Announcement Bar Text Here

Crafting Spiritually Transcendent Architecture: An Akbarian Perspective

Hany T. Ibrahim
Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada
hibrahim@mtroyal.ca

Keywords: Design, Culture, Beauty, Symbolism, Sustainability, Love, Ibn ‘Arabī

Introduction

This paper delves into the profound intersection of architecture, Islam, and spirituality through the lens of Sufism, with a particular emphasis on the Akbarian perspective as expounded by the eminent mystic, Ibn ‘Arabī (d. 1240). At the heart of this exploration lies the intricate tapestry of transcendent unity, a metaphysical concept propounded by Ibn ‘Arabī, intertwining seamlessly with the essence of the soul of architecture. It aims to unfold a nuanced discourse on Ibn ‘Arabī’s concept of the Unity of Being (waḥdat al-wujūd) and its ramifications on the various facets of architectural expression. It examines the ways in which architectural spaces can be imbued with the spirit of love and beauty to create environments that nourish the soul and encourage communal well-being. The implications of this discourse extend beyond the mere aesthetics, permeating urban design, city planning, landscape architecture, and sustainability, thereby presenting a holistic paradigm for the future of the built environment.

Ibn ‘Arabī

Ibn ‘Arabī, a towering figure in Sufi mysticism, often heralded as the “Greatest Master” within the Sufi tradition, expounds the doctrine of the unity of being. He envisioned a world where everything is interconnected through Divine Unity. His concept of waḥdat al-wujūd transcends the physical and material, emphasizing the Oneness of all existence. This metaphysical framework serves as the cornerstone for the interplay between spirituality and architecture. In the context of architectural creation, it challenges designers to perceive structures not as isolated entities but as integral parts of the Divine cosmic Unity. By fostering and translating these spiritual principles into practical design strategies, architects can create buildings and environments that not only meet functional needs but also embody sustainable ideals interconnectedness, architects can design spaces that resonate with the natural order, promoting sustainability in both the built and natural environments. Ibn ‘Arabī’s writings can inspire architects to go beyond the superficial and seek a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness between the created and the Creator. Through his teachings, architecture becomes a spiritual endeavor, a means of manifesting Divine Unity in the tangible and visible realm. 

Unity of Being

Unity (tawḥīd), in the Akbarian viewpoint, transcends the physical realm and encompasses the spiritual and cosmic dimensions. The Unity of Being, as expounded by Ibn ‘Arabī, challenges conventional notions of separation between urban spaces and nature. It beckons architects and city planners to create environments where the natural and built elements coalesce seamlessly, reflecting the holistic Unity inherent in creation. The city itself becomes a living, breathing entity, pulsating with the rhythm of the cosmos. Ibn ‘Arabī’s concept of waḥdat al-wujūd, can be interpreted in architectural terms as designing spaces that harmonize with their surroundings by reducing the ecological footprint. This means using material and construction techniques that are in harmony with nature, promoting the health of the environment. 

Love and beauty

Love (ḥubb), in Ibn ‘Arabī’s vision, on one hand, is not merely a sentimental expression but a Divine force that produced the cosmos and binds the universe together. Architecture, viewed through the lens of love, not only becomes a vessel for fostering human connection and harmony with the surroundings but also provides a sense of awareness and correlation with the Divine. Beauty (jamāl), on the other hand, as defined by Ibn ‘Arabī, transcends the superficial and ventures into the realm of the Divine. It becomes a mirror reflecting the Unity inherent in all existence, urging architects to create spaces that resonate with the Divine harmony. 

The aesthetic implications of Ibn ‘Arabī’s theory extend beyond mere physical forms, resonating deeply with the spiritual essence of architecture. The manifestation of beauty in architectural design, is articulated where proportions, geometries, and spatial arrangements become channels through which the soul connects with the transcendent. Ibn ‘Arabī’s vision of beauty, love, and Unity becomes a guiding light, casting its rays upon the multifaceted dimensions of architectural creation and human habitation. 

Symbolic, adaptable and aesthetical designs

The principle of adaptability is seen as an architectural reflection of Ibn ‘Arabī’s teachings on the impermanence and fluidity of existence. Designing for longevity and durability, rather than obsolescence, ensures that buildings remain functional and aesthetically pleasing over time, minimizing waste and resource use. All this can be achieved by integrating symbolic elements and sacred geometry into the design to create spaces that resonate with spiritual meanings and harmony. The use of traditional artistic features, such as mosaics, calligraphy, and carvings, to reflect the spiritual and cultural heritage, creates a sense of identity and continuity.

Sustainable and ecosystem integration

The use of natural, locally sourced materials in construction aligns with Ibn ‘Arabī’s emphasis on the natural world as a manifestation of the Divine. These materials often have lower environmental impacts and can be recycled or biodegraded, supporting sustainability. Biophilic design, which seeks to integrate natural elements into the built environment, mirrors Ibn ‘Arabī’s teachings by fostering a direct connection between humans and nature. This approach not only enhances well-being but also promotes environmental stewardship. 

