Сapillary pattern vs. traditional Moroccan ornament


1.Thorny Devil’s skin close-up. (c)Heather Angel/naturalvisions.co.uk/ Arkive, http://www.arkive.org 2.Facade detail in La Sultana in Marrakech, author unknown, via Pinterest

By Polina Moroz, February 2016.

First association with the site of our future project is its mesmerizing paternity. Zellige (enamel tilework), muqarnas (three-dimensional geometric designs), banna’i (glazed tiles, alternated with plain bricks) are just a few among traditional decorative techniques one sees everywhere in local architecture. According to a painter and art historian Wijdan Ali “the proliferation of arabesque abstract decoration enhances a quality that could only be attributed to God, namely, His irrational infinity” (The Arab Contribution to islamic Art, 2000)(1).

However, what other functions besides symbolism and aesthetic pleasure could be derived to those patterns? Leaving aside an instance of Mashrabiya, carved window wooden screens, examples could be drawn from pattern analogues in the animal world.

Texas horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum), with the southwestern US origin and the Australian thorny devil (Moloch horridus) have one thing in common. Both species use their spiky skin not only for defense reasons. Honeycomb-like scale structures form a complex network of micro-channels (2). They serve to collect and transport water in the mouth direction. Moloch horridus (pic.1) directs water flow from its belly or legs, while Phrynosomta cornutum (pic.2), having visibly flattered back, collects dew and raindrops.

Scientific experiment with replicating lizard’s scale structure in plastic demonstrated that the air humidity condensation is improved on this surface by about 100% in comparison to unstructured surfaces. This allows the animals to collect moisture with their entire body surface without significant water uptake through the skin itself. Furthermore micro ornamentation provides a superhydrophilic surface, and what’s most amazing — passive and directed! water movement. (2)

Screenshot 2016-02-03 00.22.47

Adapted from Sherbrooke 2007, “Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles” Laurie J. Vitt,Janalee P. Caldwell

Created with GIMP

Semi-thin histological sections through the integument of Phrynosoma cornutum. Black: spaces of the capillary system, due to overlapping scales. Different dimensions and wall morphologies can be observed. Adapted from Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology, 2011


Capilary structure

Principle of ‘interconnection’ (a) A drop is soaked into the structure by capillary forces. (b) The liquid coming through the interconnection picks up the stopped liquid in capillary I) and forms a new free liquid front. Thereafter, the liquid is transported through a second interconnection into capillary II), where the stopped liquid is picked up. (c) Advancing water droplet on a biomimetic prototype. Adapted from the Royal Society, “Directional, passive liquid transport: the Texas horned lizard as a model for a biomimetic ‘liquid diode’”

Asymmetric capillaries enable directional liquid transport, while interconnections help the liquid to extend the transport distance(4).

Efficiency of this passive water flow principle in large scale construction yet to be investigated. However, natural structure incorporated into traditional facade ornaments brings images of new ways of court gardens watering and evaporative air cooling systems.


Concept collage by Polina Moroz, 2016

Links and Resources:

  1. “The Aesthete: Exploring Geometric Patterns in Islamic Art”  by Mitchell Owens for AD
  2. “Moisture harvesting and water transport through specialized micro-structures on the integument of lizards “ Philipp Comanns1Christian Effertz2Florian Hischen1Konrad Staudt1Wolfgang Böhme3 and Werner Baumgartner. © 2011 Comanns et al; licensee Beilstein-Institut
  3. “Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles”  Laurie J. Vitt,Janalee P. Caldwell

  4. The Royal Society publishing, “Directional, passive liquid transport: the Texas horned lizard as a model for a biomimetic ‘liquid diode’” Philipp ComannsGerda BuchbergerAndreas BuchsbaumRichard BaumgartnerAlexander KoglerSiegfried BauerWerner Baumgartner,

  5. Thorny Devil water transport video
  6. Lizard’s water-funnelling skin copied in the lab”  



photo by Robert Clark/National Geographic



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