Press release

Article by Agnes Patuano and Francisca Lima (University of Edinburgh)

Published on
March 22, 2021

Title: The fractal dimension of Islamic and Persian four-folding gardens.

Since Benoit Mandelbrot (1924–2010) coined the term “fractal” in 1975, mathematical theories of fractal geometry have deeply influenced the fields of landscape perception, architecture, and technology. Indeed, their ability to describe complex forms nested within each other, and repeated towards infinity, has allowed the modelling of chaotic phenomena such as weather patterns or plant growth. Some human-designed patterns such as the ones developed by Islamic cultures have been found to follow similar principles of hierarchy, symmetry, and repetition. However, the application of these principles in the design of gardens is an underexplored field. This paper presents a comparative exploration of the four-fold garden design model—the chahár-bágh—typical of Persian and Islamic garden design by analysing two case studies: Taj Mahal and Isfahan’s city plan. This four-fold pattern is known to not only have a religious reading but to be also linked with ideals of fair distribution. Using an innovative compositional fractal analysis inspired by architecture, our results demonstrate that these gardens contain a high level of self-replication and scale invariance and that they exhibit a high fractal dimension. The novel application of this method of analysis to historical landscape plans allows us to assess to what extent fractal concepts were already in use before the European Renaissance and Mandelbrot’s explorations, and to speculate on their symbolism in the context of Islamic and Persian garden design. Specifically, we conclude that the fractal characteristics of these gardens might be intended as a representation of the infinite divine but also of principles of fairness and equality. Moving forward, this approach could be applied to design spaces, namely in the infrastructural design of the urban fabric, which are both meaningful and environmentally just.

Link to article in the journal Humanities & Social Sciences Communications.