Intricate geometric design patterns are a touchstone of Islamic art and architecture. From the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, to the Great Mosque of Damascus to the fragments discovered in Abbasid ruins in Samarra.
An enduring explanation for the details is said to have arisen from religious laws which forbade the depiction of the human form as those representations were regarded as an attempt by men to compete with the work of God.
The author Maryam Montague noted in her book, Marrakesh by Design, that one ancient Islamic edict was quite clear on the consequences of trying to one-up the deity. It read:
"Painters will be among those whom God will punish most severely on the Judgment Day for imitating creation."
And so geometric progressions of shapes, stars, calligraphy and octagons were taken up as the decorative building blocks of Islamic architectural creation to avoid a nasty meeting with the Chief Architect at the end of the line.
Now designer Mark Leonard has used 3D printing to fashion an intricate and mathematically precise ceiling applique for Aztec Scenic Design which serves to bridge the space between Islamic tradition and the latest technology.
A specialist in Islamic art, scholar Wijdan Ali, wrote in his book The Arab Contribution to Islamic Art,that the patterns are linked to both philosophy and mathematics.
"The pattern of the arabesque, without a beginning or an end, portrays this sense of infinity, and is the best means to describe in art the doctrine of tawhid, or Divine Unity," Ali wrote.
Leonard designed his take on that "Divine Unity" using Autodesk 123D 3D and 123D Design before exporting it to MeshMixer to finalize the 3D models for printing.
"The clients at this home are Islamic and asked for the ceiling to look somewhat traditional Islamic," Leonard said. "Benjamin Cremer is one of our guys that came up with the original sketch that I based my work on."
Leonard used a Makerfarm Prusa I3 printer with 3mm ABS filament to make the pieces for his ceiling. The I3 has a relatively modest 8x8x8 inch build volume, so to create the necessary elements of the project, Leonard said each piece was broken down into a "puzzle" to fit within the machine's build volume. The finished pieces were then glued together and completed via a process which included 10 to 15 layers of various primers, fillers, glue, gold leaf, paint, and clearcoats.
"We ended up with somewhere around 300 prints – not including the massive amount of fails," Leonard says. "I didn't sleep much, or do anything other than 3D print, for about three weeks total. The install was crazy. Every section was puzzled out to manageable sized pieces. So imagine putting together a gigantic puzzle... on a ceiling ... that's curved. The (installation) process took two days, and the homeowners are very pleased."
And according to Leonard, the entire project was one of those moments when the tool set perfectly fit the intended end product.
"I've been decorative theme sculpting for many years now, and when 3D printers came around I knew I had to have one – and that it would mesh perfectly with what I do," Leonard said. "I first learned of 3D printers from the Giant Robot Project on Youtube. That guy's my hero, and I first learned 3D modeling with Blender."