Appel à contribution : « Earth in Islamic architecture », Dr. S. Pradines (sera publié chez Brill). Date limite: 15 oct. 2014

Earth in Islamic architecture


Since Hassan Fathy, earthen architecture was finally accepted as an important heritage of Muslim cultures and particularly in the Egyptian culture. Yet this architecture remains underexploited and understudied compared to other more monumental and better preserved architectures. The study of Islamic architecture was at first concerned with prestigious monuments of stone or red bricks, built by the great Muslim dynasties. Little collective attention has been paid to the earthen architecture in these countries. Despite this fact, earthen architecture is well known to archaeologists and anthropologists working from Central Asia to Spain.

Earthen architecture is often seen as a primitive architecture for two main reasons: first, this architecture has been relegated to an ethnographic architecture, built by primitive people in pre or proto-historic development state. Second, this architecture was considered as Eastern, Oriental or even exotic, visions forged during the 19th century with Orientalist preconceptions then relayed by the colonial domination in the early 20th Century. For example, African architecture is often reduced to earthen architecture. In the Sahel and North Africa the ethnic and vernacular sides are highlighted first. The Islamic aspect is placed in the background and the historical aspect of this architecture is very often neglected.

Should we stop at geographical and anthropological considerations to describe and analyse earthen architecture? We don’t think so because there is a strong connection between earthen architecture, including mud brick, and the historical architectures of vernacular Muslim Countries. Of course, this link is known, but not at all developed.

Yet it seems that the earthen architecture has been relegated to the peripheries, agricultural remote areas, villages and oases. It seems that Cities didn’t accept earthen architecture in their development. But is this the rule? Can this generality be verified on the fieldwork? First, most of these brick architectures were covered with plaster. The materials were therefore not visible. We know that most of the upper portions of the great Mamluk and Ottoman palaces were built of red bricks covered with a plaster!

The territories of Islam have all deep traditions of earthen architecture, whether Egypt’s Pharaonic period or Asia with Mesopotamian traditions. These pre-Islamic architectures are monumental architectures, like fortifications, palaces, temples or ziggurats, pyramids or graves. These architectures of power and prestige have nothing to do with the modest architecture of the small Nubian villages described by Hassan Fathy.

Many Islamic dynasties have used earthen architecture, from the Abbasids to the Fatimids and the Almoravids and even the Ottomans. They almost all used this material. Although in the late 12th Century, the Middle Eastern cities began to change and the use of stone became widespread in the construction of walls, mosques and palaces.
Another point that is often neglected and deserves to be put in perspective: the relationship between mud brick and red brick architecture. It seems that these architectures are complementary and not successive in time. The typo-chronology approaches of the historians and archaeologists are still too often reductive. According to these experts, adobe and mud brick were replaced by red brick and itself replaced later by stone. Of course this old model is too simplistic. For example, the Fatimids used stone, red bricks and mud bricks regardless of time, period and building functions. Palaces, mausoleums and mosques were built of stone, red bricks or mud bricks.

Finally, earthen architecture includes many technical solutions. Which kind of earth architecture: adobe, cob, mud brick, rammed earth, wattle or daub? This panel is also an opportunity to precise and define the different kinds of architectures with a precise glossary. What is the vernacular vocabulary used to describe these architectures in Arabic, Berber, Persian and Turkish?

Call for papers

Following the success of our panel on ‘Earth in Islamic Architecture’ at the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies in Ankara, 19th August 2014, we plan to publish with BRILL a book on ‘Earth in Islamic Architecture’.

Contributions for the publication will be diversified, from Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia, from the beginning of Islam to the present days. Our main objective will be to show the historical and geographical depth of this still too little known Islamic architecture. We will cross our knowledge, methods and disciplines between archaeologists, historians, anthropologists, architects and conservators. We will try to address and emphasize the following points:

The diversity and complexity of earthen architecture in Muslim countries;
The multiple functions of this architecture: in civil, religious and military domains;
Earthen architecture is not limited to the villages and countryside, but can be found in towns and cities;
Earthen architecture can be a monumental and a prestigious architecture;
To bring this architecture out of its technical and ethnographic aspects;
To explore the links between certain types of earth architectures and some populations, for example, the Berbers, the Nubians…
Demonstrate the historicity of earthen architecture in Muslim Cultures.

Please, send your proposal (title and abstract of 250-300 words approx.) before the 15 of October 2014. After acceptation of your proposal, you will receive our manuscript guideline.

Final papers/ articles should reach us before the 31st January 2015.

All abstracts and papers should be in English.

For all questions, proposals and enquiries, please contact the book editor:

Dr. Stéphane Pradines (
Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations
210 Euston Road, London NW1 2DA, United Kingdom

Sterenn Le Maguer

Archéologue spécialiste de la péninsule Arabique et du commerce dans l'océan Indien, vacataire à l'Institut catholique de Paris, chercheure associée au CEFREPA.

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