside (as they once did in the olden days).’45
In modern housing architecture, the (orientation of the) front has become a
variable dependent upon circumstance, which means that the traditional cos-
mic coordinate system, which indicates the front, rear, left and right sides of
the anthropomorphic housing concept, has lost its absolute and fundamental

164 The Architectural Representation of Taboo

Fig. 15 The ground plan of a contemporary Taiwanese apartment. For those who live in these
kind of apartments, it is often difficult to keep the traditional sense of orientation towards
which direction the family altar should face – the entrance or the main window – and on which
this should be based (drawing: author).

character. Consequently, apartment dwellers now need a new architectural

representation of this old spatial and mental reality (fig. 15).

The Li-Ji point as the representation of both the ‘Axis Mundi’ and the ‘Holy
Celestial Zone’ of the modern apartment house
The aforementioned new representation of the old cosmic centre is the Li-Ji
point, and, of course, the geometric centre of the home’s floor plan (fig. 16).

Fig. 16 The Li-Ji point as the (new) geometrical centre of the home’s floor plan (drawing:

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 165

This is a new and important concept in contemporary Feng-Shui practice,
which represents the Axis Mundi as well as the focus point of the holy zone in
modern apartments. In many contemporary Feng-Shui manuals, we are told
that, when designing an apartment building, the Li-Ji point, as the centre of
each apartment, should be defined first. Accordingly, the eight important direc-
tions, represented by the Eight Diagrams, can also be defined. According to the
popular Feng-Shui manual, The Manual of Housing Feng-Shui in the Year of the
Pig 2007, many ways to find the Li-Ji point, based on geometrical methods, are
taught.46 How the Li-Ji point is related to the toilet taboo will be discussed in
the next section.


Old toilet taboos in modern apartments represented within the framework
of the shorter-cycle themes of The Holy and Unholy Zones and The Axis
Mundi and Cosmic Cross
The inevitable changes of toilet taboos due to the blurred boundaries between the
holy celestial, terrestrial and unholy zones
Although the ‘boundaries’ between the holy celestial, terrestrial and unholy
zones in modern apartments have become blurred, they still exist in the minds
of many of their inhabitants, no matter how vague. Many inhabitants still con-
sider the toilet as the focus of the unholy zone of the house. Within the frame-
work of the shorter-cycle Holy and Unholy Zones theme, new variations of
architectural representation have been developed to prevent the (toilet)evil
from endangering the holy celestial and terrestrial spaces of the modern home.
However, it is impossible in these apartments, to strictly distinguish between
the unholy toilet sphere and the holy living space. Therefore, the main thing
that has been done to cope with this has meant attempting to avoid as much
as possible a confrontation between the two.

One of the most important ways to keep the holy and unholy living spheres
separated, is to avoid any inauspicious spatial relationship between the toilet,
the family altar and the other rooms. A family shrine would never face a toilet’s
door or let the toilet be located behind it. Not only should axial contact
between the toilet door and the shrine be avoided, but also the toilet’s entrance
should never face any other door in the home either.
This is not always that easy to manage because the contemporary apartment
toilet is usually attached to the sitting room or located in a bedroom. To pro-
tect the living areas, which traditionally belong to the holy terrestrial zone, the
toilet taboo is transformed in a specific way. When we interviewed Mr. Chen,
the chief architect at Sunyuan Architects & Associates (Taipei), about this issue,
he noted the following: ‘When designing an apartment, we are always asked to
respect these transformed toilet taboos. Besides the (aforementioned) taboo of
a toilet’s door facing other interior doors, we should also avoid allowing the

166 The Architectural Representation of Taboo

toilet to face important furniture, such as a bed, a table or a desk, when the
toilet has to be located close to, or even in, a dining, sitting or sleeping
room.’47 These newly formulated taboos make it clear that people can only try
to prevent the evil Qi of the toilet from endangering their living space, because,
under new housing circumstances, they can basically no longer architecturally
represent a clear spatial demarcation between the various zones as easily as the
builders of Sam-Hap-Inn and Thau-Thinn-Chu houses.
There is another toilet taboo practiced in apartment buildings that seems to
be rather enigmatic. Mr. Chen commented upon it as follows: ‘In addition, we
should not neglect the taboo that the toilet’s door should not face the entrance
door.’ How could this toilet taboo play a role in separating the unholy and
holy terrestrial zones/spheres, when the toilet has been accepted as an element
of the home’s interior? Why should people want to protect the entrance door
from inside against the toilet evil? Nevertheless, this toilet taboo is highly com-
parable to the older one, which states that ‘the outside toilet should not be
placed in front of any entrance door’, which in the past could be easily
observed in the Sam-Hap-Inn housing complex. It is reasonable to assume that
this old toilet taboo can survive in the modern apartment environment,
because it is ingrained in people’s memories. Because it is no longer ‘func-
tional’, its meaning is no longer understood, and interpreters try to explain its
existence in a more general, although still anthropomorphic way. According to
the Zen master Hun-Yuan (渾元禪師), a famous contemporary Feng-Shui
practitioner in Taiwan, this toilet taboo should be explained as follows: ‘A toilet
opposite the entrance door will necessarily lead to verbal warfare in the family,
because the entrance door represents the human mouth, which should not be
stained (by the negative toilet Qi).’48

The inevitable changes of toilet taboos due to the introduction of the ‘Li-Ji’
central point as a representation of the ‘Axis Mundi’
Nobody will be astonished when they read that ‘the toilet should not be placed
at the geometrical centre or the Li-Ji point of the house’. This rule was of
course formulated to protect the very ancient cosmic centre or Axis Mundi in
the modern setting of the apartment, and is nowadays strictly obeyed by most
inhabitants. Moreover, since fewer and fewer families even have an altar any
more, the Li-Ji point in a way replaces the family shrine, and it is thus usually
regarded as both the apartment’s cosmic centre and the focus of its celestial
holy zone.
The toilet-door-facing-the-front-door-taboo is very comparable to the new
interpretation of the toilet-door-facing-the-Li-Ji point-taboo. Although the
interpretation is still based on the Anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition and
also still partly belongs to the Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross shorter-cycle
theme, this interpretation no longer represents the reality of the hierarchical
structure of the traditional family house. For instance, Mr. Huang, a traditional
Chinese physician, interpreted the Li-Ji point thusly: ‘The centre of the house

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 167

should be seen as the human spleen or stomach, the crucial digestive organs,
and therefore should not be contaminated by the dirty Qi emitted by the toilet.
Otherwise, the (positive) centre-based Qi cannot operate appropriately
throughout the house. The centre of the house can also be seen as analogous
to the Element Earth, which determines the motions and influences of the
other four Elements. Hence, the centre is a critical point for the house as well
as for the human body and for the cosmos.’49 It is very clear that his explana-
tion is just another way of retelling the age-old story of the house as a repre-
sentation of the cosmic body.
Mr. Gao continued by relating another relic of old Taiwanese cosmic repre-
sentation, which hints at the problems more traditional-minded people have in
trying to pinpoint the absolute left-right axis of their apartments. They are
very worried about the absence of absolute parameters, which they need to
organize their dwelling properly. How could they respect the taboo that ‘the
toilet should not be placed on the left but on the right side’ of the altar, if they
do not know what is right and what is left because their apartment has no clear
‘face’ or front?’50
However, the new cosmic centre of the modern house or Li-Ji has become
the new point of reference for many architects and inhabitants who want to
respect traditional architectural taboos based on the house being an anthropo-
morphic representation of the cosmos. When in the contemporary Feng-Shui
practice the Li-Ji point has been determined and the eight major directions of
the compass are accordingly defined, the Feng-Shui practitioners will be able to
suggest where one should place certain immovable elements of the house as
well as pieces of furniture. During this procedure, classic cosmic antonyms
such as in/out, auspicious/inauspicious and prosperity/decline will be applied.
Positioning the toilet should of course also be done according to the instruc-
tions of Feng-Shui practitioners along with the eight major directions, starting
at the Li-Ji point, to obtain a reliable representation of the cosmic left/right
As we have shown in the course of the present analysis of the position of the
toilet in different Taiwanese housing concepts over the centuries, the architec-
tural taboos continued to accompany this phenomenon, which, in turn, war-
ranted the continuity of the architectural representation of some of the major
realities of the dweller’s age-old worldviews. The representation of the built
environment as a representation of the cosmos, based on Anthropomorphic and
Physiomorphic long-cycle traditions, never ceased to be the main concern of
inhabitants and builders in the process of designing, building and furnishing
these homes.
All this was done using structural and formal elements of different kinds of
houses, which were created within the frameworks of the shorter-cycle repre-
sentational themes Holy and Unholy Zones and Axis Mundi & Cosmic Cross.
When Taiwanese society became less traditional and hierarchical, and above all
massively urbanized, like in many other regions around the world, the strict
separation between the Holy and Unholy Zones became blurred. The highest

168 The Architectural Representation of Taboo

representation of the cosmic reality of a human dwelling has not faded away
but has, on the contrary been reinvented: the Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross are
currently being represented in another, no less clear way via the Li-Ji point and
its eight major directions. As the most telling domestic representation of evil,
the toilet must be kept out of this new centre of the house and should, if possi-
ble, continue to represent the inferiority of the right side, where the sun sets in
the cosmic order.


1 Bao-De Han argues that the research on architectural taboos should be based exclusively on
historical Feng-Shui texts in order to avoid continuing the ongoing dispute among
contemporary Feng-Shui practitioners of the various schools. See his remarkable article
‘Research on the housing building taboos in the Feng-Shui theories’, in Feng-Shui and
Environment, Taipei, 2006, pp. 110-111. Ronald G. Knapp, although concerned with some
contemporary cases of architectural taboo interpretation, pays much more attention to
classical cases of architectural taboos in historical texts in his recent article, ‘Siting and
Situating a Dwelling: Feng-Shui, House-Building Rituals, and Amulets’, in House Home Family:
Living and Being Chinese (eds. Ronald G. Knapp and Kai-Yin Lo) Honolulu, 2005.
2 Form School, also called Xing-Fa (形法) or Luan-Tou (巒頭) School, tends to deal with the
siting, orientation and arrangement of a building by means of the survey of the environmental
terrain configurations and topographical landscape features. Compass School, also called the
Xiang-Fa (向法) or Li-qi (理氣) School, tends to deal with those based on the complicated
calculations by means of a Feng-Shui compass and in terms of many numerological symbols.
3 Bao-De Han 2006 (1), p. 137.
4 Knapp 2005 (1), pp. 119-120.
5 Luo and Xiao-Xin He, Feng-Shui: A Journey through Time (Taipei, 2004), pp. 110-116.
6 Zheng-Sheng Du, ‘The Inside-Outside and the Eight Directions: The Ethics and Cosmology of
Chinese Traditional Housing Space’, in Space, Power and Society (eds. Y. Huang. Academia
Sinica Series) Taipei, 1995, pp. 236-243.
7 Bao-De Han 2006 (1), p. 46.
8 After the 14th century, Feng-Shui theories eventually became more and more comprehensively
developed and inextricably intertwined with architectural knowledge and practices. For
example, in the 15th-century book, Hui-tu Lu-Ban-Jing (繪圖魯班經), a lot of architectural
taboos have been depicted by vivid illustrations and four-line rhymes, and, needless to say, this
book definitely represents the traditional way that carpenters should work but not the
(theoretical) ways of Feng-Shui. See: Klaas Ruitenbeek, Carpentry and Building in Late Imperial
China: A study of the fifteenth-century carpenter’s manual Lu Ban Jing, Leiden, 1993.
9 In the past, Taiwanese people used to call their traditional housing the Chu (厝) (the house),
the Hia-Chu (瓦厝) (the tile-roofed house), or the Toa-Chu (大厝) (the big house). The term
Sam-Hap-Inn was created after WWII by architectural historians from Mainland China to
make Taiwanese housing more easily comparable to the traditional housing in Beijing, the ‘Si-
He-Yuan’ (四合院), characterized by its four aisles built around a central courtyard. In
Taiwanese Hoh-Lo language, the word ‘Sam’ in the term Sam-Hap-Inn, means the figure
‘three’, and the words ‘Hap-Inn’ means the ‘house with a courtyard’. In Chinese mandarin, the
word ‘Si’ of the ‘Si-He-Yuan’ means the number ‘four’, and the words ‘He-Yuan’ mean the
‘house with a courtyard’. Though created by the architectural historians from mainland China,
the term ‘Sam-Hap-Inn’ is now generally accepted by the Taiwanese people. In this essay, the
spelling of the term ‘Sam-Hap-Inn’ as well as other terms related to ‘Sam-Hap-Inn’ housing is
based on the pronunciation of the Taiwanese Hoh-lo (福佬) language.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 169

