Muqarnas are unique to Islamic architecture. Their purpose is to create a smooth transitional zone in a variety of architectural settings.
They don't have a structural function. Muqarnas can be considered as three dimensional version of the more common two dimensional Islamic geometric design: the design techniques are surprisingly similar.
Geometric design in the portico of a shrine in Natanz, Iran

Shrine of Sheikh Abd al-Samad in Natanz, Iran

How to Build a Muqarnas

Learn how to build a simple muqarnas composition in cardboard. In this video tutorial I show how, step-by-step, you can make an Iranian style muqarnas. Tools and materials needed: three different colours mounting cardboard, exacto cutting knife, pins, pair of compasses, a ruler and pencil. Give it a go!

Youtube video for An Introduction to Muqarnas by Eric Broug

Pinterest muqarnas board

Useful website

A valuable resource on muqarnas, created by by Shiro Takahashi. It has dozens of photos of muqarnas compositions across the Islamic world, with corresponding plan drawings. The most comprehensive muqarnas database online
http://www.tamabi.ac.jp/idd/shiro/muqarnas/

muqarnas drawing

plan of muqarnas composition of the Abu Nasr Parsa Shrine in Balkh, Afghanistan

Below is an example of a wooden muqarnas composition made of vertical triangular sections. See more of this process on this website: www.taujel.com

wooden muqarnas composition by taujel

Two Main Types of Muqarnas

Type 1: North African/Middle Eastern Style

plaster muqarnas compositions in the Alhambra Palace in Spain Using vertical triangular sections that are placed next to each other. Varying the angles of the sections affects the ‘undulations’ in the composition.

Type 2: Iranian Style

architectural muqarnas in a mosque in Isfahan, Iran

Horizontal tiers are created, which are then connected with segments that connect the tiers with each other.

All photos and work by Abdelghani Nhari

Two videos from the Abdelghani Nhari's workshop

Photos courtesy of Ali Reza Sarvedalir