Bad Design vs Good Design

In contemporary architecture and design, Islamic geometric design is often used.  It’s popular to use geometric patterns in hotel lobbies, restaurants, building exteriors, fashion, jewellery etc.

Sometimes it is done well but often it is not done well. Design errors are made that you would never have seen in the previous 1,300 years of this design tradition.  Design conventions on, for example, how you frame a composition, how you tessellate have been universally applied by builders across the centuries in Iran, India, Morocco, Afghanistan, Egypt and elsewhere. It is a mystery on how this could be the case but nevertheless, the use of patterns in architecture followed rules.

Using the heritage of islamic geometric design in contemporary architecture and design is not just about applying a pattern to a surface. It is about using as many aspects of this heritage so that what is created can rightfully be considered to be a continuation of this design tradition.

Spa in Royal Mansour Hotel in Marrakech uses geometric pattern typically used in Iran (see right) but not in Morocco.


Anar Restaurant, Dubai. A typically Moroccan pattern in a Persian restaurant.

Old Cataract Hotel, Aswan, Egypt. Incorrectly proportioned star designs. Assymetric in parts. Incorrectly tessellated.

Street tile in Casablanca. Tile has not been designed with tessellation in mind. Lines don’t flow, T-intersections are created. Random lines have been added.

Marriott Hotel Jabal Omar, Mecca. A few recognisable elements but mostly full of errors: unrecognisable shapes, lines don’t flow, bad framing, lines don’t change direction where they should. 

Examples of bad Islamic geometric design can reliably be dated to the 20th and 21st century.

It’s educational to see what bad geometric design looks like. What are common mistakes? And why are they mistakes in the first place? We present some common errors here.

Good Design = Design created with an awareness of historical best practice in Islamic geometric design.

Bad Design = Design that demonstrates insufficient awareness of Islamic geometric design conventions.

Emaar Square, Dubai. Lines don’t flow, lack of symmetry, bad framing, ad hoc lines add to connect elements.

German University of Technology in Oman. Left: a pattern haphazardly framed, and haphazardly wrapped around a corner. Right: Bou Inania madrasa in Morocco. A pattern perfectly framed, scaled and wrapped to go around corners.

Custommade screens from Morocco. Made for a client in the US. Stars don’t connect, lines don’t flow. Star designs are incorrectly proportioned.

At DXB Airport.Made in Egypt, these vases can also be seen along the Golden Mile in Jumeirah, Dubai. Some of the errors have been highlighted.

The Spa at the Downtown Palace Hotel, Dubai. Left: The designer has tried to recreate the pattern. Right: the original pattern from the Mustansariya madrasa in Baghdad.

Şehzade Mosque, Istanbul.Incorrectly tessellated. Lines stop where they should continue.

Main Entrance, Topkapi Palace, Turkey. A recent door panel. The corners of the composition should have quarter stars, like all the original Ottoman doors at the palace.

Zabeel Saray hotel, Dubai.Incorrect offsetting of lines.

Msheireb Mosque, Doha. On the right is pattern as it should be. On the left, some of the errors are highlighted. Lines don’t flow, T-intersections are created, problems caused by incorrect offsetting.