Buildings and decoration: scheme of work

The activities outlined below can either be used together to form a unit of work or as a series of discrete activities enabling the theme to be explored in greater depth.

With reference to architecture in the Arab world and Middle East, students will explore the theme of buildings and decoration.

Buildings and decoration sketchbook


Discover the Arab World image cards - Buildings and decoration: pdf (365 kb)
- Oriental scene
- Appliqué hanging for the doorway of a tent
- Print of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

The Arabic script: pdf (95 kb)
Calligraphy sheet: pdf (80 kb)
Buildings and decoration presentation: ppt (3.2 Mb)
Website of artist Taha Al-Hiti (Click on rosettes at the top of the homepage to view Taha's gallery)
See the further resources section for other useful websites and support materials

Materials: pencils, charcoal, coloured pencils, ink, paint, card, clay


In this unit, students will:

  • create their own colourful relief panel incorporating architectural and decorative elements
  • develop an awareness of the key decorative elements and techniques used in the traditional art and architecture of the Arab world and Middle East
  • reflect on factors determining the planning, design and decoration of buildings in their own locality and elsewhere in the world


Project the Print of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and highlight the architectural features and styles represented among the Islamic buildings on the Temple Mount.

Using the Appliqué hanging for the doorway of a tent, ask the students to identify and discuss the decorative elements used in the traditional art and architecture of the Arab world and Middle East. Focus on calligraphy, geometry and foliation and explain why these forms of decoration in particular developed across the Islamic world.

Introduce the unit task – students are to develop their own decorative relief panel.

Activity 1

Look over the Arabic script page of the Discover the Arab World booklet and discuss the Arabic alphabet and styles of script. Ask the students to use this information and the Calligraphy sheet to make a series of studies of Arabic letterforms in their sketchbooks.

Activity 2

Show the buildings and decoration presentation to the class. Ask them to use this, the internet and relevant books to make a series of studies of the decorative elements and techniques used on buildings in the Arab world and Middle East. They could include calligraphy, geometric patterns, plant-forms and arabesques, tile-work, moulded plaster, carved stone, stone inlay, decorative brickwork and gilding.

Activity 3

Ask the students to look at buildings in the local area and sketch/photograph:

  • interesting parts of buildings (columns, doors, window frames, roofs)
  • brick, stonework and other building materials, emphasising pattern
  • the detail of surface decoration or texture (lintels, rendering or low-relief decoration)
  • the shadows and forms of moulding or carving

Activity 4

Compare and contrast buildings from different times and places. Ask students to examine and discuss:

  • how design might be linked to function, technological developments, contemporary trends in building construction, local materials, cost and skills available
  • how decoration on buildings contributes to its function
  • the use of different visual and tactile qualities (eg medieval Islamic decoration compared with that of Victorian England)
  • how geometric and organic shapes are used
  • how circles and spheres are used

Activity 5

Look at the decorative elements used on the Appliqué hanging for the doorway of a tent and the form of Dia al-Azzawi’s Oriental scene. Ask the students to develop a relief panel, combining elements of calligraphy and architectural detail as researched earlier. The students can use layers of card or slabs of clay to create the forms.


Once they have completed the work, the students should write up and evaluate the process, explaining the significance of their buildings and decoration piece.