24. The waft of architecture.



This is the first and oldest craft of sedentary civilization. It is the knowledge of how to go about using houses and mansions for cover and shelter.109 This is because man has the natural disposition to reflect upon the outcome of things. Thus, it is unavoidable that he must reflect upon how to avert the harm arising from heat and cold by using houses which have walls. and roofs to intervene between him and those things on all sides. This natural disposition to think, which is the real meaning of humanity, exists among (men) in different degrees. Some men are more or less temperate in this respect. They use (housing) with moderation, as, for instance, the inhabitants of the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth zones. The inhabitants of the first and seventh zones, on the other hand, are unfamiliar with the use of (housing), because they are intemperate and their thinking does not go far enough to enable them to practice human crafts. Therefore, they take shelter in caverns and caves, just as they (also) eat unprepared and uncooked food.110

Now, the temperate people who use houses for shelter become very numerous and have many houses in one area. They become strangers to each other and no longer know each other. They fear surprise attacks at night. Therefore, they must protect their community by surrounding it with a wall to guard them. The whole thing thus becomes a single town or city in which they are guarded by authorities which keep them apart.111 They (also) need protection against the enemy. Thus, they use fortresses and castles for themselves and for the people under their control. These men (who control fortresses and castles) are like rulers or amirs or tribal chieftains of a corresponding position.

Also, building conditions are different in the (various) towns. Each city follows in this respect the procedure known to and within the technical (competence) of (its inhabitants) and corresponding to the climate and the different conditions of (the inhabitants) with regard to wealth and poverty. The situation of the inhabitants within each individual city also (differs). Some use castles and far-flung constructions comprising a number of dwellings and houses and rooms, because they have a great number of children, servants, de­pendents, and followers. They make their walls of stones, which they join together with quicklime. They cover them with paint and plaster, and do the utmost to furnish and decorate everything. (They do so) in order to show how greatly they are concerned for their shelter. In addition, they prepare cellars and underground rooms for the storage of their food, and also stables for tying up their horses,112 if they are army people and have many followers and guests, such as amirs and people of a corresponding position.

Others build a small dwelling or house for themselves and for their children to live in. Their desire goes no farther, because their situation permits them no more. Thus, they restrict themselves to a mere shelter, which is natural to human beings. Between the two (extremes), there are in­numerable degrees.

Architecture is also needed when rulers and people of a dynasty build large towns and high monuments (hayakil). They try their utmost to make good plans and build tall structures with technical perfection, so that (architecture) can reach its highest development. Architecture is the craft that satisfies requirements in all these respects. It is found most (widely represented) in the temperate zones, that is, in the fourth zone and the adjacent area. In the intemperate zones, there is no building activity. The people there use enclosures of reeds and clay as houses, or take shelter in caverns and caves.113

The architects who exercise the craft differ. Some are intelligent and skillful. Others are inferior.

Furthermore, (architecture) has many subdivisions. Thus, the building material may be smoothed 114 stones or bricks.115 The walls made of (such material) are joined and firmly held together by clay and quicklime. They thus hold together as fast as if they were of one piece.

Another (material) is simply earth. One builds walls with it by using 116 two wooden boards, the measurements of which vary according to (local) custom. The average measurements are four cubits by two. They are set upon a foundation. The distance between them depends on the width of the foundation the builder considers appropriate. They are joined together with pieces of wood fastened 117 with ropes or twine. The two remaining sides of the empty space between the two boards are joined by two other small boards. Then, one puts earth mixed with quicklime into (this frame). The earth and quicklime are pounded with special mixers used only for this purpose, until everything is well mixed throughout. Earth is then added a second and third time, until the space between the two boards is filled. The earth and quicklime have combined and become one substance. Then, two other boards are set up in the same fashion, and (the earth) is treated in the same manner, until it is ready. (All) the boards 118 are then properly set up piece upon piece, until the whole wall is set up and joined together as tightly as if it were of one piece. This construction is called tabiyah,119 and the builder of it is called tawwab.

Another technique of construction is the covering of walls with quicklime. The quicklime is first diluted with water and let soak for a week or two depending on how long is required for it to become well-balanced in its temper and to lose any excess igneousness detrimental to its adhesiveness. When this process is completed to the satisfaction of (the builder), he puts it on the wall beginning at the top and rubs it in until it sticks.

