Formal Structure in Islamic Architecture of Iran and Turkistan

Formal Structure in Islamic Architecture of Iran and Turkistan

Formal structure is the underlying system of order that unites the visible elements of architecture such as walls, columns, and roofs. This book takes a deep dive into selected examples of Islamic architecture of Iran and Turkistan. As a companion book to a traveling exhibition by the same name, this book encourages readers to go beyond the visible aspects of architecture to a deeper understanding of their formal structures.

Formal Structure in Islamic Architecture of Iran and Turkistan by Klaus Herdeg.
New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1990, 54 pp., $ 35.00.

The visible aspects of architecture

As people visit iconic architecture and heritage sites, they are fascinated by what they see – the visible aspects of architecture such as facades, forms, spaces and urban design.  They record these aspects by taking pictures, selfies, and videos to post on their social media accounts to brag about their journeys.  Some may even read an online travel guide or take a guided tour to learn a little more about the history and culture. 

The Architecture of Iran and Turkistan

In their whirlwind tour of iconic architecture and famous monuments most people do not pause to understand the underlying system or order that gave form and structure to the visible elements of architecture.  The author of this book – Klaus Herdeg – believes that an understanding of formal structure is necessary for both appreciating as well as designing the built environment.  A considerable effort was made to study, document, discover and articulate formal structures in Islamic Architecture of Iran  and Turkistan.

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Islamic Architecture of Iran

The book focuses on two poles of ancient Iranian culture, represented by fifteenth century Turan (Turkistan) and early seventeenth century western Iran. The region includes the cities on the southern and western edges of the central Iranian wilderness and the large urban centers on the old trade routes dating back to the Greco-Bactrian and Kushan Empires of the first century A. D.  The breathtaking tour of architecture takes the readers from the complex urban structure of Isfahan with its magnificent courts, public spaces, mosques and bazaars to the bathhouse in Kerman, to houses with complex ventilation system involving wind towers, courtyards and pools in Yazd, to the formal gardens which represent the Islamic ideal of the “hereafter”.

Islamic architecture of Turkistan

The examples of Islamic architecture in Turkistan include works of architecture in cities such as Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and Kashgar. The kaleidoscopic view explores the urban spaces and monuments in Samarkand, compares iwans (Friday mosque entrance with minarets) in Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva; compares the “main streets” in Bukhara, Kerman and Khiva; and explores houses in Bukhara and Khiva.

Historical and cultural context

Although this book examines historical works of architecture, it is not about the history of architecture. Discussions on historical, cultural and social attributes are kept to a minimum, to isolate and recognize formal structures.  An understanding of formal structures will certainly illuminate aspects of architecture that are not visible to human eye, but a deeper understanding of historical and cultural context will further enrich the experience.

  • This post is based on my book review in the Journal of Architectural and Planning Research. Gami, Bharat M. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, vol. 14, no. 2, 1997, pp. 173–175. JSTOR, Accessed 17 June 2021.
  • Title Image:  StomacCC BY-SA 2.0 FR, via Wikimedia Commons.  File:Registan Samarkand Uzbekistan.JPG. (n.d.). Retrieved September 16, 2022, from

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