Manu Sobti & Mohammad Gharipour



The Hues of Paradise–Examining Color Design Layout in the Persian Garden

Historical research has revealed tantalizing glimpses of Islamic garden environments through the course of time. While differing in arrangement and ensemble, context and patronage, all were salubrious environments par excellence, intended explicitly for the purposes of repose and enjoyment. But even the most detailed historical descriptions do little to provide the complete reconstruction of how these gardens may have actually engaged the visitor or interlocutor. How did these environments specifically provide the unique sensory stimuli that combined the senses? How and which colors were observed, what fragrances and aromas provided paradisiacal bliss? In its focus on ‘reconstructing experience’ in the garden environment, this paper argues that such spatial and particularly experiential reconstructions would necessitate a specific examination of color prevalent in the plant materials employed in these garden layouts. Towards this goal, it examines suggestions for color schemes, planting combinations and design specifications within the proposed layouts of two historical gardens through extant manuals and manuscripts. Capturing the unique space-time continuum of an expanding Islamic world, the first was located on its eastern fringes of the Timurid ecumenae in 16th century Herat, known today through its agricultural manual the Irshad al-Zira’a. While Heravi’s description may have been imaginary and therefore reflected an idealized Timurid garden, it is nevertheless tempting to employ it as a possible ‘recipe’ for color palettes in the natural environment. Located westwards was the second and quintessentially Safavid Sa’adat Abad, built by Shah Tamasp in 17th century Qazvin, now known through the Jannat Al-Asmar. Few studies have specifically examined these manuals for insights on the use of color within the landscaped environment, and how the arrangement of plants, flowers, fruits, and design elements may have potentially been based on an overarching ‘color’ master plan. The change of seasons, gardening conventions, plant species, patronage and upkeep would have radically altered how these environments progressively blossomed and withered away. This research seeks to enhance some of these intriguing vignettes and propose a series of reconstructions that encompass descriptions of magical hue within the garden environment.

MANU P. SOBTI is an Islamic architecture and urban historian, currently teaching design and architectural history at the School of Architecture & Urban Planning (SARUP), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Sobti’s current research focuses on the urban historical genesis of early-medieval Islamic cities along the Silk Road and in the Indian Subcontinent. In recognition for his work, he has received several awards, including the Center for 21st Century Studies Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2009), travel grants from the National Council for East European and Eurasian Studies in Seattle (2009), a research and development grant from the Graham Foundation of the Arts in Chicago (2008), research grants from the French Institute for Central Asian Studies in Tashkent (2003), the Michael Ventris Memorial Award from Architectural Association School in London (2001) and the Aga Khan Fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge (1993–95). He has published widely in journals, books and monographs, and presented his research at more than 40 national and international venues. He is currently working on a book entitled The Sliver of the Oxus Borderland: Medieval Cultural Encounters between the Arabs and Persians (Brill Publications, expected Fall, 2010). Sobti also directs an intensive India Study Abroad Program, joining students from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee USA, CEPT Ahmedabad INDIA, CCA Chandigarh INDIA and recently the Chinese University in Hong Kong.

Raised in the historic city of Isfahan, MOHAMMAD GHARIPOUR received his Ph.D. in Architectural Theory and History from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2008 and Masters of Architecture from the University of Tehran in 2000. He currently teaches landscape and architectural history at the College of Art and Architecture, University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His areas of research include Japanese traditional and contemporary architecture, Persianate gardens and architecture, and restorative environments. As the recipient of Spiro Kostof fellowship award from the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) in 2008. Dr. Gharipour’s articles include “The Achaemenid Contribution to the History of Garden Design” Middle Eastern & North African Intellectual and Cultural Studies (Binghamton University, 2006); “Light as The Definer of Spaces in Kahn’s Kimbell Museum,” Essays on American Art and Architecture, ed. Robert Sheardy (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), “Healing Gardens: An Examination of the Relationship between Healing and Natural Environment” The Journal of Environmental Studies (2005); and “Pure House X&Y: A Comparative Study on the Influences of Climate, Social Context, and Cultural Behavior in the Design of Sukiya and Safavid Houses,” Architecture Asia (2004).

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