Islamic Constructions: The Geometry Needed by Craftsmen

Raymond Tennant
Meeting Alhambra, ISAMA-BRIDGES Conference Proceedings (2003)
Pages 459–464


The Islamic world has a rich artistic tradition of creating highly geometric and symmetric ornamentation. Over the centuries, the process of creating Islamic tilings was refined from the 15th Century ornamentation in the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain to the exquisite tilings, which are seen in mosques, mausoleums and minarets throughout the world today. The contemporary mathematics of group theory and knot theory combined with computer programs provide tools for creating modern day variations of these historical tilings. The title of this paper is motivated by the 10th Century treatise On Those Parts of Geometry Needed by Craftsmen written by the Khorasan mathematician and astronomer Abu'l-Wafa Buzjani who described several constructions made with the aid of straightedge and "rusty compass", a compass with a fixed angle. He was one of a long line of Islamic mathematicians who developed geometric techniques that proved useful to artisans in creating the highly symmetrical oramentation found in architecture around the world today. This paper looks at the geometry of Abu'l-Wafa Buzjani with an eye toward determining geometric methods for reproducing Islamic tilings with students in the classroom.