Vol. 14, No. 1 (page 1)


A Unit of Study

Have you ever looked at a honey comb and thought about how it reminds you of the consistent pattern you see in the tiles on a floor? Have you wondered what this process is called? How it is made? Or where the idea came from? Well the design of the honey comb and the designs that the floor tiles make are called regular tessellations. The history of tessellations dates back to the early Greeks. The word “tessellate” is derived from the Ionic version of the Greek word “tesseres,” which in English means “four.” The first tilings were made from square tiles. The Greeks actually used small quadrilateral tiles as tokens in their games. These tiles then were taken and used to make mosaic pictures on walls, floors, and ceilings.

Artists and designers have been using tessellating designs for thousands of years in every thing from floor tiles, to carpets, metalwork, quilting, and stained glass. They can be traced all the way back to the Sumerian civilization (about 4000 B.C.) The most striking use of tessellations in designs come from the Moorish artists. Between 700 and 1500, they used mosaic designs because the Islamic religion forbade the artists to include representational objects in the decoration of religious monuments. Since these artists could not represent people, animals, or other objects in religious monuments, they were limited to linear designs and geometric patterns for ornamentation.

M.C. Escher was inspired by the Moorish mosaic designs he encountered at the Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain when he visited the palace in 1923. However, rather than limiting himself to abstract designs of the Moorish artists, he began warping geometric shapes into the forms of birds, reptiles, fish, and people. Escher used triangles, squares, and hexagons in his tessellations, applying reflections, translations, and rotations to obtain a greater variety of patterns.


This lesson describes the historical and cultural significance of the patterns in the Islamic tile work at the Alhambra Palace. Students will recognize the influence of cultural history and geometric concepts in both the decorative tile work of Islamic craftsmen, and the graphic design of the artist M.C. Escher.

Note: The target audience for this unit is fifth grade. This grade level was selected because the math concepts in the lesson reflect those required by Texas Knowledge and Skills for the fifth grade level.


Overview of Lessons:..2
Lesson 1: Islamic Patterns and M.C. Escher’s Tessellations..p. 4
Lesson 2: Geometry and Graphic Design ..p.7
Lesson 3: Geometric Design and Tessellation..p. 10


Islamic Tile Designs
Shapes within a Circle
Geometric Design Example, Triangle
Geometric Design Example, Hexagon
Geometry in Islamic Design


Geometric Shapes, Triangles
Geometric Shapes, Quadrilaterals
Circle Templates
Tessellation Chart


Star Patterns
Islamic Star Design Demo: Macromedia Flash, HTML Slideshow
(Netscape users: Netscape 6 does not support Macromedia Flash. You may use Netscape 7 or 4.5, Internet Explorer recommended.)


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