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View from Cairo.

Egyptian architecture is slowly turning green. Khaled Asfour, professor at the Misr International University, suggests that a combination of traditional architectural devices and new techniques could lead to much more civilized and energy aware buildings.

For many decades Egyptian practice has been entrenched in its limited understanding of what modern architecture means. 'Form follows function' is a design exercise that joggles spaces according to a technical understanding of the building programme. The slogan has eventually produced obviously degenerative environmental quality in living spaces, yet has become an unquestionable norm.

Despite this bleak introduction, Egyptian architecture is slowly turning green. Mohamed Abdel Gawad designed a student centre in Helwan University Campus with some consideration for the environment. The building has a patio around which are located amenity shops for the students. The design of the patio transcends the basic requirements of building programme by having a large wooden pergola over its open space. So students can freely stroll around the shops in a comfortable environment without feeling the direct heat of the sun during the day. More important, the addition of open corridors that directly overlook the patio ensures a bustling student life inside the building. Transparency of activity is obvious around this central open space where students can see one another and feel the sense of activity so characteristic of their teenage lifestyle. The building is green in the sense that it has succeeded in fusing the lively spirit of students on campus with the local environmental conditions on a daily basi s.

El Gazali Kessieba is another architect who believes in green architecture. In his Central Bank North Cairo Branch, he carried the idea further. The central atrium has vertical glass tubes acting as light well and hot air outlet. So there is no massive heat build-up inside, something so obvious but very rare in Egyptian practice.

Architects believe that by sealing the building the air-conditioned air is well preserved. But then they defy logic by covering their building facades by large glazed curtain wall usually without adequate sun breakers. The building may look modern, suitable for a corporate image, but the owner then has to pay for high consumption of cooling energy. In this case 'form follows nothing'.

El Gazali Kessieba in his design shows how to maintain the high profile of a corporate image without necessarily being environmentally degrading. The glass tubes on top of the atrium are annexed to a huge wind catcher that is expected to admit cool air from the north right into the central atrium. Right under the glass tubes is a hanging garden and behind the wind catcher is a roof garden with trees. All this becomes part of the corporate experience, a healthy look in the midst of sick building syndrome that is characteristic of many office buildings in Egypt.

Mohamed Awad is another architect who believes in healthy buildings. His design of Alyli Villa in Alexandria revives ideas that may be perceived as archaic. The architect was from the start eager to recycle local natural materials in construction. So stones acquired in the excavation process were reused in the paving of walkways and form the retaining slopes of the garden terraces. The natural sloping contour of the site was seen as an opportunity to place the house on elevated ground for better reception of winds. The presence of a courtyard together with thick cement-brick bearing walls ensures an internal comfortable environment especially in summer. The courtyard produces a stack effect through its glass roof that is opened to allow the escape of hot air, and hence initiate air movement inside the house. The draught touches the water surface of the indoor pool for further cooling effect - such an important feature for hot dry days of the region. Under the glass roof, a dome made of lattice woodwork is mou nted to reduce glare and direct sunlight inside the house. Rooms overlooking the courtyard upstairs have widely spaced lattice woodwork to allow for cross ventilation with facing windows. So the villa does not rely on mechanical air conditioning for cooling and thus does not contribute to global warming - an important issue that most Egyptian architects and clients are scarcely aware of.

Mohamed Al-Husseiny has added a new term to green architecture: green business. His design of Mahmya resort in Hurghada is the first project in Egypt to be built on a national reserve under strict ecological standards, while being at the same time a lucrative private investment.

The building materials used are carefully chosen to blend in with the environment without causing any damage. The parasols are made of Casuarina tree logs, and palms. Stairs leading from one level to another are made from local stones collected during the clearing of the site. The architect even avoided putting concrete on the ground, so bathrooms and kitchens arc raised on timber platforms some 20cm above the ground level. Water supply and drainage are in pipes buried in shallow trenches taking the natural slope of the land. Waste water is then collected in a container and shipped back to Hurghada mainland everyday.

Designing so closely with nature does not mean green architecture alone but green management as well. The workers are specially trained in how to maintain environmentally friendly measures while servicing the visitors. They sweep the hill tops, clean the sea shores, eradicate insects and collect waste everyday. Notwithstanding all these green measures, the owners boast that construction cost is 40 per cent that of the conventional resort.

I wish I could see more such projects in Egypt, I wish I could see their standards as part of the building code. By incorporating such standards in legislation Egypt will follow today's global environmental concerns, and revive ancient Egyptian practices.


In September, the Architectural Review will be devoted to architecture for the muses. We shall be looking in detail at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina by the international Norwegian-based practice Snohetta, which is previewed here (p 18). This heroic project celebrates the Great Library, founded in 288BC by Ptolemy I (Soter) as the first museum (temple to the muses), and brings scholarship into the electronic age. Also in the Middle East is Nyrens' cultural centre in Manger Square, Bethlehem, Palestine, where the new building is dedicated to cultural and religious tolerance, while reflecting on the fabric of the holy city. lgnacio Mendaro's historical archive in Toledo, Spain brilliantly invests a medieval building with new life. Szyszkowitz + Kowalski's cultural centre in Greith, Austria, continues the firm's inventive exploration of form and human perceptions, as does Bolles + Wilson's Luxor Theatre in Rotterdam. In contrast, Heikkenen-Komonen's film school in the outskirts of Helsinki strikes a much cooler not e, though as usual their work is suffused with Finnish sensuousness. As well as this varied main menu, we shall have our usual coverage of interior and product design, House and Delight. Buy this and 11 other wide-ranging and stimulating issues at a discount by using the subscription form bound into the magazine. Or use our secure website:
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Title Annotation:new architecture in Egypt
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Aug 1, 2001
Previous Article:Letters.
Next Article:Light box.

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