10 The term ‘Sin-Bin-Thiann’ is also called Ciann-Thiann (正廳) (the ‘main hall’), the Kong-
Thiann (公廳) (the ‘public hall’), the Toa-Thiann (大廳) (the ‘big hall’), or the Cho-Thiann
(祖堂) (the ‘ancestral hall’).
11 Wen-Shang Chen, The Image of the Human body in the Traditional Taiwanese Sam-hap-inn: a
demonstrative research on the geosophy II (Department of Geography, Chinese Culture
University Taipei Series), Taipei, 1993, pp. 40-41.
12 Knapp 2005 (1), pp. 110-114. Fan-Yuan Dong, Study on the Protective Function of ‘Pa-Gua-Pai’
on the door’s lintel of the Taiwanese houses, Taipei, 1996, pp. 38-39.
13 Yu-Lan Fung, A History of Chinese Philosophy I (trans.: Derk Bodde), Princeton, 1983, pp. 26-
30. Because Yin (陰) and Yang (陽) is a dyadic concept, it is used to represent opposing but
complementary things or phenomena observable in the whole cosmos. However, the Five
Elements, consisting of metal, wood, water, fire and earth with their complex
interrelationships, also represent the essential composition of the cosmos. The ‘Yin-Yang’ and
the ‘Five Elements’ were separated as two irrelevant traditions in the beginning but integrated
into a new, unifying philosophy by Tsou-Yen (鄒衍) (3rd century BC) a philosopher of the
latter years of the Warring States Period (戰國時代) Zhi-Ren Kuang, the Yin-Yang and Five
Elements and its System, Taipei, 2003, pp. 33-38.
14 One can read there that: ‘Wood occupies the left, metal the right, fire the front, water the back,
and earth the center ... Thus, wood occupies the eastern quarter, where it rules over the Qi
(氣) of Spring Fire occupies the southern quarter, where it rules over the Qi of Summer. Metal
occupies the Western quarter, where it rules over the Qi of Autumn. Water occupies the north
quarter, where it rules over the Qi of Winter.’ Here the word Qi (氣) means ‘cosmic force’.
More of its meanings will be worked out later on in this essay. See: Su Yu, The Commentary on
Chun-Chiu Fan-Lu, Beijing, 1992, pp. 321-322.
15 Moreover, in the same book, the interacting (相生) and neutralizing (相勝) relationship
between the elements has been elaborated as follows: On the one hand, wood feeds fire, fire
creates earth, earth bears metal, metal collects water and water nourishes wood, and on the
other hand, wood parts earth, earth blocks water, water quenches fire, fire melts metal and
metal chops wood. See: Su Yu 1992, pp. 361-371.
The interacting and neutralizing relationships as well as the spatial relationships between every
two elements, allows the Tung Chung-Shu to be systematically interpreted based on how and
why the human body, social relationships, seasonal changes and cosmic phenomena happen or
function and showed, accordingly, the harmonic union of heaven and mankind. See: Su Yu
1992, pp. 314-317.
16 Yu-Lan Fung 1983 (13), pp. 131-132.
17 Zhi-Ren Kuang 2003 (13), pp. 350-354.
18 Dun-Zhen Liu, The History of Chinese Ancient Architecture, Beijing, 1987, p. 118.
19 Sashikala Ananth, Vaastu: The Classical Indian Science of Architecture and Design, New Delhi,
1999, pp. 78-79. However, in different theoretical books or manuals of Vaastu Shastra, each of
the five Indian elements is not always represented by the same spatial position. As noted in
some other books or manuals, the earth may be represented by the southwest, whilst the ether
may be represented by the centre.
20 Ananth 1999 (19), pp. 73-74, 82, 96-100.
21 Ananth 1999 (19), pp. 91-96.
22 Ananth 1999 (19), p. 109.
23 Ananth 1999 (19), pp. 80-82, 109.
24 Ananth 1999 (19), p.81.
25 Yih-Yuan Li, The Picture of Culture II: A cultural observation of the religion and the ethnic group,
Taipei, 1994, pp.206-207.
26 Yu-Lan Fung 1983 (13), pp. 16-19, 106-109, 159-169, 382-387 435-444, 478-482, 542-546, 636-
27 Knapp 2005 (1), pp. 123-124.
28 Chinese culture knows of various kinds of evil powers, which arrive from outside. A
prominent one is the so-called ‘formal Sha (煞)’ the malicious, harmful and invisible power,

170 The Architectural Representation of Taboo

believed to be caused by external objects that have particular formal characteristics, for
example: poles, roads, angles of other buildings and some landscapes. Nowadays, architects are
often asked to carefully choose the location of a new house they are designing, and never place
its entrances and windows directly opposite formal Sha-causing objects outside. If it is
impossible to avoid these formal Sha-causing objects, people often hang amulets in the
windows and entrances in order to exorcise and dissolve the harmful Sha power.
29 Ting-Luan Yao, Yang-Zhai Ji-Cheng, Taipei, 2003, p. 435.
30 Yue-Xian Liu, A Study on the Shui-Hu-Di Ri-Shu Bamboo-Script, Taipei, 1994, p. 219.
31 Deuteronomy (23: 9-14), See: The New Oxford Annotated Bible, the New Revised Standard
Version, New York/Oxford, 1989, p. 248.
32 Yen-Zen Tsai, Revelation and Salvation: Apocalypticism in the Early Western Civilization, Taipei,
2001, p. 165.
33 Friedrich Ragette, Traditional Domestic Architecture of the Arab Region, Berlin, 2003, p.73.
34 V. Geramb, ‘Abort’, in: Handwörterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens (ed. Hanns Bächtold-
Stäubli), Berlin, 1987, p. 91.
35 Geramb 1987 (34), p. 94.
36 Interview with Mrs. Huang (born 1925) on 31 August 2006. Mrs. Huang lived in a Sam-Hap-
Inn House in Chuanghua in central Taiwan during her youth.
37 Interview with Mr. Hsu in Nantou, Taiwan on 12 March 2006. The Hsu family has lived in an
old Sam-Hap-Inn house that was more than 130 years old. After the house was destroyed by
the big 1999 earthquake, they built a new house in the Thau-Thinn-Chu housing tradition on
the same site.
38 Bao-De Han 2006 (1), pp. 127.
39 Ruo-Guan Dao-Ren, Ba-Zhai-Ming-Jing, Taichung, 2002, p. 58.
40 Ananth 1999 (19), pp. 82, 125-126.
41 Talavane Krishna, The Vaastu Workbook: Using the Subtle Energies of the Indian Art of Placement
to Enhance Health, Prosperity and Happiness in your Home, Rochester, 2001, pp. 33-38.
42 Interview with Mr. Hsu 2006 (37).
43 In contemporary Taiwan, there are several standard ‘types’ of apartments including the 2-
room, the 3-room-with-2-halls apartment, and the 4-room-with-2-halls type. This is the
terminology commonly used by real-estate developers and architects to characterize the
apartments according to the number of bedrooms, sitting rooms and dining rooms. For
example, the 4-room-with-2-halls type indicates an apartment with four bedrooms, one sitting
room and a dining room.
44 Interview with Mr. Gao in Taipei on 11 September 2006.
45 Fu-Xi Ju-Shi and Yuan-Ming Ju-Shi, The Manual of Housing Feng-Shui in the 2007 Pig Year,
Taichung, 2007, pp. 89-93.
46 Interview with Mr. Chen in Taipei on 11 January 2006. Mr. Chen is the chief architect at
Sunyuan Architects & Associates and has designed houses for more than 20 years in Taipei.
47 Zen master Hun-Yuan on 12 June 2007, from Fate Open Life Career Center, visit: http://www.
48 Interview with Mr. Huang in Taipei on 1 June 2007. Mr. Huang is a traditional Chinese
physician. As well as many other traditional Chinese physicians, he is also a Feng-Shui
specialist. This is quite common because knowledge of Feng-Shui and traditional Chinese
medicine are based on the same age-old traditional knowledge, which is handed down by the
so-called ‘School of the Yin-Yang and Five Elements’.
49 Interview with Mr. Gao in 2006 (44).

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 171

5 The Architectural Representation
of Diversity
Changing Scopes to Meet
Changing Realities in The
Hague’s Transvaal
Aart Mekking


The average person starts feeling uneasy when the social composition of his
neighbourhood begins to dramatically change. The built environment increas-
ingly does not meet local demands, be they material or immaterial. In other
words, the built environment will no longer serve as a representation of reality.
This discrepancy may be caused by social ‘degradation’ when, for instance,
poor people are forced to live in large houses that were abandoned by the well-
to-do, when the rich people like to live in smaller and simpler houses. In the
first case, the inhabitants do not have the money to maintain their house and
properly furnish it, which eventually leads to dilapidation and a general
In the second case, the too small and simple houses will be fixed up by the
well-to-do with all of the luxuries and comforts they are used to. In prosperous
Europe, the latter is more often the case than the former. Since the 1970s, it
has become fashionable among the higher-educated, young and leftish urban
professionals to live in mixed, small working-class housing, to show a certain
solidarity with the former inhabitants but under much more comfortable cir-
cumstances.1 Where apolitical, romantic illusions about the past matter more
than social feelings, some simply love to live in strange dwellings such as for-
mer factories, churches, prisons, monasteries, town halls, schools, windmills,
water towers and train stations. Perhaps huge villas, split up into luxurious
apartments, could also be considered strange dwellings as well.

Nevertheless, most people prefer to live in traditional houses, with gardens
and garages, using, of course, traditional forms, which should, by no means, be
nostalgic at the expense of living comfort. It is very interesting to see how the
unconventional upper classes and the convention-seeking lower middle-class
dwellers are finding totally different building traditions to represent their iden-
tities. The former are looking for eccentric housing conditions to accentuate
their unique individuality. The latter eagerly want to be accepted as copy-paste
members of the Home Magazine Society, living in conventional quarters filled
up with outworn pastiches of former bourgeois status. And what about the
millions of inhabitants who have their roots in other parts of the world? With
what kind of building traditions would they prefer to represent their identities,
ideals and expectations? Do they really have an adequate range of choices?


Of course, this is, first of all, about money. But even if expenses do not play a
major role, how easy is it to trace the building tradition that meets the needs
of architectural self-representation? Which architectural design, or which
changes in an already existing built environment, will make one feel comforta-
ble and satisfied? Only the architecturally educated, knowing enough about
dwelling history among the various classes and cultures, can help find a satis-
factory answer to such a multifaceted and complicated question. Because this
is all about the representation of collective or personal identities, it stands to
reason that we should base our analysis of buildings or their design on the
paradigm of the built environment as a representation of reality, of which iden-
tity is an example. It is very important here to realize that ‘modernity’ is just
one of the realities one finds represented in the built environment of any one
place and time, including the future. To be new and original is just an ambi-
tion and therefore no more than a tradition in its own right. Because some-
thing cannot be created out of nothing (‘creatio ex nihilo’), the first thing every
architect and architectural historian should do, apart from being suspicious, is
to seek out the building traditions that the allegedly ‘new’ and ‘original’ are
inevitably based on. The difference between the analysis of architecture and the
design of architecture is that the first deals with how and which traditions have
been used in the past to represent certain realities, while the latter investigates
how and which traditions should be used to represent the patron’s realities in a
new design.

The three long-cycle traditions of worldwide architectural representation of

This means that the architect should first choose which of the three long-cycle
traditions (the anthropomorphic, the sociomorphic and the physiomorphic) his
design should be based on. In this phase, the design does not yet have the speci-

174 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

fic twist which it will receive in the next creative step, when it will have to
answer to the social, ethnic, religious or other cultural reality-to-be-represented.



It appears that the anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition has mostly been cho-
sen to represent existential concepts regarding the human nature/condition.
Depending on one’s background and ambitions, specific shorter cycle anthro-
pomorphism-based traditions are chosen to help realize the architectural
design. In the keynote article, these traditions, which exist in related combina-
tions of formal structures and to-be-represented content, have been grouped in
five, more or less, separate ‘working spaces’ or themes. Three of these shorter-
cycle intercultural and cross-temporal clusters of traditions are essentially speci-
fic representations of the underlying anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition.

The ‘Axis Mundi & Cosmic Cross’ theme

Here we are referring to the representation of the fundamental conditions of
human existence. Therefore, in the architectural design that represents this
theme, coordinates like above, underneath, before, behind, left and right will
relate to the human body as their central point of reference. In many cases,
this also applies to the proportions or modules used in the design.

The ‘Boasting Façades’ theme

Here we are referring to basically more extroverted aspects because it deals
with groups or individuals confronting society. Since the frontal side of every
building is both the most telling as always associated with the human front, it
will be experienced as a personification of the patron or the user(s) of the

The ‘Holy & Unholy Zones’ theme

This covers the representation of the three interconnected zones and conditions
of life and the afterlife. Because this tripartition is based on the representation
of the cosmos by the human body, its lower part, upper part and head respec-
tively represent harsh and primitive living conditions/the underworld; decent and
pious living/the earth and the overworld (in some cultures called heaven) on
earth; the overworld (heaven) itself. The actual building traditions of the so-
called secular civilizations also feature this representation of a cosmic body-
based tripartition. No wonder, because all buildings are intrinsically based on
the human physique and only secondly on social or natural (physical) realities,
such as tribal relationships and the nature of one’s natural environment.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 175

The theme of the Holy & Unholy Zones is not just confined to the vertical
parts of a building, it also applies to its plan and depends on whether it is
more public or private, male or female, older or younger, clean or unclean;
functions are distributed somewhere between the heart and the edge, or
between the Holy & Unholy. This horizontal zoning is also based on the
anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition, because it represents a man being diag-
onally stretched across a square (homo ad quadratum / primordial Demon held
in check by a Mandala) or in a circle (Homo ad Circulum). The innermost and
therefore holiest of zones represents his navel, in which the Axis Mundi is
based, while the outer and most unholy zones are his hands and feet, being the
instruments of a tough and often unclean life of labour. The impact of hori-
zontal interior zoning on public space is, of course, much smaller than that of
vertical zoning. Because it is nearly totally private, it has very much in com-
mon with the next theme, that of the family, clan and society-related topologi-
cal structures. Therefore one could doubt about on which long-cycle tradition
the horizontal zoning is based more: on the Anthropomorphic or on the next


The ‘Including & Excluding Structures’ theme
This encompasses all of the society-related topological structures that represent
the incorporation or, its antonym, the exclusion of humans. Although these
representations are essentially about social reality, the building traditions,
which belong to this theme, have worldwide bodily-shaped or microcosmic
(i.e. anthropomorphic) structures. The perhaps most widespread and famous
of these is the intercultural tradition of the representation of paradisiacal socie-
ties by compass pattern-based and centre-focused quadrangular enclosures.
This not only means that this tradition also belongs to the anthropomorphic
long-cycle tradition, but, even more specifically, that it overlaps with the
shorter-cycle theme of the ‘Axis Mundi & Cosmic Cross’. There is an obvious
explanation for all of this: the hierarchical organized community, which uses
the ‘paradise’-structure, identifies itself with the perfect ‘cosmic’ human body.
So it needs just one step to re-activate the shorter-cycle building tradition of
the paradisiacal enclosure to represent the included social reality in a material
and habitable way.


