Month: August 2010

Creativity in the Perspective of Islamic Architecture: A case of dealing positively with constraints and limitations

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Presented in Artepolis 3 International Conference on Creative Collaboration and the Making of Place: Bandung, 22-24 July 2010


From ancient cultures to modern civilizations across the world, we can evidently see traces of creativity in every human-made object. Creativity has taken an important place in the process of creating new objects or producing new ideas. Creativity also has affected a large part of our today’s lives through innovations and inventions in technology, art, science, etc. Therefore, creativity can be considered as a key to the development of our civilization.

Despite the importance of creativity, the definition of creativity itself is vague and complex (Robinson, 2008: 3). There is a lack of agreement about what the term creativity means. Torrance note that some definitions are formulated in terms of a product, while others are formulated in terms of a process, a kind of person, or a set of conditions (Torrance in Robinson, 2008: 3). In general, creativity is often described as an ability in making something uncommon, or something common in an uncommon way.  In other words, creativity is an ability to use the imagination to develop new and original ideas or things, especially in an artistic context (Encarta Dictionaries, 2008). According to Webster’s Dictionary the definition of creativity is artistic or intellectual inventiveness. Creativity is marked by the ability or power to create or bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to produce through imaginative skill, to make or bring into existence something new (Robinson, 2008: 6). Random House Webster’s College Dictionary 2nd Edition even stated that creativity is defined as “the ability to create meaningful new forms, etc.” (Robinson, 2008: 6).

Unfortunately, this lack of adequate definition of creativity has also affected in the way people practicing it. In architecture, the above Random House’s definition of creativity is often misunderstood as an ability to make certain unusual or distinct shapes and forms of buildings. The more eye-catching and striking the building, the more creative the architect will be judged by his surroundings. This kind of mindset may lead to a destructive competition between architects in order to create new amazing buildings with the intention of seeking fame or recognition from others. Nowadays, we can easily set our eyes on those kinds of buildings all over the world. They are designed and built with a hidden agenda to flourish the image of their owners and architects.

Furthermore, this definition of creativity as an ability to create meaningful new forms is also frequently associated with freedom of expressions. Some architects and artists love to use these phrases to justify their ‘unique’ and eccentric designs. One of the mainstream in art is also known by their l’art pour l’art jargon. This jargon reflected their disputes on limitations, whether by law, morality, religion, or anything else outside art itself, in their creativity process. Faisal Ismael, for example, mentioned in his book, Paradigma Kebudayaan Islam, that one of the effects of  correlating art and religion is  the limitation of freedom and creativity in art itself (Ismael, 1996: 65-66).  This statement indicates that there are certain way of thinking that considers constraints as a bound for creativity.

Such opinions, even in some sort of situations are quite tolerable, seem to indicate problems when creativity has to deal with constraints or limitations. Constraints, as has been generally known, are never absent in any circumstances of design. Unfortunately, architects and artists, consciously or unconsciously, often perceived constraints or limitations as a bound for their creativity in design. This mindset takes effect in negative attitude towards constraints as opposed to creativity. Thus, the negative perspective will strike their mind and influence the way they face those constraints along the process of design.

This paper is intended to show that both constraint and creativity are conjoined in a positive notion. Islamic architecture is used as a viewpoint, because in the perspective of Islamic architecture, there is no such thing called total freedom. When we talk about Islamic architecture, we will have to deal with some constraints that arised from Islamic values and worldview. It is noteworthy to explore how Islamic architecture can be developed creatively while people think that there are so many constraints in this field of study.

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Introducing Dr. M. Alaa Mandour’s book

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The failure of many formal solutions for low income housing has often been the lack of understanding of the informal phenomenon which is an alternative to those excluded from the formal housing market.

The informal sector represent a solution that appears to deny conventional planning orthodoxy, and clearly the priorities of this sector are not those of the municipal authorities. The way they shape their environment is often completely different than what is shaped for them. Space takes precedence over permanence and use defines need: a porch may be build before a bathroom, an adjoining work place may be more important than a private bedroom and outdoor seating may be constructed before an enclosed space. This apparent inversion of values is especially evident in the public spaces.

A new set of settlement standards needs to be accommodated, rather than to merely reorganize. They should reflect the reality -sometimes harsh -of the urban poor, and they should respond to “real” requirements not to an idealized set of criteria.

VDM-Publisher, Germany, ISBN 978-3-639-27055-6-Congress Library

Availabe in market  August 2010, online Amazon.