Buildings designed to maximize energy efficiency, through passive solar design, natural ventilation, and high-performance insulation, reflect the Sufi principle of using resources wisely and respecting the natural order. Water conservation techniques, such as rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling, embody the respect for life and resources that Ibn Arabi’s teachings advocate, ensuring that water, which is a vital element, is used sustainably. Additionally, by designing buildings that blend seamlessly with their natural surroundings, rather than dominating them, can create a sense of harmony and balance. This approach, inspired by Ibn ‘Arabī, promotes ecological sensitivity and reduces the visual and environmental impact of construction. Also, landscaping with native plants and creating green roofs and walls can support local biodiversity, all align with the Sufi view of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life forms. By incorporating community spaces that encourage social interaction and communal activities, fostering a sense of unity and collective responsibility for the environment. 

Through the integration of sustainable ideals as inspired by Ibn ‘Arabī’s teachings into architectural design, architects can create spaces that not only meet functional and aesthetic needs but also embody deep spiritual principles. These designs promote environmental stewardship, enhance human well-being, and reflect the profound interconnectedness of all existence. In doing so, architecture becomes a medium for expressing the Unity of Being, fostering a harmonious relationship between humanity and the natural world, and to contribute to a more sustainable and spiritually enriched urban environment.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this paper endeavors to unravel the intricate threads of the transcendent Unity as a guiding principle shaping the architectural realm. It assesses how architectural design, spatial arrangements, proportions, and symbolic elements within architecture when informed by the principle of Unity, can become tools for expressing and inducing spiritual experiences in contributing to the creation of sustainable environments. It aims to illuminate the transformative potential of integrating spiritual principles into architectural discourse, transcending the materialistic paradigms and envisioning spaces that resonate with the Divine beauty, love, and Unity. It offers a comprehensive exploration of the symbiotic relationship between transcendent Unity and the soul of architecture within the context of Sufism, with a specific focus on Ibn ‘Arabī’s Akbarian Sufi perspective. The exploration of the transcendent Unity and the soul of architecture through the lens of Sufi philosophy, particularly the teachings of Ibn ‘Arabī, reveals profound insights into the spiritual dimensions of architectural design. By incorporating principles such as sacred geometry, natural materials, sensory engagement, and the creation of reflective and communal spaces, architects can create sustainable environments that resonate with the Divine Unity and timelessness inherent in Sufi thought.


Bibliography

Akkach, Samer. Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam: An Architectural Reading of Mystical Ideas. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.

Bakhtiar, Laleh & Ardalan, Nader. The Sense of Unity: The Sufi Tradition in Persian Architecture. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1973. 

Bermudez, Julio (ed.) Spirituality in Architectural Education: Twelve Years of the Walton Critic Program at The Catholic University of America. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2023.
-. Transcending Architecture: Contemporary Views on Sacred Space. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2015.

Burckhardt. Titus. Mystical Astrology According to Ibn ‘Arabi. Trans. Bulent Rauf. Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2001.

Chittick, William. The Self-Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn ‘Arabī’s Cosmology. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.
-. Ibn al-‘Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination: The Sufi Path of Knowledge. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

El-Wakil, Abd al-Wahid. “Arts and the Islamic World.” Art Magazine. London: New Century Publishers. Vol. 1 issue 4 (1983).

Fathy, Hassan. Natural Energy and Vernacular Architecture: Principles and Examples with Reference to Hot Arid Climates. Edited by Walter Shearer and Abd-el-Rahman Ahmed Sultan. London & New York: Routledge, 1986.

Ibn al-‘Arabi, Muḥyi’ddīn. Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam. Ed. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Sultan al-Mansub. Cairo: Sharikat al-Quds lil-nashr wal-tawzī‘,  2016.
-. al-Futūḥāt al Makkiyya. 4 vols. Cairo: Bulāq, 1911.

Ibrahim, Hany. Love in the Teachings of Ibn ‘Arabī. Sheffield: Equinox Publishing Ltd., 2023.

Ingold, Tim. The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London & New York: Routledge, 2000.

Izutsu, Toshihiko. “An Analysis of Waḥdat al-Wujūd: Toward a Metaphilosophy of Oriental Philosophies.” Creation and the Timeless Order of Things: Essays in Islamic Mystical Philosophy (1994): 66-97.

Lings, Martin. Symbol & Archetype: A Study of the Meaning of Existence. Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2005.

Steele, James. An Architecture for People: The Complete Works of Hassan Fathy. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1997.

Recent Articles
Sacred Geometry: The Spiritual Meaning of Islamic Architectural Technologies

Read More

A Framework for Sacred Architecture

Read More

Bridging East and West. The Hagia Sophia shaping Dom Hans van der Laan’s Architectonic Space.

Read More