In most world regions the representation of the universe is based on the outline
of the ideal human body, thus, the architectural representation of any cosmic
phenomenon, such as earthly nature, will mostly be grounded in the human
physique. It depends on regional or local traditions how often and in what way

176 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

natural phenomena are used to represent human reality. Architectural traditions
in China, for instance, are much more based on the physiomorphic long-cycle
traditions than in the modern Western World.
In the Western Middle-Ages there was a comparable drive towards building
in harmony with the cosmos as is still nowadays the case in a lot of Asian

The ‘Horizons of Life’ theme

This is the only one of the five themes that is primarily based on the physio-
morphic long-cycle building tradition. It is essentially a built representation of
the cosmic horizon as seen through human eyes. In other words, this theme is
a physiomorphic long-cycle-based representation of the limits of the anthropo-
centric space (=micro cosmos), a man-dominated representation of the uni-
verse (=macro cosmos). The Romans called this sacred, anthropocentric space
‘Templum’ or temple before it became a built representation of the awe-inspir-
ing reality of heaven-on-earth.
All over the world people tend to project their hopes and fears onto the hor-
izon of their existence. For this reason, broad structures, which can easily be
experienced as representations of the natural horizon, are everywhere and often
used to represent social and religious ideologies, ideals and realities. As En-Yu
Huang explains in his contribution to this book, the south-oriented Chinese
courtyard family house (Siheyuan /四合院) represents the Chinese ideal scen-
ery of the dominating central mountain, flanked by two protruding lower
ones, with ‘living’ water in front. The reality represented by this building tradi-
tion, is the ‘horizon of life’ of a traditional family, living harmoniously
together, according to a hierarchy based on gender and generation. Based on
Charles Jencks’ interpretation,2 Frank Gehry’s Museum of Modern Art in
Bilbao should be seen, from a formal point of view, as surprisingly comparable
to the Siheyuan tradition. Gehry’s representation of the mountainous horizon
of the city is part of what is interpreted (by Jencks) as a modern astronomy-
inspired representation of the anthropocentric cosmos. The same goes for the
skyline of the main building of Chandigarh’s so called Capitol, the Parliament,
which Le Corbusier modelled on the Himalayan horizon in the background.
His representation of the Tower-of-the-Winds from the ancient Athenian
Agora in the centre of the Chandigarh Capitol, which itself belongs to the
theme of the ‘Axis Mundi & Cosmic Cross’, is the key to the interpretation of
the administrative heart of the new Capital city of the Hindustani Punjab as
the anthropomorphic cosmic Navel of the young Indian Democracy.3 Here the
eternal, cosmic values of the natural horizon are again reinforcing the legiti-
macy of an ideological reality.
And this is also the case for an immensely popular architectural ‘horizon of
life’, the Qibla- or, mostly, Mecca-oriented prayer wall of the mosque, which is
seen more and more in the West these days. This represents the equality of all
human beings in the eyes of God, as we explained earlier in chapter 1.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 177


The following section is devoted to the transcultural traditions in the built

environment of Transvaal, which will be analyzed from a worldwide scope or
perspective (figure 1).
This analysis will also reveal the unique opportunities for city builders and
architects to meet the immense need for the representation of identity, present,
in spite of all elitist-functionalist denials, at all times and in all places. The first
and main goal (= the analysis) cannot be achieved without sufficient knowl-
edge of the long- and shorter-cycle traditions (or themes) we just elaborated
upon, and of their occurrence in Transvaal. The second goal (=reshaping) will
not be attainable without sufficient knowledge of the worldwide building tradi-
tions that might be used, according to the local scope and for the middle and
long term.
We will not discuss the kinds of houses architects have to design, and neither
will a plea be made for nostalgia, because building yesterday’s architecture
either means representing a false, outdated reality or people’s fear of the future.
The fact that nostalgic architecture is very popular among the white and well
to do in Dutch suburbia is undoubtedly a representation of the latter.

Local architectural traditions and worldwide anthropomorphic long-cycle

As we noted above, the representational themes that are principally based on
an anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition largely represent existential concepts
about the human nature/condition. Therefore, we should begin to look at the
built environment of Transvaal for local architectural traditions, which have
been formulated in the ‘working spaces’ covered by these themes.

Fig. 1 Map of Transvaal, North=Right (Cito plan, The Hague City map, ca. 1950).

178 The Architectural Representation of Diversity


It is very unlikely that any other architectural theory would be able to come up
with a more forceful representation of the ‘Axis Mundi & Cosmic Cross’ than
the Indian Vaastu does. According to the latter, the apex where the energy of
heaven meets the earth in the middle of its anthropomorphic compass-oriented
grid, can only be used for sacred structures or should simply be left blank.4
Although Western architectural theory was never that consistent and unambig-
uous, this theme has, nonetheless, always played a role in Western city plan-
ning, even in such relatively recent neighbourhoods as Transvaal.

The Juliana Church and the Kempstraat-Schalk Burgerstraat intersection

After the City’s churchwardens had made fruitless attempts to found a Dutch
Reformed Church in Transvaal, a more locally oriented group took over the
initiative in 1919 and proposed doing something with the uninterestingly
located building lot that had been purchased to erect the church on. The
Dutch Reformed Church was, by that time, still behaving like the unofficial
state church in The Hague, which meant that some churches were even furn-
ished with Royal Seats. This ultimately meant finding a more suitable building
location. They finally found it at the corner of the Kempstraat and the Schalk
Burgerstraat. As its location bears, compared to those of other churches in
Transvaal, an outspokenly central and prominent character, the church-to-be-
built was predestined to become the ‘sacred navel’ of the quarter. The monu-
mental qualities of its architecture – it was at one time called ‘a Protestant
Cathedral’ – stimulated the feeling that the neighbourhood had finally received
a heart and that its main ‘veins’ met at the crossing at the church’s feet.5
Although the housing companies and associations planners never consciously
intended to incorporate the characteristics of the European Christian tradition
of the microcosmic heaven-on-earth into the Transvaal neighbourhood, the
central part of it was inevitably reinterpreted in this sense by the realization of
the Juliana Church6 (figure 2).

Representations of paradise based on two different long-cycle traditions

While the church’s importance as an identity-bearer for the multicultural
neighbourhood increased, its role as a place of Christian worship was simulta-
neously reduced to a minimum. It goes without saying that in most cultures
the cosmic cross (world Axis and crossroads) is the most significant representa-
tion of paradise. Another representation, which was predominant in the initial
planning of Transvaal, was, however rudimentary and vague, that of paradise
as an ideal natural environment. Whilst the first, microcosmic representation
was, of course, mainly based on the anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition, the
second one belongs to the 19th-century need for more ‘natural’ urban planning
and is therefore principally based on the physiomorphic long-cycle tradition.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 179

Fig. 2 Juliana Church as ‘Axis Mundi’, the ‘navel’ of the ‘Cosmic Cross’ as seen from the
southwest (Wijkplan Transvaal, cover, (40)).

Since the local building traditions that are based on this latter cycle will be the
last to be examined, we should focus now on the anthropomorphic one. This
representation of the ideal reality of the Transvaal-to-be, as the patrons and
builders saw it around 1900, was, no doubt unconsciously, based on a repre-
sentation of the worldwide Axis Mundi & Cosmic Cross longer-cycle tradition.

Central points of mental and material orientation representing democratic

On the one hand, the representation of the very urgent housing need in
Transvaal in those days was quite ‘democratic’; there was to be no ‘totalitarian’
severity as expressed in a grid of streets meeting at right angles, but diagonals,
triangles and twisted grid blocks that would make things look more ‘natural’
and ‘human.’ On the other hand, the building of the Juliana Church stimulated
the plan’s cosmic traditions, making it, notwithstanding all of its softening ten-
dencies, much more of a vital representation of the time’s law-and-order
society, in which everybody knew his or her place, directing themselves towards
the church standing in the centre of life and the neighbourhood. In the mean-
time, the world has been shocked by the so far most pernicious ideological con-
flicts ever, and the population of Transvaal has almost completely coloured.
Therefore, one would expect the urban structure and the architecture it is based
on to be totally incomprehensible for its inhabitants. Yet, nothing is further
from the truth. The need for monumental gestures, pompous avenues and cen-
tral points of mental and material orientation were back on the urban stage of
The Hague. The decline, fall and finally the comeback of the Ridderzaal (the

180 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

Count’s Palace) as the ‘Sacred Navel’ of the town and even of the entire coun-
try, has been analyzed in ‘The Hague: A Capital of Centro Phobia, An Analysis of
its Built Representation’.7 The comeback of the Juliana Church as the ‘Sacred
Centre’ of Transvaal is no less remarkable, albeit it is just on the neighbour-
hood level.

Ceremonies representing the Juliana Church as the cosmic centre of

On 6 September 2006, the fully restored church building was reopened with an
interesting, multicultural ceremony. The attendees included ‘The diplomatic
representatives of some of the nations that are represented in this part of The
Hague,’ as Mayor Wim Deetman called them in his official re-opening address.
He also focused on the church’s new function in the neighbourhood: ‘This
beautiful, monumental building, with its outstanding tower, is an unavoidable
orientation point in Transvaal…. Because the church is situated in the very
heart of the quarter, it is perfect for its new function as a meeting point for all
of the inhabitants of Transvaal and to offer a home base for the social and wel-
fare institutions of Transvaal’.8 During the reopening ceremony, four tradition-
ally clad Turkish men represented the cosmic cross, performing a martial dance
under the dome in the heart of the Church.9

Worldwide architectural historical knowledge and understanding of

What has never been done and perhaps never will be is to address culturally
different groups of inhabitants on what the architectural heart of their neigh-
bourhood represents in terms of their own building traditions. To begin with,
the Dutch people: surely very few of them would be able to explain why, some
80 years ago, this architectural tradition was used on this spot to represent the
major idea concerning the Dutch Protestant community in Transvaal. Probably
even fewer inhabitants of other ethnic backgrounds in today’s Transvaal could
articulate why a sanctuary was built on a crossroad in the heart of an urban
quarter and what this could possibly mean in terms of their original culture.
This lack of historical and contemporary knowledge about one of the most
basic aspects of housing quarters worldwide, makes it hard for people to feel at
home in, and to identify with, their own neighbourhood. A well-informed and
gifted architect could perhaps supply this knowledge more successfully than a
comprehensible municipal information and publicity campaign. The means an
architect has at his disposal to do this are much more penetrating and durable.
In this case, it would not be too difficult a job, since the Juliana Church, as the
main orientation point and most important identity marker of Transvaal dom-
inates the crossing lifelines of the neighbourhood and lives in the minds and
hearts of the majority of its local residents.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 181

However, to make it really work in everybody’s cultural context, strong
elements of the worldwide living traditions of the cosmic centre and the cross-
roads of life and living should be represented in the built environment. Because,
in almost every culture, specific colours and animals, connected to the seasons
and the elements, represent the directions of the compass, the architect almost
has too great a choice when it comes to representing these aspects of the centre
and the corners of the world. Wood, various metals, water, fire, earth and air,
strong reds and blues and other primary colours, lions, bulls, eagles, to name
just a few representations, could easily be integrated into the built environ-
ment.10 Now the local information campaign should no longer be about
abstract information on a not too symmetrical crossroads and on almost uni-
form streets. Henceforth, it should be about the remarkable differences in colour
and the use of unusual elements that are, interestingly enough, characteristic of
a person’s street.

Indo-European building traditions and ‘The Orient. Proud as a Peacock’

After London, The Hague has the largest Hindustani population in Europe,
comprising circa 25% of the inhabitants of Transvaal, for instance. Therefore,
it seems only reasonable that the architect should draw his representations of
the centre and the crossroads from the large amount of Indian literature on
this topic. Although much deeper and more complete, the Indian interpreta-
tions are similar to ‘our’ Western ones because, in the past, Indians and
Europeans shared crucial representations of the basic phenomena of the uni-
verse and its creation.11 Recently, a triangular housing block, facing the Juliana
Church, between the Kempstraat and a projected green promenade, was espe-
cially designed and promoted as an outstanding housing area for Hindustani
families. This could have been an excellent opportunity to recycle a common,
Indo-European tradition of representing the Axis Mundi & Cosmic Cross,
which is, sadly enough, not the case. But, before we go into this, something
should be said about how green strengthens the ‘heart’ of Transvaal as a

The Green, representing stone

As such, the addition of a radiating road that connects the Juliana Church’s
central open space with the north western edge of Transvaal is an important
urban representation of the increasing importance of the church as the neigh-
bourhood’s identity-marker. If the plans were for a paved street like the others,
meeting at the same crossing, it would have been a clear and proper represen-
tation of the need to reinforce the centre. However, because it is going to be a
green tree-trimmed promenade, it will unintentionally weaken the strength of
the thus far coherent representation. The introduction of the green element is
certainly meant to cheer up the local Axis Mundi & Cosmic Cross tradition by
recycling some aspect of the worldwide ‘closed paradise’ tradition. Moreover,

182 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

the anthropomorphic structure of the ‘closed paradise’ has always been one of
the best intercultural ‘tools’ in the working space of the ‘Including & Excluding
Structures.’ As will be shown, the Transvaal representation of everybody’s para-
disiacal dwelling place is ‘nature’ and not ‘cosmos’ focused. Thus, it is mainly
based on Physiomorphic long-cycle traditions, which will be discussed as the
last of the three basic, age-old, worldwide and ongoing long-cycles.

Orientalism instead of Indian building traditions

Let us concentrate again on the triangular ‘Hindustani’ housing block. Instead of
strengthening the self-consciousness and the identity of the mostly Hindustani
inhabitants as full members of the urban and national community – as the bro-
chure promises – in the end the project will surely end up being a deception.
Why? Because nearly everything the real estate developer ERA Bouw
(Zoetermeer)(NL) tries to sell as Hindustani housing, is just worn-out Mogul
(Indian) flavoured European ‘Orientalism’, as the name of the project ‘The
Orient. Proud as a Peacock’ naively points out.12 There is no need to explain why
this has nothing to do with any kind of world architecture. It is just the recycling
of an age-old European representation of ‘Indian-Orientalism,’ which is, of
course, neither an Indian nor even an intercultural reality but a European one
(figure 3). What the representation of any reality that is fit for Transvaal’s every-
day lifestyle, needs is the recycling of shared long-cycle and shorter-cycle tradi-
tions, as we stated earlier.

Integrating the Dutch and Indian holy focuses in Transvaal

Of course, there are not just people with Hindustani backgrounds living in
Transvaal. The originally Dutch-based population of the neighbourhood has

Fig. 3 Sketches of a bird’s-eye view plan for ‘The Orient’ complex showing the north side of
the Juliana Church (‘The Orient. Proud as a Peacock’) (12).

