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Cosmology And Architecture In Premodern Islam: An Architectural Reading Of Mystical Ideas (2005)

2005 | 289 Pages | ISBN: 0791464113 | PDF | 5 MB

“In the preface to this book, Samer Akkach describes his childhood experience of watching snowflakes from his window in Damascus. Looking at them, he had the feeling that the flakes were not falling, but that he was floating upward to higher realms. Reading his book has had a similar affect on me, giving the impression that I have been carried up into unutterably strange, but compellingly beautiful, realms of thought and imagination.In the face of the worldwide homogenization of architectural education, it is salutary to be reminded that architecture wasn’t always and everywhere designed solely to satisfy aesthetic, economic, functional and technological exigencies. In many times and places architecture expressed a human sense of the wonder and oneness of the world. Buildings fitted together with myths and cosmologies to convey that people and the cosmos belong together: humans belong in the world they inhabit; and the world belongs together with humans. In this context, buildings serve to mediate between the human as microcosm and the whole world as macrocosm, showing how they inter-reflect and harmonize…Samer Akkach is one of a small band of architectural scholars who see it as their task to record and interpret these other architectures so that they do not sink into irrecoverable oblivion. He rescues Islamic architecture from amnesia. In his splendid book he applies his intimate knowledge of Arabic and the premodern Sufi texts to convey a lucid and richly detailed account of the manner in which Islamic architecture, in all its forms, from buildings to cities, gardens, landscapes and meta-landscapes, reflected the cosmos, and thus gave back praise. The book is masterful, and a major contribution to architectural scholarship…Having relocated the discourse on architectural symbolism in the context of how Islamic (or, more particularly, Sufi) texts view the matter, Akkach then proceeds to give a panoramic view of Sufi thought as it relates to architecture. The view he opens up is so wide and so detailed that it is not possible in a brief review to give an account of the materials he covers, even in summary. It must suffice to say that the work comprises four chapters, each dealing with an aspect of ‘order,’ respectively the discursive, metaphysical, cosmic and architectural…Akkach looks at concepts that are familiar in the Western literature on Islamic architecture and brings out new aspects, sometimes at variance with the conventional scholarly wisdom on these matters. By reference, for example, to the ‘Land of Reality,’ the ‘Cities of Light’ and Ibn S?na’s ‘heavenly landscape,’ he brings out previously unrecorded aspects of Islamic orientation, architecture and landscape…This is not a book for those who are used to skim reading… Nor is it for those who tremble in the presence of the unfamiliar. Akkach guides the reader into foreign territories of thought, where everything in the landscape is wholly unlike anything we are used to. In this sense, the shock of the old–premodern antiquity–becomes the shock of the totally new. If the past is a foreign country, then Akkach leads us into a country that is doubly foreign, because as well as being a country of the past, it is a past whose present, contemporary Islam, is equally unknown to many in the West… Akkach’s book takes us into realms that, for many readers, will be radically unfamiliar. For those who can deal with the vertigo induced by an encounter with the wholly alien, the book will enhance understanding, to the degree that they will never again see Islam or Islamic architecture in the same way as they did previously. It is also possible that they will never again see Western architecture in quite the same way either.”Professor Snodgrass is the author of Architecture, Time and Eternity: Studies in the Stellar and Temporal Symbolism of Traditional Buildings (International Academy of Indian Culture 1990); The Symbolism of the Stupa (Cornell Uni. Press 1985); The Matrix and Diamond World Mandalas in Shingon Buddhism (Aditya Prakashan 1988, 2 vols) and co-author of Interpretations in Architecture: Design as a Way of Thinking (Routledge 2006).