Cover Jean Nouvel's National Museum of Qatar

Eschewing the intricacy of traditional Islamic architecture, these five buildings reimagine this ancient typology for modern times

Popular since around the 7th Century. Islamic architecture has been dazzling the world with its intricacy since. Even today, architects continue to celebrate this ancient architecture albeit, with adaptions for modern times.

We've chosen five such complex and beautiful buildings inspired by Islamic architecture.

1. Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar

Designed by the late IM Pei, the 376,740-sq ft Museum of Islamic Art completed in 2008 appears to arise from the sea, located as it is by the Arabian Gulf in Doha Bay. The massive building was built to house international masterpieces in galleries encircling the soaring, five-storey-high domed atrium.

To ensure future buildings would never encroach on the Museum, the building was built on a man-made island some 195 feet off Doha’s Corniche. A park of approximately 64 acres of dunes and oases on the shoreline behind the museum was also created, offering shelter and a picturesque backdrop.


The Pritzker Prize-winning architect wanted to evoke the true essence of Islamic architecture in his design and found inspiration in the 13th-century Sabil (ablutions fountain) of the Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun in Cairo, Egypt. The austerity of the Sabil offered an almost Cubist expression of geometric progression, which evoked an abstract vision of the key design elements of Islamic architecture.


While the form is severe, no expense was spared in the fine materials which include cream-coloured Magny and Chamesson limestone from France, Jet Mist granite from the United States and stainless steel from Germany, as well as architectural concrete from Qatar. At different times of the day, the desert sun transforms stepped architectural volumes into a play of light and shadows

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2. Palace of Justice, Cordoba, Spain

Located in Cordoba, Spain, Dutch architecture studio Mecanoo completed the Palace of Justice complex in 2018 inspired by the city’s famous Great Mosque and Islamic heritage.

The vast complex is planned as a civic centre including a courthouse containing 26 courtrooms, offices, a forensic institute and a cafe among other establishments spread over 48,000m². Created in collaboration with local engineering firm Ayesa, the distinctive buildings feature cut-out courtyards and golden details in reference to the city's medieval history which historians regard as a Muslim golden age.

The rectangular building is arranged around a central "spine" with blocks arranged on either side, divided by vertical slots that break up the building and form the courtyards. A central tenet of Islamic medieval city planning, courtyards still proliferate in urban environments especially in warm countries for the shade and air circulation they create, a civic function the courtyards in the new Palace of Justice fulfil according to the architects.

In homage to the Great Mosque of Córdoba, the building's white exterior walls and courtyard walls are overlaid with golden filigree to echo the gilded prayer niches carved into the mosque. However, the geometric patterns found throughout the white exterior are more than a decorative element, inspired by the Mashrabiya screen, they abstract the exterior windows through the tessellated shapes and provide a layer of privacy,

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3. Sancaklar Mosque, Buyukçekmece, Turkey

Located in Buyukçekmece, a suburban neighbourhood in the outskirts of Istanbul, the Sancaklar Mosque was completed in 2012 by EAA - Emre Arolat Architecture. The dramatic design address the fundamental issues of designing a mosque by distancing itself from the current architectural discussions based on form and focusing solely on the essence of religious space.

Built on a prairie landscape, the long canopy stretching out from the adjoining park is the only architectural element visible from the outside. The building is located below this canopy and blends in completely with the topography so that the outside world is left behind as one moves through the landscape to enter the mosque.

The interior of the mosque is a simple cave-like space with a tiered concrete floor and ceiling echoing the steps outside. Slits and fractures along the Qiblah wall enhance the directionality of the prayer space and allows daylight to filter into the prayer hall.

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4. King Abdullah Financial District Grand Mosque, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The architectural centerpiece of the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this suitably impressive mosque was designed by a local firm, Omrania and completed in 2017. KAFD is an urban district full of skyscrapers and to suit this, the mosque combines modern elements with the traditional interpretation of mosques in the desert environment of Saudi Arabia.

Designated as a Juma’ah (Friday) mosque, the building covers 10,000 square meters and accommodates 1466 prayer spaces on two levels. within its vast column-free space. 

Its unique geometry was inspired by the crystalline intersecting plates of a desert rose, a naturally-occurring crystalline structure commonly found in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. The site is located at the intersection of three large sunken pathways or urban “wadi” (valleys) so it appears as if the building rises up from the earth as an emerging crystal mass with two 60-meter-tall minarets marking the entrance.

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5. National Museum of Qatar, Doha, Qatar

An abstraction of the naturally occurring phenomenon of the desert rose, the National Museum of Qatar by Jean Nouvel is designed to tell the story of the country's history and its ambitions for the future. Completed in 2019, the Pritzker Prize winner stated that the desert rose was referenced as an architecture created by time and the desert itself.

The "petals" come to life through 539 interlocking and cantilevering conical discs cast in glass fibre-reinforced concrete. The sandy toned finish evokes the desert landscape and was designed to foil Doha's sand storms where flying sand coats the buildings. 



The museum itself is a vast, 350m long building but its 52,000sqm floor area includes the early 20th-century palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, which has been extensively renovated and integrated into the visitor experience.

The restoration of the old palace was undertaken respectfully using traditional materials and techniques in tandem with cutting-edge structural engineering. This wholeheartedly embracing of technology reflects the contemporary spirit of Qatar.


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