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 183

been changing for decades now via a constant process of immigration from
numerous countries and will continue to do so in future. It would therefore be
wise to include less region-specific, deeper, mostly long-cycle traditions in the
urban planning and the actual architecture and not to just build purely Indian
representations. Moreover, every addition to the existing architectural body of
Transvaal should be open and environment-oriented to facilitate the communi-
cation between the existing and future architectural representations of cultu-
rally different realities. ‘De Orient’ complex is not an open structure that
communicates with the neighbourhood; it is much too isolated. What could
have been done in this case to add value to Transvaal more generally? The
plans could have incorporated the core of its Indo-European cosmic tradition
as an integrating and not as an isolating aspect. Firstly, the Juliana Church
should have been made the central, holy focus of ‘De Orient,’ and not, as will
now be the case, the middle of its own courtyard. This would have embedded
the central meaning of the church/community-building into the Hindustani
housing block, and, it would also have integrated the Hindustani triangle into
the whole of Transvaal. Both could have been represented, according to Indian
Vaastu prescriptions, by the creation of a relatively open, transitional zone, a
kind of ‘open corner.’ Vaastu texts instruct us to do so because the holy focus
(i.e., the Juliana Church) is too energetic for housing to be exposed to in its
immediate vicinity. This is also why it would be advisable to bind the ‘open
corner’ with shops, offices, and other work spaces where people are actively
doing things other than dwelling.13 Although the temple/church as a meeting
place of heaven and earth is an intercultural commonality, this built represen-
tation of the upright cosmic man in the middle of the universe, is nowhere as
strongly associated with energy streams as in Indian architectural theory. In
this respect, it meets basic Physiomorphic long-cycle traditions because, in
Indian cosmology, the upright cosmic man inhabits a central mountain, which
is mostly populated by the heavenly gods. Energy streams and holy mountains
as the place where ghosts dwell is shared by Chinese philosophy/architectural


It is amazing to read that the Rev. Van den Bosch in his 1926 inaugural address
hinted at the upright cosmic man as the central element of the new Juliana
Church when he was speaking about its interior as a representation of Christ
crucified, his head pointing to heaven and his hands outstretched to mankind
waiting for salvation in all quarters of the world like in Catholic Carolingian
times (c. AD 800). Thus the Cross of Christ represented in a vertical position
was, with Calvinist cautiousness, interpreted by the Protestant minister as a
token of the deliverance of humanity. In other words, as a token of the re-con-
nection of heaven and earth by the cosmic man Christ dying at the worldwide
symbol of the cosmos, the Axis Mundi and its cross beam, pointing in the

184 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

directions of the compass. Moreover, from the inner side of the building, the
apex of the dome might seem like the top of the Axis Mundi, while from the
outside, and so for everyone who lives in Transvaal, the tower is the actual
summit of this stony ‘stairway to heaven,’ as one of the ministers once charac-
terized the church in 1923.15 This is all about vertical zoning, which is based
on the same anthropomorphic principles that are represented by the horizontal
one. The latter is the cosmic man lying in the centre of the universe, orienting
himself in the directions of the compass, creating a crossroad based on his
bodily sides to find his way in the world. The former is the zoning of his body
as a representation of the universe in the way that the minister explained it,
basing himself, probably unconsciously, on a very old, worldwide and pre-
Christian tradition. Because this representational tradition of the microcosmic
spheres is so crucial, widespread and architecturally influential, it forms an
Anthropomorphic long-cycle based theme in its own right, The ‘Holy &
Unholy Zones’.

Few ‘Holy Zones’ and modest living conditions in Transvaal

On the local level of Transvaal, it again involves the Juliana Church and the
‘Sion,’ the Dutch Reformed Community Centre located in the Scheeperstraat,16
which architecturally represent the three zones of the universal body most
clearly (fig. 4).

Fig. 4 ‘Sion’ (Dutch Reformed Community Centre) representing the three zones of the ‘cosmic’
body (De Groot-Linskens 2006(5), ‘Sion’: p. 33-34).

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 185

Why should one not wonder about why these buildings were designed in
this way? Because they not only represent the neighbourhood’s reality but also,
and perhaps even more so, the reality of the upper-class Protestants trying to
impose their standard values onto the inhabitants of the local religious com-
munity and beyond. The other way around, the trizonal building as a scarce
item means that the inhabitants’ social reality was, and still mainly is, rather
modest. Would it therefore not be a good idea to build numerous trizonal
dwellings, since the upgrading of the neighbourhood is one of the major goals
of its rehabilitation? In a way, it would be, but only to support actual social
upgrading. Recycling socially higher building traditions to introduce them in a
living quarter can also have an alienating, suppressing effect, as had partly
been the case when the Juliana Church was built. It should certainly be recog-
nized as an appropriate representation of the average realities of its inhabitants.
What does each zone represent from a local and a global point of view? What
are their specific formal characteristics? And how can they be used to represent
the realities of the people who will move into Transvaal in the (middle) long
term? The plinth or the first layer (ground-level) of a building basically repre-
sents, worldwide, the feet and the legs of cosmic man. This down-to-earth and,
therefore, unholy level represents the meeting of men and demons from the
underworld. Therefore, if it is merely a plinth zone, it generally is not consid-
ered a very appropriate place for higher functions. If it is more than just a
plinth zone, it is mostly used for work places, storage, and for the housing of
cattle and personnel. This is the unspecific, broader scope. Narrowing the
scope to the local level of Transvaal, two of the older buildings should be con-
sidered first. First, the Juliana Church represents the earth-bound zone in a
rather abstract manner, consisting of a dark trasslayer and a lively red coloured
entrance zone. The second building is the former Badhuis, a bathhouse built in
1925 on the Spionkopstraat, with a very obvious vertical structure. The centra-
lizing building has been placed on a rather high, partly subterranean service
story, preceded in the front by a monumental flight of stairs. The connected
flanking housing for personnel was built on the same story, with service spaces
running throughout the ‘bearing base’ of every part of the bathhouse.17 The
partially subterranean level as well as the ground level of Transvaal housing
architecture was normally used for housing, but in the main streets, it still
often accommodates shops and smaller industries. In all of the streets, the base
story increasingly accommodates parking facilities.

The ‘unholy’ ‘bearing base’ and labour in Transvaal

In a neighbourhood like Transvaal, one can find the two, most important glo-
bal traditions of representing the ‘bearing base’ in house building. The first is
the schematic plinth tradition, used for housing and religious architecture,
which can be clearly observed on the outside of the Juliana Church. Because
the lowest level of these buildings was never intended to be used as housing, it
only refers to the very old reality of hard labour lifestyle and burial at the spot

186 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

Fig. 5 Paul Krugerlaan: The ‘bearing base’, or ground floor, as a shopping zone with the 1st
floor barely recognizable as a ‘piano nobile’ (photo: author 2003).

where every building touches the underworld, by means of simply thickening,

reinforcing and changing the colour of the very lowest part of its outside walls.
The second tradition, using the ‘bearing base’ itself (i.e. the ground floor) as a
shop, a storage space or a workplace, is, in some respect, it’s opposite. The
owner of the building being rather well off and thus the mostly one dimen-
sional use of the ‘bearing base’ will be subject of upgrading act of branding,
which pushes the representation of its reality into the high ranks of the owner’s
kind of business. Strange as it may sound this also goes for a church in whose
crypt – an outstanding part of the ‘bearing base’ – a saint is buried and vener-
ated. Upgrading via branding the holy dead as a mighty and helpful person
would ward off greedy feudal lords and attract pilgrims very effectively.
Granted, the reality of a shop or a workplace is much more one-dimensional
and material-functional than that of an abbey, however, their realities have
more in common than the average pious believer would accept. Apart from the
representation of the individual realities of the user or owner of a ‘bearing
base,’ its architecture and building materials globally tend to be more solid and
simple than these of the upper stories (figure 5).
Any decoration of the ‘bearing base’ would represent the demonic under-
world or slaves, enemies and even the ancestors who bear the building’s ‘Holy
Zones’.18 A creative architect who is aware of this would even be able to trans-
form the dull material functionality of a parking base into a thrilling represen-
tation of the demonic character of the environment-polluting car. Imagine for
instance a tollbooth statue of poor (Moroccan) Atlas, suffocating in the exhaust
fumes of cars, but still managing to hold up the melting world.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 187

The second story ‘piano nobile’ and future prosperity in Transvaal
Because Transvaal was developed to accommodate working and lower middle-
class people, there was very little need for any second story (first floor) ornate
architecture to represent the social status of its inhabitants (figure 5). The well-
to-do neighbourhoods of The Hague have plenty of representative storeys that
sit atop humble bearing floors. Even its early apartment buildings, although
structurally just a row of single-floor housing, represent every flat as a ‘piano
nobile’ or reception floor, according to the high status of its inhabitants.19 No
need to point out that the downstairs, upstairs and porch access flats in
Transvaal do not show off anything like this. The architecture of the mythical
meeting place of men and gods, the floor lifted up by the ‘bearing base’, is
mostly characterized by higher, richly decorated walls, which are supposed to
surround spacious rooms, connected to the world outside by larger windows,
balconies and loggias. The aristocratic owners, whose realities are represented
by this aspect of their city palaces, everywhere and always ultimately legiti-
mized their powerful positions as the will of the gods. These people acted like
the reflections of their gods or even as incarnations of them, whether they were
aware of it or not, revealing themselves as being ordinary mortals hovering in
the ornate wall breaches between the world inside and outside, between the
earth downstairs and the heaven a floor above. Nowadays, very few people rea-
lize that even in the modern world, the balconies, loggias, the larger windows
and the bay windows of bourgeois housing are part of this long, intercultural

The ‘Orient’ Hindu housing block introduces an intercultural Holy Zone to

So the use of monumental, broad windows along the first-floor façades of the
housing block planned by architects of ‘the Orient’ perfectly fits into the ‘piano
nobile’ Holy-Zone tradition (figure 3). Why this motive was chosen is not diffi-
cult to guess. Being ambitious about the social realities of the multicultural
public that is expected to live in this triangular block, the real estate developer
and his architects have selected the trizonal façade that also survived in the
newly built, sometimes gated, nostalgic communities where age-old formal
building traditions have been recycled in many a comfortable villa of the
(very) well-to-do.20 By joining this middle- and upper-class tradition, the
developers have tried to attract people whose realities would fit into this built
environment or who at least would have the ambition to make theirs fit in the
near future. Facing the ‘Orient’ complex, the Juliana Church boasts the
Transvaal’s oldest and most prestigious first-floor/-story zone, which is invaded
by the light of the heavenly spheres through the many monumental windows,
as Minister Van den Bosch noted in his inaugural address in 1926.21 The for-
mer Wijkgebouw or parish Hall called ‘Sion’ was perhaps better understood by
the people living in the neighbourhood, as a rather high-handed gesture by the

188 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

Protestant elite. The higher and ornate windows of the ‘piano nobile’ story of
the Scheeperstraat’s right wing represent the gathering room of the church
Council. It is hard to find a straighter example of first-floor/story housing
architecture that represents these powerful mediators between heaven and
earth, although the patron just wanted a decent and useful building.
That would have been much too modest a requirement in the eyes of most
of the rich and traditional Indian people, to include, once again by widening
the scope of this analysis, the building traditions inherited by the biggest min-
ority of Transvaal. Having gone through the hardships of exile and arduous
labour in the former Dutch colony of Surinam, the Hindustani people never
forgot their Indian roots. Being part of this great and multifaceted culture is
still an important part of their identity.22 Every open-minded and socially
intelligent city builder and architect would welcome the chance to be inspired
by those impressive traditions and be able to represent the reality of this group
in Transvaal. What should they focus on? Not, as the architects of the ‘Orient’
housing block indiscriminately did, on a few motifs from all-Indian Temple
and Palace architecture, looking for an ‘oriental’ atmosphere rather than for
the main principles of Indian housing. Without going too deeply into the var-
ious Vaastu Saastra (Hindu Science of Architecture) texts from North and
South India, one can safely conclude that, in some regions such as Rajasthan,
solid and sober ground floors bear strongly articulated and richly decorated
first floor façades.23 In this respect, they can be easily compared to the noble
dwellings of the aristocrats and the bourgeois European residents prior to the
First World War. Will the future Transvaal, which never accommodated these
upper classes, boast modern Dutch representations of old Indian second-zone
traditions, showing prosperity between the business-base and the flat-roofed
top where the overworld is at home?

Escaping from earth and meeting heaven in the crowning ‘Holy Zone’
It stands to reason that the ‘Holy Zone’ of religious architecture is the most
abundant and outspoken representation of the overworld globally. This even
goes for the sober architecture of the crowning zone of the Calvinist Juliana
Church. The light that enters through the clear story of the central part of the
church, comes from heaven: it illuminates the dome with a vertical beam of
light that leads us to heaven, as the Rev. Van den Bosch noted in his 1926 inau-
gural address.24 The ‘holy’ and ‘heavenly’ character of the upper zone of most
Western housing architecture is clearly represented on the outside, by various
kinds of (decorated) gables, which, since the high Middle Ages, has dominated
both the town halls and the churches of many prosperous towns. Not unlike a
lot of other cultures, the inhabitants tended to see themselves as dwellers of a
heavenly city, as Saint John the Evangelist observed: ‘In my Father’s house are
many mansions’ (Gospel According to Saint John, 14:2). So the crownings of
their houses should represent the heavenly reality of their well-being.25 Apart
from some apotropeic amulets that ward off evil, not very much in the inner

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 189

Fig. 6 An amazing representation of Egyptian village idyll on Cairo’s rooftops (Randa Shaath)

side of Western housing attics reminds of its overworldly character. On the

other hand, the ‘attics’ of Sumbanese clan houses shelter the images of the
inhabitants’ ancestors, who dwell in the other world.26 Very interesting exam-
ples of the recycling of the ‘Holy Zone’ tradition in a new type of housing
architecture can be seen in today’s Taiwan. The top floors of these multi-storied
houses not only harbour the shrines of ancestors but also represent some of the
main characteristics of the traditional San-He-Yuan (三合院), the old family
house they used to live in long ago.27 And not only on the modern upper floors
of today’s Taiwan an old building tradition has achieved a paradisiacal status,
since on innumerable rooftops in modern Cairo comparable things are going
on. People and cattle live on Cairo’s rooftops in traditional rural dwellings, liv-
ing their parallel existences with those in the city down below and in neigh-
bouring apartment complexes. It is an amazing mix of representations of
Egyptian village idyll and artistic and intellectual bohemian paradise lost, high
above the traffic inferno downstairs (figure 6).28
In his efforts to make Chicago a greener and more liveable place, Mayor
Richard M. Daley had the roof of City Hall turned into a garden: ‘It’s like a
scene from a peaceful meadow: Where wildflowers bloom and the bees are
busy. But to reach this slice of Eden, one doesn’t travel out of town, one travels
up, 12 stories up’. In Dearborn, Michigan, 10 acres of vegetation sit atop a
Ford assembly plant. Green roofs are sprouting up on stores, schools and even
on a few doghouses.29 The ‘Holy Zone’ again represents paradise, even in
today’s America.
This short overview of the roofs of homes as a zone of wellness for both the
poor and the wealthy dogged by the hardships down below, cannot be com-
plete without mentioning the penthouse. The ultimate urban refuge for the

190 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

well off can doubtlessly be found in New York City. As Robert Stern has

There are spectacular pieces of penthouse architecture, with wonder-

ful terraces around them, sometimes because of the freedom of plan-
ning that is possible at the top of a building, and that is not possible
on lower floors. You can have special fireplaces, unique glazing pat-
terns, interesting and dynamic spatial arrangements. The city does
abound in these very special kinds of structures.30

What aspect of reality does this kind of architecture represent, more than just
the fact that its owner is rich and powerful? It definitely has to do with the
‘divine’ status of the inhabitant, regardless of how secular he/she may think he/
she is. Who else other than an overworldly being was ever able to look down
on earth from the top of the world? Yes, it has always been the elite, sitting in
their self-made heavens, be it their home or workplace. In the latter case, we
should recollect that the sumptuous board rooms of the tycoons or the showy
studio of a society architect often imitate the divine world’s builder or creator;
like Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) in the ‘epitome of an architecturally signifi-
cant film’, ‘The Fountainhead’ (1949).31 This has globally always been asso-
ciated with wealth and power; art history has thus invented the term
‘Worldscapes’ or ‘Weltenlandschafte’ for the numerous paintings that honour
princes with a bird’s-eye view of their finest places and events.32 The Bible
notes that only God’s own son, Christ, was able to resist the temptations of
this point of view when the devil on the rooftop of the Temple of Jerusalem
showed him ‘all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them’ (Gospel of
Saint Matthew:4, 7-9).

