Hexagons: The structural possibilities of a uniform shape

The geometry of Islamic arts is undoubtedly a fascinating thing in itself, but to me it felt even more interesting exploring one geometric shape in particular. A hexagon is not a particularly exciting shape generally. Its regularity and inability to combine pattern-wise creates impenetrable boundaries when it comes to explore its possibilities as a shape. What is interesting, though, is using those boundaries as a resource. To push the hexagon into becoming something else without losing its structural capabilities.


Mashrabiya window, mostly based on a hexagonal pattern.


In geometry, the hexagon is naturally sprung from the circle and how equally sized circles create a specific patterned formation. Within Islamic culture geometry has been highly important symbolically, with each geometric form having its own spiritual meaning. For example the circle is perfect without beginning or end. It could be seen as the foundation of all other geometry.



From circle to hexagon.

Arguably, it’s because of this the hexagon is not only one of the earliest occurring geometric forms found decorating an Islamic building (The Mosque of Ibn-Tulun from 879, Egypt), it is also a shape relatively commonly found in nature.



Mashrabiya window in the Mosque of Ibn-Tulun


A beehive with double-layered cells for extra stability.









Recent studies imply that bees build round cells when extending their honeycomb, but that physical forces connecting the wax drags them into hexagons.



A bubble raft is most commonly used within scientific research on atomic behavior.


Similar to the bubble raft where the bubbles arrange in a surprisingly accurate hexagonal pattern with most angles at 120 grader. Furthermore – of all geometric forms hexagons create the largest inner space with the least amount of material needed.



Formstelle Office, Töging am Inn. Format Elf Architecten 2013.


Contemporary Art Centre, Cordoba. Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos 2013.

These previous examples of hexagons used in facades are relatively two-dimensional. The interesting thing about them, though, is the reason they look the way they do. The Formstelle Office uses this metal cladding to prevent excess sunlight (Much like the Mashrabiyas in Islamic culture) while the museum by Nieto Sobejano creates an outside made by hexagonal shapes turned into block-like façade components.

With inspiration from this, how could a hexagonal façade component look in a desert climate? And why?


A ceramic, stackable wine holder.


The image above is a wine rack in terracotta. What’s interesting about this wine rack is first of all that it stands solid on its own. The shape can store things inside it and at the same time keep the temperature of the goods at bay because of its material. Terracotta has very good insulating properties. Perhaps this simple principle of shape and material in collaboration could create something not only beneficial for alcoholic drinks, but for humans.


A simple diagram showing possible forms of a hexagonal block.


With only a slight modification.

With the structural stability of the hexagonal shape, the next thing to explore here is how this could possibly look three-dimensionally. However, the possibilities are more or less endless. Why would they look a certain way – is it because of sunlight or wind or thermal qualities? Could they be angled in different directions and still achieve the initial stability?


Ball, P. (2016). Why Nature Prefers Hexagons.
http://nautil.us/issue/35/boundaries/why-nature-prefers-hexagons [2016-09-12]

Demir, G. & Gamm, N. (2010). Geometric designs central to Islamic art, architecture.
http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=the-search-for-unity-8211-geometric-patterns-in-islam-2010-07-16  [2016-09-16]

Libelium. (2016). Reading Beehives.
http://www.libelium.com/temperature-humidity-and-gases-monitoring-in-beehives/ [2016-09-14]

Nazzi, F. (2016). The hexagonal shape of the honeycomb cells depends on the construction behavior of bees. Scientific Reports.
http://www.nature.com/articles/srep28341 [2016-09-14]

Salaam (2016). Islamic Patterns & Geometry.
http://www.salaam.co.uk/themeofthemonth/march02_index.php?l=3 2016-09-14]




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