Another technique of construction is roofing. Pieces of wood (beams), either carefully smoothed by a carpenter or left rough, are placed over two walls of the house, and more boards are placed on top of them. They are joined together with nails. Upon that, earth and quicklime are poured. They are pounded with mixers until they combine and hold together. The roof is thus covered with quicklime (plaster), exactly as the walls were covered with it.

Another technique of construction is decoration and or­namentation. Thus, figures formed from gypsum are placed upon the walls. (The gypsum) is mixed with water, and then solidified again, with some humidity remaining in it. Symmetrical figures are chiseled out of it with iron drills, until it looks brilliant and pleasant. The walls are occasionally also covered with pieces of marble, brick, clay, shells (mother-of-pearl), or jet. 120 (The material) may be divided either into identically shaped or differently shaped pieces. These pieces are arranged in whatever symmetrical figures and arrangements are being utilized by the (various artisans), and set into the quicklime (with which the walls have been covered). Thus, the walls come to look like colorful flower beds.

There are (other techniques of construction), such as the construction of wells and cisterns for running water. In the houses, large, well-cut marble basins are prepared. They have orifices in the middle to permit the water of the cistern to flow out. The water comes to the cistern from the outside through conduits bringing it into the houses.

There are other similar kinds of architectural activity. The workmen who do all these things differ in skill and intelligence. They grow in number when the civilization of a town increases and widens.

The authorities often have recourse to the opinions of these men, about construction matters which they understand better. For in towns with large populations, people live in very crowded conditions. Therefore, they compete with each other for space and air above and below and for the use of the outside of a building. The owner fears lest (any encroachment) cause damage 121 to the walls, and, therefore, forbids it to his neighbor, except where the neighbor has a legal right to it. (People) also have differences over right­of-way and about outlets for running water and about refuse disposed of through subterranean conduits. Occasionally, someone claims somebody else's right to (use of) a wall, eaves, or a gutter, 122 because the houses are so close to each other. Or someone may claim that his neighbor's wall is in bad condition and he fears that it will collapse. He needs a judgment against the other party from an expert 123 to force the other party to tear the wall down and prevent damage to the neighbor(ing house). Or, a house or courtyard has to be divided between two parties, so that no damage to the house or curtailment of its usefulness is caused, and similar things.

All these matters are clear only to those who know architecture in all its details. They can judge these details by looking at the joints and ties and the wooden parts.124 (They can see whether) the walls are leaning over or are straight, (whether) dwellings are divided as. required by their construction and (intended) use, and (whether) water can flow in and out the conduits without causing harm to the houses or walls it flows through, and other things. They know about them and have the experience that others do not have.

However, the quality of (architects) differs in the different groups. It depends on the (ruling) dynasties and their power. We have stated before 125 that the perfection of the crafts depends on the perfection of sedentary culture and their extent (depends) on the number of those who demand them. At the beginning, the dynasty is a Bedouin one, and therefore needs for its construction activities (the help of) other regions. This was the case when al-Walid b. 'Abd-al-Malik decided to build the mosques of Medina and Jerusalem and his own mosque in Damascus. He sent to the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople for workmen skilled in construction work, and the Byzantine emperor sent him enough men to build these mosques as he had planned them. 126

Architects also make some use of geometry (engineering). For instance, they use the plumb to make walls perpendicular, and they use devices for lifting water, to make it flow, and similar things. Thus, they must know something about the problems connected with (engineering). They also must know how to move heavy loads with the help of machines. Big blocks of large stones cannot be lifted into place on a wall by the unaided strength of workmen alone. Therefore, the architect must contrive to multiply the strength of the rope by passing it through holes, constructed according to geometrical proportions, of the attachments called mikhal "pulleys." 127 They make the load easier to lift, so that the intended work can be completed without difficulty. This can be achieved only with the help of geometrical (engineering) principles which are commonly known among men. Such things made it possible to build the (ancient) monuments that are standing to this day. They are believed to have been built in pre-Islamic times and by persons whose bodies were (of a size) corresponding (to the) large (size of the monuments). This is not so. (The people who built them) used engineering devices, as we have mentioned.128 This should be understood.

"God creates whatever He wishes." 129