The ‘holy’ top-floor level and having your own ‘paradise’ in Transvaal
As a result of the architectural upgrading of Transvaal, the top-stories of many
a housing block can be used to represent, of course in a less emphatic way, the
heavenly dreams of their inhabitants. The flowered flat roof, an offspring of the
Hanging Gardens of Babylon,33 may not be a traditional Dutch roof type but it
can easily become so in joining old top-floor representations as they are also at
home in the Indian-Americas and in the Asian Indian housing architecture
mentioned before. Again, not consciously, but purely by chance, the renova-
tions in Transvaal gave new and strong impulses to the visibility of what every
upper story in most cultural contexts represent: an elevated and better world.
Let us end this brief survey on the highest and holiest of the three zones of
worldwide façade design with another quote from Robert Stern: ‘The pent-
house is doubly speculative: a real estate device used to luxurize up-and-com-
ing neighborhoods, it is also an opportunity for architectural speculation, an
urban island for the architectural imagination.’

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 191


Although the section devoted to the ‘Holy and Unholy Zones’ is mostly about
façades, worldwide and age-old building traditions clearly show that there is,
apart from the zone-bound traditions, a huge field that is exclusively concerned
with the façade as an undivided whole. Whatever short-cycling tradition
visually dominates these representations, each of them basically represents the
upright, self-conscious and assertive microcosmic man. This man basically
represents the feelings of pride motivated by a successful and powerful reality
that he must eventually be ready to defend. The more directly a short cycle
architectural representation of such a reality is based on the underlying
Anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition, the more provocative the façade, the
more intimidating it is for rivals and enemies with apotropeic and defensive
motives. Since the successful outcome of social competition mainly depends on
the strength of one’s identity, the owners and/or inhabitants of a dwelling pri-
marily want their house façades to represent this aspect of their realities. Those
realities can vary from clan-wise to personal, according to how the inhabitants
are socially organized. In the first case, old traditions offer the ambitious and
successful families rather limited means with which to compete with their ri-
vals, which, at the same time, regulates the architecture of boasting. This will
not frustrate them as long as they desire being a part of society and therefore
are willing to recycle traditions to represent this choice. If not, they may end
up envying any individual who seems to be totally free to boast, as a builder,
his personal success in the way he wants.

Creating your own façade and Dutch building regulations

A clichéd opinion that comes mostly from non-Western societies, is that every
individual in the modern Western world is free to act this way, which, of
course, is not at all the case. Just being ‘Western’ does not necessarily make a
society favourable to those who wish to limitlessly boast their wealth, but being
dominantly capitalist and harbouring free enterprise. The Netherlands is a
Western capitalist society, no doubt, and entrepreneurs here have a lot of free-
dom as well. But owners and patrons are still often prohibited from letting
their façades boast their prosperous realities the way they would truly like. Not
yet, in any case, since, like the rest of the public domain, this sector’s social
rules have become increasingly weaker each year. The results, which are greatly
desired by the champions of privatization, would be the abolition of all build-
ing regulations. Would this be a blessing-in-disguise for the renovation of a
neighbourhood like Transvaal, especially as a representation of multicultural
reality? On the one hand, it may be, on the other hand, it certainly would not
be. It just seems to be ideal to be totally free to represent your own cultural
and personal identity however you like. If everybody were to proceed this way,
and then eventually moved out, leaving behind an obsolete façade, which
would from then on represent a non-identity, which, in turn, would lead to

192 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

unbearably high financial, social and ‘aesthetic’ ramifications. The financial
and social consequences of this ‘ultimate freedom,’ would include having to
constantly renew the building façades. The ‘aesthetic’ problem, however, is per-
haps not that easy to comprehend because it is very European and especially
deeply rooted in Dutch tradition. It is about maintaining a certain standard in
the built environment, which is, of course, a subjective one. Apart from being
inevitably elitist and fluctuating from place to place and over time, it can indis-
putably provide the environment with a sense of balance and coherence, in
framing and accommodating clashing identity-bearing façades and other archi-
tectural elements and features. This is the rather innocent, policeman-like side
of the building committees’ task.

The totalitarian ethic-aesthetics of ‘Modernist functionalism’

Far from innocent is the ‘aesthetic’ dogma on which the assessment of every
architectural design is based in the Netherlands. After almost a century of so-
called ‘Modernist’ or ‘functionalist’ indoctrination in the field of architectural
education, very few are still aware of its relative ‘truth,’ not to mention that
almost nobody has the faintest idea of its malignant roots. The rather shocking
origins of 20th-century ‘Modern’ architecture will be discussed in relation to its
parameters of pretended absolute beauty.
It is generally believed that the function of a building, its construction and
its building materials, automatically produces ‘pure’ architecture and that every
addition to these basic elements, such as decoration, would denaturalize its
‘natural’ beauty. Everybody should, however, be aware that each function can
be fulfilled in a variety of different ways, and that the choice of constructions
and materials depends on how the patron and the architect want to represent
the function in question, the design process is nevertheless often presented as
the inevitable outcome of a process of natural laws. Other representational tra-
ditions, such as the choice of a building ‘style,’ such as those from the 1920s
and 30s remain very popular in the Netherlands to this very day, and are also
not considered representations of identities and other – dreamed of – realities,
but merely as meaningless retro-trends, something for sociologists to investi-
gate. Very few members of the Dutch building guild and many others will even
be able to imagine ‘Modernist functionalism’ as a historical phenomenon, let
alone as a trend. It is generally believed to be meaningless, or better yet, some-
thing beyond meaning, of course, not because it was ephemeral like fashion,
but, on the contrary, because it is considered timeless, beyond history and
superior to the architecture of every non-Western culture. This latter belief
touches on the malignant roots of the phenomenon, which will be discussed
later on. The almost religious celebration of the ‘eternal beauty’ of ‘Modernist’
architecture is not too difficult to explain. The main point is that ‘Modernist’
aesthetics are seen as a kind of post-evolutionary beauty, which makes them
absolute and cosmic. Because absolute beauty should be divine, the ‘Modernist’
building aesthetics inevitably become synonymous with ethics, which, in fact,

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 193

was very normal in late-antique and medieval philosophy. It is precisely because
ethics are supposed to be rooted in divine order that nobody should ever discuss
There is a striking parallel in the European medieval building tradition: The
architecture of the Cistercian Monks Order. They were very much inspired by
their princely and highly educated leader, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and for-
mulated a quasi-frugal building tradition, which was based on clear and divine
structures and proportions and constructed using only high quality cut or
moulded stones, avoiding every ‘superfluous’ or demonic building parts, like
towers, and non-abstract painted or sculptured decoration. No wonder
Modernity-influenced architectural historians used to retrospectively refer to
this highly elitist and strict architecture as ‘functionalist.’ Nevertheless,
Cistercian building traditions were only a slightly more sober and functional
way of designing and building compared to other traditions current in the
Middle Ages. This is not unlike the situation where Dutch, German, Austrian,
European and other Modernists were compared to existing traditions repre-
senting different realities in the 20th century and beyond.34

The criminalizing and racist dogma of ‘Modernist functionalism’

And now we look at the rather shocking origins of 20th-century ‘Modernist’
architecture. This needs to be discussed because its racist delusions of intrinsic
superiority are what is principally blocking the careful development of new
architectural traditions that represent intercultural realities. Although most
people are unaware of its malignant roots, they nevertheless argue on its behalf,
scoffing at non-Western identity-bearing building traditions such as ‘primitive’,
‘childish’, ‘Disney’, ‘Ali Baba’, and so on. It was the very influential Moravian
essayist and architect Adolf Loos (1870-1933) who, inspired by Charles Darwin
(‘The descent of man’ 1871) and Cesare Lombroso (‘Palimsesti del carcere’
1888),35 made the fatal link between a passion for decoration and the supposed
criminal disposition of intrinsically primitive non-Western people. In his eyes
– among others – this was the argument par excellence for its opposite that
civilized and cultivated Western men (not women!) abhor decoration. This was
the ultimate proof of their arrival at the apex of evolution, forever making
them fundamentally better than other peoples, not only because of their super-
ior tastes but also because of their high moral and spiritual standards.
Therefore, it is fairly easy to state that Loos’s book Ornament and Crime
(1913) (Ornament und Verbrechen, 1908) was as much the written representa-
tion of the Western ‘Übermensch’ as ‘Modernist-functionalist’ building was its
architectural one.
By now it must be clear that non-white, non-Western realities can never be
represented by the architectural traditions of ‘functionalist-Modernism.’ The
latter’s more benevolent representatives would at most represent non-Western
realities creating patronizing ‘isms’ as Orientalism, Japonism and so on. Every
patron and architect building in the intercultural society of the modern

194 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

Western world should realize that these ‘isms’ are not representing non-
Western realities but, on the contrary, represent the Western reality of being
dismissive of other-cultural worldviews and ways of life. The other way around,
non-Western patrons who want their office buildings or private dwellings being
designed according to ‘functionalist-Modernism’ traditions clearly like to repre-
sent their realities as Western or at least as its equal. ‘Functionalist Modernism’,
after this rough but crucial historical analysis, seems to be just one of many
Anthropomorphic long-cycle based traditions, which could be better analyzed
within the framework of the theme Including & Excluding Structures. This
architecture of the new earthly paradise for white men principally provides
dwellings only worthy of them, the evolutionary chosen ones.
As we have clearly shown above, there is a lot of work to do for those who
are designing, building and analyzing architecture. Two things should be kept
in mind, however: (comparative world) architectural history, and the para-
digms of architectural design and traditions. If these conditions were to be ful-
filled, those active in the field of architecture would probably be able to find
satisfying and objectifying responses to the central question: What does archi-
tectural commissioning, designing and building really mean other than its
strictly physiological tasks? The response to these questions should be used to
free modern architecture from the naive functionalist dogma, which is based
on a presumed Western superiority that the Dutch architectural world con-
tinues, if somewhat unconsciously – to take for granted. The latter has a
noticeable negative effect on the development of new, intercultural building
traditions in the Netherlands within the working area of one of the five
shorter-cycle worldwide building themes. It currently continues to block the
design of identity-marking façades within the framework of the Boasting
Façade theme in the Transvaal neighbourhood.

Reintegrating ‘Boasting Façades’ into architectural tradition to cope with

‘Desidentification’. After the artists Dijkman & Osterholt decorated the Segment
XVII façade of the abandoned, 1923/4 building block ‘Vrijstaathof ’ it was
‘exhibited’ from 14 October 2004 to the end of January 2005 (fig.7).36 Three
aspects of this event are worth pondering. First, the artists chose a façade of a
housing complex that had already been sentenced to death to be decorated,
meaning that decorating façades should not be taken too seriously. Second, the
rules of ‘functionalist-Modernism’ state that no architect would ever think of
acting in such a ‘criminal’ way, because decorating is – according to Adolf
Loos – something that mere painters and sculptors do. The third and most
interesting aspect is what these artists did to the façade. They combined mora-
lizing inscriptions on stone from the old complex with ‘exotic’ illuminated
signs from Transvaal merchants of different cultural backgrounds. The artists
wanted this assemblage to represent the clash of cultures that occurs on a daily
level in the neighbourhood. It is a pity that this was only manifestation and
not part of an entire series of decorated façades that represent contrasting reali-
ties, which certainly would have stimulated the necessary discussion regarding

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 195

Fig. 7 Transvaal De la Reyweg Façades ‘boasting’ of inter-cultural reality using a mix of signs
(Dijkman & Osterholt, the Segment XVII façade of the ‘Vrijstaathof’ (1923-/24) (36).

the identities of Transvaal’s inhabitants who to varying degrees had all ‘inte-
grated’ into Dutch society. It would have been even better if this had been just
the start of the rehabilitation process of the decorated ‘Vrijstaathof,’ one of the
most interesting, framing courtyard-housing blocks the protestant building
cooperation ‘Patrimonium’ erected in the twenties, and which have all vanished
now. It once had a lot of potential to represent intercultural realities in
Transvaal and this will be analyzed as we look at the second base of architec-
tural representation, the Sociomorphic long-cycle tradition.
However correct it may seem to let people freely boast via their housing
façades, this sense of total freedom would inevitably and readily provoke
clashes between various groups of people, each with their own architectural
and socio-cultural traditions. When building regulations are freed from the
‘functional’ bias discussed above, we must then provide the environment with
balance and coherence, to frame and accommodate clashing identity-bearing
façades and other architectural elements and features.37 Before presenting and
analyzing one of the ‘framing’ Patrimonium housing blocks, which unfortu-
nately was demolished in 2006, it is perhaps the right moment to quote a
young Dutch Moroccan, recently rewarded by the ‘Netherlands Organization
for Scientific Research’ for preparing his study on the growing problem of
‘Desidentification’ in culturally mixed neighbourhoods in the Netherlands. Mr.
Iliass Elhadioui commented on this topic by stating that ‘Minderheden moeten
zich vooral aanpassen aan de dominante Nederlandse cultuur. Dat betekent dus,

