Saturday, October 09, 2010

Museum of Islamic Art (Qatar) and Ibn Tulun Mosque (Cairo)

Diane and I had a wonderful time during our Eid Al Fitr trip to Egypt. This was a life-long dream for both of us and we were not disappointed. There are so many things about which I could comment that it's hard to determine where to start. Until I reflect a bit more, enjoy the Picassa album of Egyptian pictures posted on my "Pursuing Leadership" blog.

One of the highlights of our trip was an off-script surprise - one we pursued on our last day in Cairo and without the help of a tour guide. Yes, we braved the traffic congestion of Cairo to seek out the Ibn Tulun Mosque in the Islamic section. The reason - to see what inspired I.M. Pei to create the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar, the last public/monumental architectural creation of one of the great creative geniuses of the 20th century.

The Ibn Tulun Mosque was built in the 9th century and is the oldest continuously operating Mosque in Egypt. No wonder Pei was mesmerized by the openness, balance, and void of this beautiful place. The Pei design captures the feel of the interior courtyard of the Mosque with the Ablution Fountain in the middle. To see how closely these buildings resemble each other, first look at the exterior image of Ibn Tulun to the right:

Now look at the exterior of the Museum of Islamic Art below:

The interior of Ibn Tulun is composed of receding geometric shapes rising to the top of the Ablution Fountain:

The interior of the Museum of Islamic Art uses the same approach with the geometric shapes turning inside one another, rising into an almost infinite space:

It is fascinating to me how literal Pei was in using Ibn Tulun Mosque as his inspiration for what some believe may be his finest culturally-derived piece of architecture. As you can see by these pictures, the insides and outsides of both MIA and Ibn Tulun reflect a serene beauty that is seldom matched elsewhere.

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