Available Online: The Topkapi Scroll: Geometry and Ornament in Islamic Architecture (Gülru Necipoğlu, 1996)

Cecily Pollard's picture


The Topkapi Scroll: Geometry and Ornament in Islamic Architecture by Gülru Necipoğlu (Santa Monica, CA : Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1996), long out of print, is now available as a pdf download from the Getty Publications Virtual Library:  https://www.getty.edu/publications/virtuallibrary/9780892363353.html

Since precious few architectural drawings and no theoretical treatises on architecture remain from the premodern Islamic world, the Timurid pattern scroll in the collection of the Topkapi Palace Museum Library is an exceedingly rich and valuable source of information. In the course of her in-depth analysis of this scroll dating from the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, Gülru Necipoğlu throws new light on the conceptualization, recording, and transmission of architectural design in the Islamic world between the tenth and sixteenth centuries. Her text has particularly far-reaching implications for recent discussions on vision, subjectivity, and the semiotics of abstract representation. She also compares the Islamic understanding of geometry with that found in medieval Western art, making this book particularly valuable for all historians and critics of architecture.

The scroll, with its 114 individual geometric patterns for wall surfaces and vaulting, is reproduced entirely in color in this elegant, large-format volume. An extensive catalogue includes illustrations showing the underlying geometries (in the form of incised “dead” drawings) from which the individual patterns are generated. An essay by Mohammad al-Asad discusses the geometry of the muqarnas and demonstrates by means of CAD drawings how one of the scroll’s patterns could be used co-design a three-dimensional vault.

The book has won numerous awards, including the Albert Hourani Book Award (Middle East Studies Association, 1996); the Spiro Kostof Book Award for Architecture and Urbanism (the Society of Architectural Historians, 1996); and the award for Best New Book on Architecture and Urban Planning (Association of American Publishers, Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division, 1995).


Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture

Harvard University

Sackler 415

485 Broadway

Cambridge, MA 02138 USA

Tel 617-495-2355