196 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

dat de expressieve kant van hun integratie als het ware wordt uitgeschakeld.’
(‘Minorities should adapt to the dominant Dutch culture in particular. This
means that the expressive side of their integration is, as it were, eliminated’.)38



Even though the façades all basically represent the upright, self-conscious and
assertive microcosmic man, it should be clear by now that most housing
façades represent a narrow set of interests that do not genuinely involve vital
social realities. Buildings that represent a wider social scope or the more
powerful reality of larger communities tend to be more general and microcos-
mic and for that reason use a more outspokenly anthropomorphic structure.
Furthermore, the reality of power superseding the particular interests of smaller
groups can only be legitimized via (micro)cosmic representations. The same
can be said for architectural traditions that belong to the shorter-cycle
Including & Excluding Structures theme, which are all even more based on the
horizontal cosmic scheme of man laying outstretched in a quadrangle (‘Homo
ad Quadratum’/‘Vaastu purusha Mandala’) or a circle (‘Homo ad Circulum’/
Jain Mandalas/Buddhist Kalachakra Mandalas) when they represent the cosmic
and/or divine origins of power. The closed quadripartite representations of
paradise in Christian, Islamic and Hindu religious and princely settings are all
fairly similar.
With regard to the two themes of Boasting Façades and Including &
Excluding Structures, it can be said that the narrower the scope of the building
patron, who prefers to focus only on, actual, local realities, for example, the
smaller the role will be for cosmic and anthropomorphic traditions.
Meanwhile, the role of the Sociomorphic long-cycle tradition will emerge as

The Patrimonium Including & Excluding Structures

The above phenomenon was the case in two very interesting including/ex-
cluding housing blocks that were constructed by the Protestant labourers orga-
nization ‘Patrimonium’. The older one included the first and second
Pietersburger streets (1920-1921), while the younger one framed the so-called
‘Vrijstaathof ’(1923-1924).39 The reality that was represented here was the ideal
of a more social society based on people living in smaller-scale more inclusive
structures, where functions were shared, while the negative influences of the
much too individualized and larger world outside were simultaneously
excluded. To emphasize these principles, the façades and tri-arched porches
were monumentally decorated with text slabs, text-bearing capitals, while
brickwork texts ran across the walls. Instead of these old-fashioned, but

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 197

Fig. 8 Text-bearing capitals and brickwork texts running across the walls of arched porches of
the Patrimonium Pietersburger housing complex, representing the ideal of a more social
society (photo: author 2003) (40).

morally and culturally basic, texts being integrated into modern, comparable
housing complexes, they were part of a ‘social-housing monument’ (fig. 8).40
This act of de-contextualizing the historical foundation of ongoing social
realities is very significant for the unconscious and superficial way that the
Transvaal is being ‘revitalized.’ How will immigrants and their offspring ever be
able to understand the history of their neighbourhood, when even ‘Dutch’
planners and builders have no idea of how to represent it, or even worse, when
they do not even intend to represent historical reality at all? In this special
case, it would have been rather obvious and – architecturally spoken – tantaliz-
ing to reuse the inclusive Patrimonium complexes, since the problems that the
current inhabitants of Transvaal have are not unlike those of their predecessors
faced some 80 years earlier: a serious lack of social cohesion and perspectives.

Courtyard housing complexes worldwide and in Transvaal representing

social cohesion
All across Central and Eastern Europe, North and middle Africa, the Middle
and Far East, courtyard houses and housing complexes have for ages been, and
in some regions continue to be, the most ubiquitous representations of family
structures and social cohesion.41 When the famous Dutch architect Hendrik
Petrus Berlage was looking for architectural traditions that could help over-
come pauperism and social disintegration in the highly industrialized, rich and

198 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

very non-egalitarian Dutch society at the beginning of the 20th century, the
courtyard complex seemed to be a very helpful form for him. It is difficult to see
the new courtyard complexes that are being built in Transvaal, while the much
more telling and sophisticated ones from Berlage’s time, which would have
visually bridged temporal and cultural differences, have all been demolished.42
Moreover, imagine how marvellously Islamic calligraphy – famous all over the
world – could have matched the Dutch inscriptions, continuing the power of
the word in the social domain and widening its scope to include worldwide
habits and morality for more peaceful cohabitation here and elsewhere.43


Anthropomorphic green paradises
Creating parks, lanes and green areas in the West, but also elsewhere, is just
another tradition that represents paradise in the built environment. While
courtyard housing complexes are fully built representations of social paradise,
green paradises are, mostly for social reasons, integrated into the built environ-
ment. Like the courtyard, ‘green’ representations of paradise have often been
based on traditions that fit into the ‘Axis Mundi & Cosmic Cross’ theme, leading
to the paradoxical conclusion that a ‘green’ or botanical representation is based
on the Anthropomorphic long-cycle tradition and not on the Physiomorphic
long-cycle tradition. This makes it clear that the use of ‘green’ material and soil
as such has nothing to do with any representational tradition based on the
Physiomorphic long-cycle Tradition.44 The planned ‘Groene Promenade’ or
Green Promenade that would connect the ‘Beyersveld’ sports facilities and the
Navel of Transvaal, the Juliana Church, is another good example of the reinfor-
cement of the local representation of the architectural ‘Axis Mundi & Cosmic
Cross’ traditions.45 Although most people certainly expect it to be the represen-
tation of a Physiomorphic long-cycle based shorter-cycle tradition, the soil and
the trees of the promenade simply belong to the building materials used to rea-
lize another local representation of a cosmic ‘Street of the World.’ Thus, is there
not one example of a Physiomorphic long-cycle based representation in
Transvaal? Well, there is, although the more stony and outspoken architectural
ones are the most convincing. Let us begin by focusing on the ‘green’ ones.

Physiomorphic green paradises

In order to create more open and green spaces in the densely built-up neigh-
bourhood, a rather large park (3 hectare or 7.41 acres) was created in the
1980s on the former built triangle bordered by the Coster-, Schalk Burger- and
Kemp-Streets. In the ‘Wijkplan’ (Blueprint for the neighbourhood’s renovation)
an impotent gesture has been made to appeal to the intercultural character of
this part of the city by calling the new ‘Wijkpark’ a part of the ‘City mondial

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 199

Route’ via the ‘Mart’ (huge marketplace next to the park) to Paul Kruger
Avenue. It is impotent because, other than the inhabitants, nothing in the
(landscape) architectural environment represents anything to do with the local
reality of permanent and intense intercultural encounters. The fashionable
design of the multifunctional ‘Wijkpark’ is part of a short-cycle tradition,
which represents the anonymous reality of an average suburb in this part of
Europe. The ‘playful’ spherical triangles on which both the (green)playgrounds
and the integrated buildings are based, clearly reflect some unspecific
Physiomorphic long-cycle tradition. There is no need to explain why the park’s
curved lanes and the ‘naturally’ grouped trees, that contrasting with the geome-
try of Transvaal, are just recycled Anglo-French landscape garden traditions.

Why not use much more potent Chinese landscaping traditions in

It is regrettable that neither the city nor the (landscape) architects were aware
of the intercultural opportunities, which this tradition could offer in this situa-
tion. The Chinese garden traditions, which have greatly influenced European
garden and landscape design since the 18th century, are much more effective in
how they represent the contrasting and multilayered realities. Without imitat-
ing the features of Chinese building and landscaping traditions, its age-old phi-
losophical principles would have been very helpful here in achieving a much
more interesting and harmonious environment, not at least when balancing
built and un-built areas the Chinese way.46


No horizon, no hope
Nothing in the Wijkpark plans, and in the interplay between the green space
and the buildings surrounding it, gives any hope that the tradition of the built
horizon, the formal side of one of the strongest and most unambiguous repre-
sentational themes based on the Physiomorphic long-cycle tradition, has played
any role in the park’s design. Although the Wijkpark horizon is fairly irregular
and ambiguous, like a natural horizon, this was certainly not kept in mind to
make the border of the Park look ‘natural.’ It is very disappointing that the
park, as a representation of nature, has no follow-up in its most telling archi-
tectural aspect, the built horizon, and thus it has no architectural zone that
connects the ‘green paradise’ and the stony everyday-reality beyond it in a
meaningful way. In modern philosophy and common speech the ‘horizon’ is a
physiomorphic representation of the scope of communities and individuals,
giving perspectives to everyday live. These can vary from historical and ideolo-
gical backgrounds to hopes and expectations. ‘A person who has no horizon,’
said the famous philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, ‘does not see far enough

200 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

and hence overvalues what is nearest to him. On the other hand, “to have a
horizon” means not being limited to what is nearby but being able to see
beyond it’.47 The same goes for architecture that pays little or no attention to
the representation of the ‘Horizons of Life’ of its users. It makes neighbour-
hoods depressing by failing to supply the visualized perspectives for a future,
since the housing environment does not represent the inhabitants’ identities
and dreams.

The horizon of equality

Since Islam has become a prominent aspect of many Western societies, one of
the most telling architectural horizons ever, has been prominently introduced
in this part of the world. It certainly is not too bold to assume that virtually
nobody who is active in the field of planning and building in the Netherlands
is aware of that. This very meaningful ‘horizon’ is the Mecca-oriented Qibla-
wall, in front of which all Muslim believers line up shoulder to shoulder during
prayer. Earlier, when discussing the ‘Horizons of Life’ in my keynote article,
the Qibla wall was mentioned as one of the clearest representations of the
equality of all people in the eyes of God.48 Because being basically equal is a
marvellous parallel to one of the basic values of ‘enlightened’ Western societies,
it should be great stuff for patrons and their architects to boost so-called inte-
gration by using the tradition of the broad structure as a representation of
equal rights, chances and brotherhood. In fact, The Hague has an almost
unknown, historical example in its medieval palace. It is the western wall of
the oldest cellar of the present-day ‘Ridderzaal’ (medieval Palace Hall of the
Counts) on the Binnenhof. As has been argued elsewhere, this was the wall
along which Count William II of Holland was, after having been elected King
of the Holy Roman Empire, seated amongst his peers.49 The old wall became
an unambiguous representation of equality of the most powerful princes-elec-
tors and their king-elect, the ruler of the largest European Kingdom/Empire
The existence of this architectural and ideological parallel between Muslim
and medieval Christian society would certainly be a big surprise for both advo-
cates and adversaries of a multicultural society. It is just one of the possible
results of comparative research in the field of worldwide architectural represen-
tations, which can be either ignored or recognized. Ignored means contributing
to ‘apartheid’, while recognition means encouraging mutual acceptation. (fig.9)

Transforming the Transvaal’s beltways into appealing ‘Horizons’

In nature, the horizon is ideally experienced as a horizontal line. That is why
most people experience natural ‘obstacles’ such as forests and mountains, and
even the narrowness of valleys, as elements that ‘block’ the ‘horizon.’ The same
goes for the built environment as disrupted building lines and narrow streets
can hardly be experienced as built horizons. In the case of Transvaal, the neigh-

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 201

Figure 9 ‘We are staying, because this place is ideal’, horizon of solidarity and hopes repre-
sented by a row of houses in the Hendrik Zwaardekroonstraat, The Hague (photo:

bourhood beltways, however plain, provide the best opportunity to create

impressive and appealing horizons because there is enough distance between
the housing and the beholder, who is often conscious of the fact that another
neighbourhood lies beyond this horizon. This last detail is perhaps the most
important reality represented by the natural or built horizon as it announces
the things to come such as a rising sun seen by man, who everyday continues
to hope that, his dreams will one day come true (figure 9).

The ‘Gates’ and the ‘Walls’ of Transvaal

Somehow, the city planners of The Hague must have understood this, because
they wanted to improve the visibility and the architectural quality of the main
so-called ‘entrances’ to the area, for instance, the intersection of the Kempstraat
and the De la Reyweg, by creating a square and by upgrading the built environ-
ment there.50 There could have been no city-gate like the one mentioned earlier
without a city wall. Erecting large walls around areas or cities, excluding the
bad while protecting the inhabitants, is one of the most widespread and
frequently recycled Horizons of Life-based building traditions. Perhaps The
Hague’s city planners will begin to understand how architecturally challenging
Transvaal’s built belt is, and that transforming it into a promising and intercul-
tural identifying horizon would certainly be understood and probably much
appreciated by its inhabitants.



