PRINT December 1978


Islamic Architecture and Architecture of the Islamic World: Its History and Social Meaning

TWO ARCHITECTURAL BOOKS OF general interest are John D. Hoag, Islamic Architecture, in Pier Luigi Nervi’s big “History of World Architecture” series (Abrams), which appeared last summer, and Architecture of the Islamic World: Its History and Social Meaning (Morrow), edited by George Michell and just out. Here it’s tough to pick one over the other, since there is not as great a polarization between connoisseurship and iconography as the two titles might suggest; Hoag also remains aware, along the way, of historical context. As far as I can tell, he does tend to be more “objective,” in the sense that his brand of architectural history involves an impressively thorough, very specifically monument-based approach, whereas the seven scholars who contribute thematic essays to Michell’s book tend to stress buildings as (deterministic?) functions of society, a whole chapter on “Vernacular Architecture: the House and Society,” by Guy T. Petherbridge, being symptomatic of this difference.

As albums of pictorial documentation—even though both books have extensive texts—there are more obvious grounds for comparison. In Hoag’s volume everything is lavishly big, wherever possible geometrically dramatic, and always appears in black and white. Michell uses a quantity of stunning color photographs up front, in the essays—and color does seem especially important with this material—interspersed with smaller, sometimes black-and-white, technical and contextual illustrations. Then, at the back,there is a substantial descriptive gazetteer of the “key monuments,” compiled by Geoffrey King and Ronald Kewcock, where each structure is illustrated by one small photograph and a helpful, even though tiny, diagrammatic plan. The Hoag looks definitive, but the Michell might well be more immediately interesting to painters, particularly for Dalu Jones’ chapter “The Elements of Decoration: Surface, Pattern and Light.”

Joseph Masheck