Geometric flooring inspired by Islamic art

The ancient art of geometric design meets modern technology in the work of the UAE-based Nomad Inception.
A parquet floor design by the UAE-based Nomad Inception. Jorge Ferrari
A parquet floor design by the UAE-based Nomad Inception. Jorge Ferrari

Geometric patterns have played a part in Islamic-inspired decorative arts since at least the eighth century. Complex and beautiful, they are visible in an architectural heritage that spans the Islamic world – from southern Spain, across North Africa, into the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.

Traditionally, they are the work of artisans – craftspeople who have honed their trade over decades and seen their decorative visions rendered in ceramic, stone, wood and metal. While the skills of these craftspeople may be mimicked by the methods of modern manufacturing, they are rarely replicated, with many contemporary versions being simple repeated patterns that lack the depth and complexity of the art’s origins.

However, technology, invention and ingenuity have opened the door of this ancient craft – part-art, part-science – to the sphere of modern design, thanks to the work of two brothers from Argentina. Julian and Luis Molina started their careers in the world of information technology, but found a personal passion in design and architecture. After travels in Spain and across North Africa, they found themselves inspired by the intricate works of geometric design they found there.

“We were fascinated by what we saw,” explains Julian. “What caught our attention was that craftspeople were still using metal-age tools to produce their works. For instance, when you see craftspeople in Morocco, they are still cutting these thumbnail-size pieces of ceramic using a hammer and chisel.”

Inspired by the delicate and detailed work of these artisans, performed with simple tools and centuries of amassed knowledge, the brothers brought their technological expertise to bear on the ancient art form. The result is Nomad Inception, a UAE-based company where designers, artists, scientists and technologists share a passion for geometric design.

With Nomad Inception, the brothers have set out to create ­architectural products inspired by Islamic arts. By combining their technological know-how with the art form, they have developed a system of computational design that allows them to create huge non-periodic patterns. Put simply, this means any pattern they create never repeats itself. Instead, it spreads out from its central point into infinite diversity.

“The technology that we have developed allows us to reach the goal of covering a large area, with a non-repetitive pattern,” explains Julian. “We don’t create a simple pattern and then use it over and over to cover a whole surface.

“We create a pattern that keeps growing all the time and never stops. It is a completely different order of magnitude in terms of complexity because you keep designing the composition as you move out from the centre. That’s the great thing about it.”

After researching for years, the brothers realised that the craftspeople behind geometric ­designs had always tried to make larger and larger non-repeating patterns. “In the history of the art form, the most experienced craftspeople were the ones who could build the largest patterns,” says Julian. “It’s something that has a value, because people have been pursuing it for a long time, trying to enlarge the patterns they were designing and make them more complex.”

Without that advantage of modern technology, their efforts were sometimes limited, but the scope and scale of what Nomad Inception can achieve is considerably greater. “We follow every rule of the art form and we use the full power of modern computers to calculate the mathematics behind these patterns,” says Julian. “We create the program, then it is the program itself that makes the actual patterns. You create all the rules, which are built into the code and then, by playing around with certain parameters, you can get different results.”

The Molina brothers are teaming this technical breakthrough with the design skills of Jay Bonner, Eric Broug and Jean-Marc Castera to generate designs and products that are guaranteed to make an impact in interiors around the Gulf. Hardwood parquet flooring was the first product to be launched by the company and was a natural fit for the detailed patterns that the team at Nomad Inception is capable of creating. The next product line under development – Julian says it’s 80 per cent there – is ­gypsum board. Once in production, wall and ceiling panels will also be able to take on the depth and detail of the company’s design work. “The rest of the products are still at the idea stage. But after gypsum will come glass and eventually stone,” Julian reveals.

Early in 2015, the company will open its first showroom, to let consumers see the possibilities for their homes and offices first-hand, although Julian says they are welcome to a factory tour in the meantime. In addition, some of the company’s first installations will bring locations to life early in the new year.

These are the results of a research project that has taken a couple of years to bring to life. Julian says the UAE was a natural home for the business thanks to the strength of the local market, the importance of Islamic design in the region and the country’s role as a gateway to other GCC states. “After developing the first computer systems, we were able to produce the patterns and we started thinking about the business model that could accompany the project,” he says.

“We first thought of running a design consultancy. We talked to people in the architecture world and found that many of the people designing projects [in the Gulf] don’t have a deep understanding of geometric patterns. But everyone wants to use them because they understand they are a part of the local culture.”

While working with interested architecture practices was a starting point for the business, the brothers didn’t want to wait for years to see their work actually implemented. It was at this point that they looked at creating their own product lines. Since then their ideas have developed further and they are now creating design kits, which contain a collection of image maps and 3-D blocks ready to be used in AutoCAD, 3D Studio Max or any other computer-aided design software package. “Architects and interior designers may use our images and blocks to implement our products into their own concepts,” says Julian. “For example, adding one of our floors to an interior space is as simple as importing the corresponding 3-D block into the 3-D scene developed by the consultant. Thus, the design professional doesn’t really need to understand much about geometric patterns or handle complex geometry. In addition, every image map and 3-D block in the library is linked to the specification sheet of the product, so that the design professional can easily add the relevant bits of information to the project’s documents. The idea is that we can offer designers elements to embellish with and to have it specified before construction, so they and their clients know how it is going to be implemented.”

Whether it is seen as a decorative art or a mathematical science, such non-periodic geometric designs are both beautiful and impressive. Even Julian can’t decide which aspect he likes best. “It’s the mathematics, geometry and the science behind it that makes the beauty impressive,” he says.

Published: December 25, 2014 04:00 AM


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