In order to understand which realities have been represented in the past and
how dramatically changing realities in the present can be represented without
demolishing the existing built environment, the relevant shorter-cycle themes,

202 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

and the respective long-cycle traditions on which each of them are based, were
in this chapter used to analyze the historical and intercultural values and
potentials of the most characteristic features of the built environment of
Transvaal. Although much can still change and will eventually change, because
some realities should be represented architecturally more strongly than others,
the rather geometric Axis Mundi & Cosmic Cross-based structure of the quar-
ter’s plan will always provide a strong foundation for every anthropomorphic
long-cycle-based shorter-cycle theme to be used. Moreover, the architecture
that results from the use of these themes will prove to be surprisingly coherent,
favouring the prevailing cultural conventions, because the human body-based
cosmic coordinates and proportions will always be seen and experienced in
almost every aspect of the renovated built environment. Two of these anthro-
pomorphic-long-cycle-based themes in particular can provide attempts to
socially upgrade Transvaal with suitable traditions. As has already been implied
above, the ‘Holy & Unholy Zones’ and ‘Boasting Façade’ theme abound with
shorter-cycled traditions from throughout history and from all over the world.
These are utilizable to represent every kind of higher social reality or ambition.
The first theme offers a colourful range of socially uplifting higher zones of liv-
ing; the second enables the inhabitants to boast about their (upgraded)


1 For instance, Professor Roland Günter and his family (his wife, Janne Günter and his two
daughters, Bettina and Birgitta) in the Eisenheim industrial Plant. See: Roland Günter, Rettet
Eisenheim. Gegen die Zerstörung der ältesten Arbeitersiedlung des Ruhrgebietes. Projektgruppe
Eisenheim, Bielefeld (1st ed.), 1972. Also:
2 Charles Jencks, The Architecture of the Jumping Universe: A Polemic: How Complexity Science is
Changing Architecture and Culture, (rev. ed.), Chichester, 1997.
3 Chandigarh. Forty years after Le Corbusier, (eds. Chris Gordon and Kist Kilian), ANQ,
Architectura et Natura Quarterly, Amsterdam, 1993.
4 Sashikala Ananth, Vaastu. A Path to Harmonious Living, New-Delhi, 2001; D.N. Shukla, Vāstu
Śāstra, vol. 1, Hindu Science of Architecture, New Delhi, 1995, chapters IV-VI.
5 A. de Groot and B. Linskens, De Julianakerk in Den Haag. Een nieuwe toekomst voor een
bijzonder monument, Den Haag, 2006, pp.14, 28 and 35.
6 E. Habold, De bouw van Transvaalwijk, Leiden, 1980.
7 A.J.J. Mekking, ‘The Hague: A Capital of Centro Phobia. An Analysis of its Built Representation’.
In: Wang, Shuguo (ed.), Research Essays Collection of Beijing Studies in 2004, Beijing Central
Union University, International Programme Department, pp. 490-511-537 (Chinese/English).
8 At the reopening of the Transvaal Juliana Church on 6 September 2006, Mayor Dr. Wim
Deetman, in English, noted: ‘I feel very honoured that this festive ceremony is attended by the
diplomatic representatives of some of the nations that are represented in this part of The
Hague. I would like to extend a warm welcome to Her Excellency Mrs Amponsah-Ababio,
Ambassador of Ghana, to Her Excellency Mrs Derby, chargé d’affaires of Surinam and to His
Excellency Mister Ramzi, consul of Morocco’. See:
9 1981-2006. VBMK. 25 Jaar Vereniging van Beheerders van Monumentale kerkgebouwen in Neder-
land, Delft, 2006, p. 28.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 203

10 C.A.S. Williams, Outlines of Chinese Symbolism & Art Motives (3rd ed., Shanghai, 1941), New
York, 1976; Arthur Versluis, The Elements of Native American Traditions, Shaftesbury/Rockport,
(MA), 1993; Maria Longhena and Walter Alva, Splendours of the Incas and Other Andean
Civilisations, Vercelli, 1999.
11 J.P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology and Myth, London, 1989.
12 Bouw, Transvaal:; Edward W. Said, Orientalism:
Western Conceptions of the Orient, London, 1995; Rana Kabbani, Europe’s Myth of Orient,
London, 1986.
13 Ananth, 2001 (4), pp. 27-32, 73-79.
14 India: Stella Kramrisch, The Hindu Temple. vol. I (1st ed., 1946), Delhi, 1996, The image of
‘The Mountain and the Cavern’: pp. 161-176; China: The Sacred Mountains of China are
divided into two groups associated with Taoism and Buddhism. The group associated with
Taoism is known as the Five Great Mountains ([五嶽/五岳 Wǔyuè]), whereas the group
associated with Buddhism is referred to as the Four Sacred Mountains ([四大佛教名山/四大
佛教名山] Sı̀dà Fójiào Mı́ngshān). Mount Tai([泰山]) is often regarded as the foremost of the
five. It is associated with sunrise, birth, and renewal. The temples on its slopes have been a
destination for pilgrims for 3,000 years. C.A.S. Williams 1976 (10), p. 376.
15 De Groot-Linskens, 2006 (5), p. 25.
16 De Groot-Linskens, 2006 (5), the church building: pp. 22-23 and the Wijkgebouw (community
centre) ‘Sion’: pp. 33-34
17 H.P.R. Rosenberg, Chr. Vaillant, D. Valentijn, Architectuur Gids Den Haag 1800-1940, Den
Haag, 1988, p. 271.
18 Africa: For instance, see the Yoruba Afin (palaces), the roofs of which are supported by
anthropomorphic pillars. Also see Susan Denyer, African Traditional Architecture: An Historical
and Geographical Perspective, New York, 1978, p. 86-87; Middle/South-America: For instance,
the Maya Temple 22 in Copán (Mexico), the first of the three cosmic levels. See: A. Arellano
Hernandez et al., Maya Die klassische Periode, München, 1998, Fig 70; Europe: For instance,
Vitruvio di Cesare Caesariano (1521), Portico delle Cariatidi and Portico Persiano. See: Renato
de Fusco, Il Codice dell ‘Architecttura. Antologia di Trattatisti, Edizioni scientifiche Italiane,
Napoli, 1968, pp. 9-14.
19 For instance, the famous Nirwana housing project in The Hague (architects J. Duiker & J.G.
Wiebenga, 1927-1930), in: Het Nieuwe Bouwen. Het functionalisme in Nederland/ functionalism
in Dutch Architecture 1918-1945, Utrecht, 1983, pp. 94-96. Also:
20 Janine Meesters, Residents’ Meanings of Specific Architectural and Urban Design Features, OTB
Research institute for Housing, Urban and Mobility studies, Delft Technical University, 2005/
21 De Groot-Linskens, 2006 (5), p. 25.
22 Uldrik E. Speerstra, Representaties van culturele identiteit in migrantenliteratuur. De Indiase
diaspora als case studie, Leiden, 2001.
23 Ananth 2001 (4), pp. 15-16, 38, 40, 56-57,75.
24 De Groot-Linskens, 2006 (5), p. 25.
25 Aart J.J. Mekking, ‘Traditie als maatstaf voor vernieuwing in de kerkelijke architectuur van de
middeleeuwen. De rol van oud en nieuw in het proces van bevestiging en doorbreking van
maatschappelijke structuren’, in: Bulletin Koninklijke Nederlandse Oudheidkundige Bond (1998),
pp. 205-223.
26 Uma Mbatangu (Clan House) of Sumba. See: Gunawan Tjahjono (ed.), Architecture (Indo-
nesian Heritage), Singapore/Djakarta, 1998, p. 42.
27 En-Yu Huang, The Architectural Representation of Taboos: Toilet-Taboos as Guardians of old
Taiwanese Built Representations of Family Life, See: this book, chapter 4.
28 Randa Shaath, Under the Same Sky: Cairo, (Fundacio Antoni Tapies, Barcelona, ‘Contemporary
Arab Representations’ Series, Witte de With, Centre for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam),
Barcelona/Rotterdam, 2003, pp. 8-41.
29 Kevin Tibbles, NBC News correspondent, [17 October 2006], MSNBC interactive 2006 www.

204 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

30 C-LAB in conversation with Robert A.M. Stern. In: The Architecture of Power, part 2: Power
Building, vol. 6, NAI Rotterdam, March 2006.
31 Dietrich Neumann (ed.), Film Architecture: From Metropolis to Blade Runner, München/
London/New-York, 1999, pp. 126-133.
32 Goetz Pochat, Figur und Landschaft. Eine historische Interpretation der Landschaftsmalerei von
der Antike bis zur Renaissance, Berlin/New York, 1973, pp. 9, 246, 299, 334f. Walter Zednicek
and Kristian Sotriffer (eds.), Otto Wagner, Zeichnungen und Pläne, Wien, 2002, Court Pavilion,
Imperial Waiting Room: pp. 94-95.
33 ‘The Hanging Gardens of Babylon or Semiramis’ Gardens, are considered one of the so-called
‘Seven Wonders of the World.’ They were supposedly built by Nebuchadnezzar II, circa 600 BC
He had them built for his wife Amyitis of Media who was homesick for her birthplace with its
trees and beautiful plants. The lush Hanging Gardens are extensively documented by Greek
historians such as Strabo and Diodorus Siculus.
34 Aart J.J. Mekking, Thesis no. 2 VU University Amsterdam, 26 June 1986; Aart J.J. Mekking, ‘De
Sint-Servaaskerk te Maastricht. Bijdragen tot de kennis van de symboliek en de geschiedenis van
de Bouwdelen en de Bouwsculptuur tot ca. 1200’, (Clavis Kunsthistorische Monografieën, vol.2 ),
Zutphen 1986; A.J.J. Mekking and F.J. Sleeboom, Het Stadsziekenhuis aan de Coolsingel te
Rotterdam van W. N. Rose; chapter: A.J.J. Mekking, ‘In- en uitwendige vormen’, (Ahrend
Facettenreeks), Amsterdam, 1972, pp. 11-35; Aart J.J. Mekking, Petrus Regout. Een ondernemer
als Bouwheer, In: Wonen/TABK (1), 1975, pp. 8-28.
35 Jimena Canales, and Andrew Herscher, ‘Criminal Skins: Tattoos and Modern Architecture in
the Work of Adolf Loos’. In: Architectural History (48), 2005, pp. 235-256.
36 Photo:
37 Tonny Nijmeijer, Welstandstoezicht juridisch getoetst, Utrecht 2001; A.W. Klaassen, De Woning-
wet (weer) gewijzigd. Vergunningstelsel, procedure, welstand. (Praktijkreeks Ruimtelijke Orde-
ning), Zutphen, 2001.
38 Bas van Dinteren, ‘De Wrok van Desidentificatie’. In: Erasmus Magazine (10), 2007, p.26; See
39 Rosenberg, 1988 (17), pp. 267-268.
40 Wijkplan Transvaal (eds.: Gemeente Den Haag, Corporatie Haag Wonen Staedion), Den Haag,
2003, p. 64.
41 Howard Davies, ‘Typology of Plans, 1.VII.3.d Courtyard’. In: Paul Oliver (ed.), Encyclopedia of
the Vernacular Architecture of the World: Volume 1 Theories and Principles, Cambridge, 1997,
pp. 633-634.
42 New Closed Paradises. Building Housing blocks with socializing courtyards, see: Wijkplan
Transvaal 2003 (40), pp. 37, 40. For instance, Scheepersstraat.
43 Find some interesting information on this topic in: Emilio Garcia Gómez, Ibn Zamrak, El
poeta de la Alhambra, en Cinco poetas musulmanes (2nd ed.), Madrid, 1959; Jésus Rubiera Mata,
Ibn Al-Ŷayyāb, El oltro poeta de la Alhambra, Granada, 1994; Aart J.J. Mekking, ‘Houses of
Prayer, Houses of Preaching. A structural comparison of Islamic and Calvinist-rooted religious
Architecture’. In: Het kerkgebouw in het postindustriële landschap/The church in the post-
industrial landscape, Zoetermeer, 2004: 79-90.
44 This goes for nearly all of the (landscape-/garden-)architecture discussed in: James Wines,
Green Architecture (Philip Jodidio, ed.), Köln, 2000.
45 Wijkplan Transvaal 2003 (40), p.60
46 Jean-Denis Attiret S.J. (1702-1768), ‘Lettre à M. d’Assaut, 1er novembre 1743’. In Lettres
édifiantes et curieuses écrites des missions étrangères par quelques missionnaires de la compagnie
de Jésus. Paris: Guérin, 1749, p. 27: 1-61. English translation in 1752 by Joseph Spence [Sir
Harry Beaumont], ‘A Particular Account of the Emperor of China’s Gardens near Peking’. In
The English Landscape Garden, ed.: John Dixon Hunt, New York/London, 1982; Evelyn Lip,
Feng Shui. Environments of Power: A Study of Chinese Architecture, London, 1995, pp. 88-104;
Cheng Liyao, Imperial Gardens, in Ancient Chinese Architecture, Wien/New York, 1998, passim;
Cheng Liyao, Private Gardens, in Ancient Chinese Architecture, Wien/New York, 1999, passim.

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 205

47 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (trans. of ‘Wahrheit und Methode’, Goettingen,1960),
(2nd rev. ed.), New York, 2003, p. 302.
48 Mekking, 2004 (43), pp. 79-90.
49 A.J.J. Mekking, ‘Die Aula Palatii in Den Haag. Ernst Schubert zum 70. Geburtstag’, in:
Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte (München) (Bd. 60, 3), 1997, pp. 308-333.
50 Wijkplan Transvaal, 2003 (40), pp. 60-61.
51 Willem Schinkel, Denken in een Tijd van Sociale Hypochondrie. Aanzet tot een theorie voorbij
de maatschappij, Kampen, 2007.

206 The Architectural Representation of Diversity

List of Contributors

En-Yu Huang (*1972, Taipei, Taiwan) is an Architect and an Architectural

Historian. He studied Design, History & Architectural Theory (1991-1997) at
the National Cheng Kung University (Tainan, Taiwan). Between 1999-2004 he
worked as an architect at the office of ‘Ricky Liu Architects and Associates’ and
at the ‘Sun-Yuan Architects & Associates’ office, both in Taipei. During the
academic year 2004-2005 he was a Master Student of the ‘Comparative World
Architecture Studies’ (COMWAS) programme at Leiden University. Since 2005
he is preparing a Comparative PhD Thesis on the role of mainly Feng-Shui and
Vaastu based Taboos in the design and use of housing architecture at the same
University (supervising: Prof. Aart J.J.Mekking).

Elena Paskaleva (*1975, Ruse, Bulgaria) studied Architecture at the Sofia

University of Architecture (Bulgaria), at the Bauhaus University in Weimar
(Germany) and at Manchester School of Architecture (United Kingdom). In
2004 she obtained her MA Degree in ‘Comparative World Architecture Studies’
(COMWAS) from Leiden University. Elena Paskaleva has worked as a scientific
collaborator at the Department of Civil Engineering at the Bauhaus University
in Weimar and at the Netherlands Institute for City Innovation Studies
(NICIS) in The Hague. Currently, she is finalising at Leiden University her
PhD Thesis Representation of Paradise in the Four-ı̄wān Mosque (supervising:
Prof. Aart J.J. Mekking).

