Reviving tradition in Islamic Built Environment:
An Assessment of Pirnia’s Proposed Principles
Mohammad-Karim Pirnia (1922-1998) remains to be regarded as the most influential contemporary character in the field of traditional Islamic architecture of Iran. Having academic training in architecture he also delved deep in the study of history and evolution of Persian architecture, both pre-Islamic and Islamic. Parallel to these he worked closely with traditional architects and master craftsmen in search of qualities/characteristics that connected and united the multitude of Islamic architectural forms and styles that had evolved along the course of history. Pirnia pursued this path as long as he lived. He brought those invaluable firsthand findings to the classrooms, shared them with students and often elaborated upon them in his writings. In his efforts to understand the essence of traditional Islamic architecture he came up with five basic characteristics.
The five qualities that, according to Pirnia, constitute the foundations of traditional Islamic architecture include People-Compatibility (Mardomwari), Abstinence from Waste (Parhiz az Bihodegi), Self Sufficiency (Khod Basandegi), Introversion (Darun Garayi) and Structural Considerations (Niaresh). These principles are applicable to individual structures (micro) as well as larger scale compounds such as neighborhoods, towns and cities (macro).
In this paper we propose to present a critical assessment of Pirnia’s five principals examining each of them against historical examples. In order to do so we will be using Kashan’s old city compound that includes a wide range of buildings of different natures and functions, namely mosque, bazaar, madrasa and housings, etc. as examples. We shall also discuss briefly the validity of the five elements when applied to the modern architecture of the Muslim world.
Key words: Pirnia, Islamic architecture, Proportionality, Self-Sufficiency, Introversion