Abstract. Gulzar Haider and Muhammad Moussa examined the measurements and geometry of the marble pavement of the Sultan Hassan Mosque-Madrassa Complex in Cairo, at the Nexus 2004 conference.

Explicit and Implicit Geometric Orders in Mamluk Floors: Secrets of the Sultan Hassan Floor in Cairo

 Gulzar Haider, GHDesignGroup

The Summerhill, 7 Jackes Avenue, Suite 1109
Toronto, Ontario M4T 1E3 CANADA

 Muhammad Moussa
617-1435 Prince of Wales Dr.
Ottawa, Ontario CANADA K2C 1N5

This paper presents the first detailed measurement, drawing and geometric analysis of the largest Mamluk floor (32 x 34.6 m) that acts as the conceptual heart and morphological horizon of the Sultan Hassan Mosque-Madrassa Complex of Cairo, Egypt (1356-62). The research was primarily driven by academic curiosity about the design intentions underlying Mamluk patterns beyond their apparent value a decorative subdivisions of a surface.

The study started with comprehensive field measurements by the authors in 1992 and two follow-up site visits to confirm the drawings. The complete graphic database was achieved through separate drawings of each of the nine subfields. Each subfield was digitally constructed as five superimposed graphic layers corresponding to the simplified marble palette: red, yellow, blue, green, and black. White was treated as the background color. Computer aided geometric analysis has revealed a level of sophistication in intentions and production, which could not have been deciphered otherwise. These rather difficult relationships are encoded in the floor's geometry through basic symmetry operations and the interstitial color configurations of the floor patterns. The research process has yielded unexpected insights into the hidden dynamic (rotational) geometric orders brought together through the use of colors into the manifest static impression of balance and harmony. Resonance with the symbolic rotation rooted in cosmological doctrines, circumambulations of a pilgrim or even the whirling of a mystic is academically intriguing. So is the success of Sultan Hassan's unknown geometers in achieving subtle concealment of prayer orientation in an otherwise "square" field.

Gulzar Haider
is Professor and Director at the School of Architecture, Carleton University, Canada. He studied architecture and structural engineering as separate professional disciplines at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and graduated with a B.Arch (1968) and a Ph.D. (1969). He founded the Form Studies Unit at Carleton and introduced the idea of polyhedral chains organized around spatial networks. His work has ranged from structural morphology to architectural history and theory. He was member of the International Commission for Preservation of Islamic Cultural Heritage, Istanbul (1983-94) and was awarded the Davidson Dunton Research Lectureship in 1999.

Muhammad Moussa holds a Bachelor degree in Architecture from Helwan University, Cairo, Egypt (1995), and a Master's degree in Architecture from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada (2001). His research interests focus on Design and Culture with special emphasis on history of the Middle East, (Ancient, Coptic and Mamluk). He has taught Design Studio at Carleton University 99-2003 as a Sessional Instructor. Currently, and based on a ranging experience in both theory and practice, he is working to establish an independent design practice that aspires to draw a sense of continuity between Tradition and Modernity.

 The correct citation for this paper is:
Gulzar Haider and Muhammad Moussa, "Explicit and Implicit Geometric Orders in Mamluk Floors: Secrets of the Sultan Hassan Floor in Cairo", pp. 93-104 in Nexus V: Architecture and Mathematics, ed. Kim Williams and Francisco Delgado Cepeda, Fucecchio (Florence): Kim Williams Books, 2004. http://www.nexusjournal.com/conferences/N2004-HaiMou.html

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