Medieval Islamic Architecture, Quasicrystals, and Penrose and Girih Tiles: Questions from the Classroom

Raymond Tennant
Bridges Leeuwarden: Mathematics, Music, Art, Architecture, Culture (2008)
Pages 297–304

Abstract

Tiling Theory studies how one might cover the plane with various shapes. Medieval Islamic artisans developed intricate geometric tilings to decorate their mosques, mausoleums, and shrines. Some of these patterns, called girih tilings, first appeared in the 12th Century AD. Recent investigations show these medieval tilings contain symmetries similar to those found in aperiodic Penrose tilings first investigated in the West in the 1970’s. These intriguing discoveries may suggest that the mathematical understanding of these artisans was much deeper than originally thought. Connections like these, made across the centuries, provide a wonderful opportunity for students to discover the beauty of Islamic architecture in a mathematical and historical context. This paper describes several geometric constructions for Islamic tilings for use in the classroom along with projects involving girih tiles. Open questions, observations, and conjectures raised in seminars across the United Arab Emirates are described including what the medieval artisans may have known as well as how girih tiles might have been used as tools in the actual construction of intricate patterns.

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