Eric Roose (*1967, Middelburg, the Netherlands) is an Architectural Historian,

an Anthropologist and a Legist. Between 1985 and 1991 he graduated in
International Law & Political Relations and Cultural Anthropology, both at
Leiden University. At the same University he obtained his degree in Art
History and (Comparative World) Architectural History in 2003. From 2004
until 2008 he was an Affiliate Fellow of ISIM (Institute for the Study of Islam
in the Modern world), Leiden. Between 2003 and 2008 he has written his PhD
Thesis The architectural representation of Islam: Muslim-Commissioned Mosque
Design in the Netherlands at Leiden University (supervising: Prof. Aart J.J.
Mekking) on which he graduated in May 2009. He currently holds a
Postdoctoral Fellowship at the ASSR (Amsterdam School for Social science

Research & Publications:

Aart Mekking (*1944, Heerlen, the Netherlands) is supervising a number of

PhD Theses in the Field of (Comparative World) Architecture Studies and
(Western/Asian) Iconography. Between 2000 and 2005 he was leader of the
‘Comparative World Architecture Studies’ (COMWAS) MA-Programme as well
as the Research Programme it was scientifically basing on (cooperating:
Vernacular Architecture, Brookes University Oxford; Architecture Department
Eindhoven Technical University; (Interior) Architecture Department Royal
Academy of Arts, The Hague; Urban Planning Department City of The Hague;
Non-Western Anthropology & Non-Western Sociology, Leiden University) .
Between 1995 and 2000 he was director of the ‘Art & Region’ Programme of
the Netherlands Research School for Medieval Studies (cooperating: Leuven
University; Martin Luther University Halle/Saale; Westfälische Wilhelms
Universität Münster; Technische Universität Braunschweig; Leiden University)
Prof. Mekking was head of the Department for Architectural and Building
History of Leiden University from 1990 until 2005.
Research & Publications:

208 List of Contributors

Classified Index

Hendrik Petrus Berlage, 8, 198-199; Donato Bramante, 31; Michelangelo
Buonarotti, 31-32; Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris), 62, 177,
203; ‘Dijkman & Osterholt’ (artists), 195-196; Paul Haffmans, 61-64, 67-75,
77-79, 91-92; Adolf Loos, 194-195, 205; Edwin Landseer Lutyens, 30, 46;
Hamid Oppier, 66, 92; Andrea Palladio, 31, 33, 46-47; Gerrit Rietveld, 62;
Willem Nicolaas Rose, 8, 20, 205; Donato Raffaele Sanzio, 31; ‘Scipio &
Domburg’, 72, 74-81, 92; Jacques Germain Soufflot, 31; Jan Gerko Wiebenga,
62, 74, 204.
9, 13-17, 25-26, 29, 35-37, 40-42, 52, 141, 153, 175, 192-194, 197.
City-fathers /-inhabitants/-dwellers: 19-20, 42, 117, 156, 161, 164-168, 173-
174, 180-183, 186, 188-189, 191-192, 195-196, 198, 200-203.
(religious) Communities/Community leaders: Imperial Minster of Saint
Servatius (Maastricht), 9-10; Frederick van Sierck Bishop of Utrecht, 12;
Caliph Abd-al-Malik, 12; Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis, 13; mosque commi-
sioners in general, 18; Brelwi commisisoner M.I.R. Lachman (Surinam Islamic,
First Taibah, Bijlmer-Amsterdam), 51-53, 61-63, 66-68; Pakistani Islamic
(Mobarak, The Hague), 66; Brelwi commisisoners (WIM-NL Surinam Islamic,
Noeroel Islam, The Hague), 66; A builder of a Mosque, 73; Brelwi-commisioner
Junus Gafar (WIM-NL Surinam Islamic, Anwar e Medina, Eindhoven), 73,
75, 77; Brelwi-commisioners Junus Gafar and Noorani Siddiqui (WIM-NL
Surinam Islamic, Second Taibah, Bijlmer-Amsterdam), 75, 77, 82, 85;
Surinam-Pakistani Commissioners in the Netherlands, 86-89; Mutually con-
testing Muslim commisioners, 89; Bahauddin Bliss Bukhari (Founder of the
Sufi Naqshbandiyya Order, Bukhara), 105; Khavjeh Ahrar (lord in
Transoxania and leader of the Naqshbandiyya Order), 107; Buildings asso-
ciated with Sufi Saints/Identity 118, The Dutch Reformed Church Wardens of
The Hague (Juliana Church, Transvaal), 179, 189; Era Bouw ‘The Orient,
Proud as a Peacock’-Project (Real estate developer, Zoetermeer), 182-184, 188-
189; Bernard of Clairvaux (belonging to the highest nobility of Burgundy he
accomplished the ‘Cistercian’ reformation of monastic life), 194; ‘Patrimonium’
(Protestant labourers Organization), 197-198.
Entrepreneurs: Petrus Regout 8.

Village-Inhabitants/Dwellers: 146-147, 153, 155, (interviewing Mrs. Huang,
Mr. Hsu) 155-156, (interviewing Mr. Hsu) 161, (interviewing Mr. Gao) 164,
168, 174, 177, 190.
Princes: Henry III (King-Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire), 11; King
Solomon (Sovereign of the united Jewish Tribes in Palestina), 12; Charlemagne
(King-Emperor of the Romano-Frankish Empire), 12, 34; George V (King and
Emperor of India), 30; Pope Julius II, 31; Aşoka (‘Cakravartin’ or cosmic
Emperor in India), 31; Justinianus (East-Roman Emperor), 32; Süleyman
Kanunı (‘Solomonic’, Ottoman East-Roman Emperor), 32; Abd-al-Malik
(‘Solomonic’, Umayyad Calif), 34; Lords having ‘Solomonic’ pretentions, 36;
William II (Count of Holland, King of the Holy Roman Empire), 39; Floris V
(Count of Holland, heir to the Throne of Scotland), 39; Maya King, 41; Al-
Walid (Umayyad Caliph), 63; Abassid, Mamluk, Ottoman and Saudi Rulers,
63; Saudi Princes, 64; Timurid Dynasty, 98; Tuman Aka (Timur’s Wife), 99;
Mı¯irzā Mohammad Tābin Shāhrokh, known as Ulugh-Beg (Timur’s grand-
son), 98-99; 101, 103-111, 115, 118-119, 122, 135-136; Timur, founder of the
Timurid Empire and Dynasty, 99, 107, 110-111, 115, 118-119, 122, 135-136;
Astarkhanid Dynasty, 104; Yalangtush, governor of Samarkand), 104;
Muhammad Sultan (Timur’s Grandson), 109; Babur, founder of the (Indian)
Mugal Empire, 110; In Anatolia: Amı¯rs, Wazı¯rs and Beylerbeys, 112; Sufi
Shaykhs (leaders) in Anatolia, 112; Patrons from Seljuq Iran, 113; Semseddin
Cuveyni, Vizier, founder of the Ilkhanid Sultan Dynasty in Anatolia, 114-115;
Fakhr al-Din ‘Ali, (Seljuq vizier), 115; Local lords as building patrons in
Anatolian Cities, 117; Timurid dynasty, 122; Ilkhanid Dynasty, 122;
Zoroastrian Princes and Priests (Irān), 123; Parthian Kings, 123; Seljuq
Sultan Bayezid I, 130; Local lords patronizing Sufi foundations, 135; Emerging
Aristocracy in the Ilkhanid/Timurid Empire, 135; Patrons of Sufi compounds,
136; Gawharshad (mother of Ulugh- Begh), 138; Nebuchadnezzar II (King of
Babylon), 205.
Light (symbolic)-
14, 31, 54, 56, 58-60, 64-65, 67-68, 80-83, 92, 126, 154, 188-189.
Al-Aksa Masjid (Jerusalem), 54; Al-Haram Masjid (Makkah), 54, 62-63, 74;
Alik Kukeltash Mosque (Samarkand), 103; Anwar-e-Medina (Eindhoven),
72; Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia, Istanbul), 32; Bibi Khanum Mosque
(Samarkand), 103, 111, 118-119, 121; Friday Mosque (Isfahan), 130; Jami
Masjid (New-Delhi), 54; Mehmet Fatih (Istanbul), 32; Fatih (Eindhoven),
75; Kalan Mosque (Bukhara), 105; Mobarak (The Hague), 51-52, 59, 62,
68-69, 84, 87-88; Mukatta Mosque (Samarkand), 103; Noeroel Islam (The
Hague), 66, 92; The Prophet’s Mosque (Madinah), 54, 62-63; SMA Mosque
(Paramaribo), 59, 65, 68, 72-73, 75; Süleymaniye (Istanbul), 32-33; Sultan
Bayezid Mosque (Bursa), 130-131; Taibah (Amsterdam), 51-52, 59, 63-66,
69-72, 74, 76-85, 87-88, 91-93; Tillya Kari Mosque (Samarkand), 98-99,
103; Zavareth Mosque (Zavareth), 124-125, 139.

210 Classified Index

Representational Building Traditions, Long Cycle-
Anthropomorphic: 17, 19-20, 36, 38, 41, 43-44, 66, 96, 98-99, 127-130, 144-
148, 150-151, 153, 157, 161, 164, 167-168, 174-180, 185, 192, 195, 197, 199,
Sociomorphic: 17, 20, 36, 39, 174, 176, 196-197.
Physiomorphic: 17, 19-20, 36, 38-39, 127, 147-148, 150-151, 161, 168, 174,
176-177, 179,
Representational Building Traditions, Shorter Cycle, clustered Theme by
Axis Mundi and Cosmic Cross: 11, 17-20, 37-38, 44, 48, 53, 63-64, 67, 86,
96-98, 122-123, 126, 128, 131, 133-134, 136, 145-147, 150-152, 156, 158,
161, 163-169, 175-177, 179, 180-182, 184-185, 199, 203.
Horizons of Life: 17, 20, 38-39, 48, 177, 200-202.
Boasting Façades: 18-20, 39, 41, 48, 175, 192, 195-197, 203.
Holy and Unholy Zones: 18-20, 42, 44, 49, 96, 97-98, 128, 145-146, 152,
154-155, 159, 161, 163-164, 166-168, 175-176, 184-185, 187, 191-192, 203.
15, 19, 28-30, 33-34, 44-45, 47, 122, 128, 143, 150, 153, 178, 186, 189, 197,
8-11, 14-16, 27, 51-52, 62, 66, 71, 83, 85-88, 193.
Functional/functionalism/functionalist: 7-8, 24, 35, 62-63, 67, 87-88, 141,
163, 167, 178, 193-196, 204.
Modern/modernism/modernist/ Dutch(-modern/modernist): 7, 10, 17, 19,
46, 51-52, 62-63, 67, 69-71, 78, 83, 85, 88-90, 92, 139, 141, 144, 161-166,
168, 177, 188-190, 192-195, 198, 200, 205.
Aachen, 12; Afghanistan, 56; Africa, 41, 57, 198 ; Amasya, 113; The Americas,
37, 43, 57, 191; Amsterdam, 7, 59-60, 66-69, 72, 75, 84, 87, 91-92; Amu-
Darya (river), 128; Anatolia, 111, 115; Angkor Wat, 8, 38; Asia, 8, 37, 96,
128-129; Arabia, 63, 67; Ashur, 123; Athens, 177; Babylon, 191, 205; Balkh,
112, 128; The Baltic Region, 40; Bareilly, 54, 65, 82; Belgium, 14; Bengal, 56;
The Bijlmer (Amsterdam), 72, 77; Bilbao, 177; Brabant, 14; Bukhara, 104-
106, 120-121, 129, 134, 139; Bursa, 130-131; Cairo, 190; Chandigarh, 177;
Changua, 159-160, 171; Chicago, 190; China, 29, 177; Copán, 204:
Constantinople (now: Istanbul), 32 ; Cordoba, 39; Coventry, 67; Damascus,
Dearborn (Michigan), 112, 190; (New) Delhi, 30, 54; Saint-Denis (Paris), 12-
13; Eindhoven, 59, 72-73, 75, 92; Eisenheim(Bielefeld), 203; England, 56;
Eurasia, 43; Europe, 37, 198; The Far East, 198; Freiburg(Breisgau), 12; Sankt
Gallen, 154; Germany, 14, 41; Ghana, 203; The Hague, 20, 39, 51, 57, 59, 66,
72, 87, 92; Herat, 138; Hindustan, 53; Holland, 12, 16, 39, 201; Houli
(Taichung), 144-145; India, 43, 57, 65-66, 130; The Indus Valley, 45; Iran,
111, 113, 128, 130, 135; Isfahan, 130-131; Italy, 29, 45; Jerusalem 12, 32, 54,
191; Karachi, Kayseri, 112, 115; Konya, 58, 82, 112, 115; Korhogo, 40; The
Kraaiennest area (Amsterdam), 75, 78; Kwarazm, 129; Lahore, 56, 91; Leiden

The Global Built Environment as a Representation of Realities 211

13; Lelystad, 59, 72; London, 182; Lotharingia, 30; Ludhyana, 14, 56; Maasland
(The Meuse Region), 14; Maastricht, 9; Mashad, 138; Meerut, 57-58; Mecca
(Makkah), 54, 62-64, 70, 72, 74, 112, 201; Medina (Madinah), 54, 58, 60, 62-
63, 66-67, 72, 74-75, 77, 79, 82, 87; The Middle East, 37, 69, 198; Morocco,
203; Nantou, 155, 162, 171; Natanz, 134-135; the Netherlands (Nederland),
14, 59-61, 65-66, 68, 72, 74, 82-83, 85, 87-88, 90, 193, 201; New York city, 191;
Paderborn, 30; Pakistan, 57-58, 60, 65-66; Paramaribo, 65, 71, 73-75; Paris, 31;
The Punjab, 57, 177; Quadian, 55-56, 66-67; Rajasthan, 189; The Holy Roman
Empire, 201; Rome, 32; Rotterdam, 59, 72; Sachsenhausen, 42; Samarkand, 98,
100-103, 107-109, 115, 118-119, 121-122, 133-134, 136; Sānchi, 30-31; Schelde
(river Scheldt), 14; Schleswig (Schleswick), 29; Sir-Darya (river), 129; Sivas,
112-116, 136; Soest(Westfalia), 29; Stralsund, 40; Srinagar, 56; Sumba, 190,
204; Surinam, 57-59, 65, 72, 83, 189, 204; Taipei, 163, 166, 171; Tai (Holy
mountain in China), 204; Taiwan, 190; Tikal, 40-41; Timbuktu, 7; Tokat, 112-
113; Tournai, 14, 38; Transoxania, 103, 107; Transvaal(The Hague), 173-206:
passim; Turkestan, 103; Uttar Pradesh, 54, 57; Utrecht, 8, 11, 59, 72, 92 ; Xi’an
(in olden days: Chang’an), 149; Xikou (Chiayi), 145-146; Zavareth, 124-125;
Zeeland, 12; Zoetermeer, 183; Zwolle, 59, 72, 92.

212 Classified Index