Architecture is not only the art of designing and construction but also a reflection of the time, society, culture, thoughts, and beliefs of and about the user. With time, it changes, adapts, and emerges out differently to tell the story of every human civilization era. The stories behind the designs remain sealed with the buildings, but the techniques carry forward for a long time. With its rich history and home to some of the earliest urban developments, Egyptian architecture has managed to keep such variant techniques alive. Egypt’s roots are tied to the Mediterranean, Africa, and the Middle East, and as noticed, the architecture here is shaped by the geography and the multicolor background.
Egyptian civilization was birthed on the banks of river Nile more than 3000 years ago and had a varied landscape ranging from the fertile land of river Nile to the arid Sahara Desert. There are significant fractions related to Egyptian architecture, from the Tombs and temples to pyramids, each serving their purpose and importance. Still, Egypt’s architecture has developed and adapted from its rich history, resulting in building projects with varying techniques in the last decade. With that, here are ten things to remember when designing in Egypt.
1. THE GEOGRAPHY
As described earlier, its geography primarily shapes Egyptian architecture. Various Architects and Architecture firms practice in a way that helps them preserve the ancient methods, which allows them to achieve a sense of sustainability and maintain a symbiotic relationship between the past and present. Such is the Wadi El Gemal Visitor Center by Egyptian Earth Construction Association. Located 50km south of the Egyptian Red Sea Shore town of Marsa Alam, Wadi El Gemal National Park (WGNP) is the 24th protectorate in Egypt, primarily due to its striking landscape and significant cultural resources. While the site is too remote, the location offers it a pristine character, cutting the area from any construction material. To design the building in a self-sustainable manner, architects used local building materials and low technology building techniques.
2. MATERIAL SELECTION
Scant tree growth prevented the extensive use of wood as a construction material, but because River Nile deposited fine clay, the ceramic arts developed early. Serene architecture emerged with the help of clay and reeds. Amongst other building materials, sun-dried and kiln bricks with fine sandstone, limestone and granite are also used extensively. Architects have started to upcycle, divert, and reuse local materials. This helps, not only in reviving a sense of vernacular in buildings, but also establishes the symbiotic relationship between the new and old in their manner.
Throughout the year, Egypt has a hot and arid climate with less to no chances of precipitation. Earlier, Egypt’s architecture showcased characteristic elements like flat roofs and fewer fenestrations on walls with immensely thick walls and confined columns. Today, architects work with a systematic approach and apply passive techniques in buildings.
4. USE OF BOLD GEOMETRY, LINES, AND SLICES
Basuna Mosque by Dar Arafa Architecture is a prominent example of bold yet serene geometry in architecture. The central dome is constructed using an Egyptian made light block made of sand, lime, and air. The dome is reimagined as an independent unit, not only with innovative functions, or structurally as roof systems, environmentally as a wind-catcher and skylight, but aesthetically as a separate geometrical object, appreciated from, both exterior and interior. The entrance dome references the historical dome of the Cordoba Grand Mosque. It serves as a reminder of historical architecture’s rich potential in architectural discourse and construction innovations.
5. USE OF SMALL OPENINGS AND FENESTRATIONS
As discussed, the climate was one of the major driving factors to shape the architecture in Egypt. Battling with extreme heat, the people of Egypt used techniques such as thick exterior walls, providing smaller openings on the façade, etc. to reduce the space’s impacts. Although the thick external wall practice has been replaced due to the provision of new techniques and materials, small openings are still noticed in many towers.
6. USE OF PASSIVE DEVICES FOR PROVISION OF THERMAL COMFORT
As described earlier, Egypt falls under the hot, dry/arid climatic zones of the world. High temperatures and almost no rain characterize this climatic zone. In ancient times, the people of Egypt resorted to traditional passive controlling methods to induce thermal comfort. The passive devices such as Courtyards, Malkaf, Mushrabiya, Salsabil, Taktaboosh are marked by perfect responsiveness to the climatological pressures they endure.
According to Fathy, the passive cooling devices that can enhance the state of thermal comfort inside buildings are :
Sahn Ihosh: The Courtyard
Malqaf: A windcatcher.
Nafora: The Fountain
Shesh: The Venetian blinds
Taktaboosh: A covered outdoor sitting area at ground level.
Mashrabiya: open wooden lattice screens.
Rasha/taka: A small opening at an upper level of a wall
Salsabil: A water-fed cooling plate
Shuksheika: The vented or fenestrated lantern over the main hall.
7. PRESERVATION AND EXTENSION OF THE HISTORICAL HERITAGE
Egypt’s rich history and culture are a strong basis for how the architecture has formed throughout the centuries. Maintaining the same in today’s time, might not seem necessary, but is a way to enhance the sense of the ancient into the modern. Cheops Observatory residence by Studio Malka Architecture is the best example for the same. Located on the plateau of Giza Necropolis, the old site was found in the 7th century by desert tribes fascinated by the Pyramids. A modern yet closely sustaining the ancient ideas in 2020, Cheops Observatory is also an artist’s Residence and a gateway at the desert entrance. Local construction techniques are an essential part of the project. The facades use the accumulation of raw earth bricks and recycled traditional windows. The observatory was built in alignment with the pyramid Khufu, the oldest, largest, and the only seven wonders of the world still standing today. It creates a dialogue with its surroundings, between local vernacular and ready-made architecture, generating a sensory space.
8. STRONGER SENSE OF REGIONAL BELONGING
This particular point aims towards integrating the new and the old, in a manner where the built form acts as a living agent with its context. This can be identified with Dawar El Ezba Cultural Center by Ahmed Hossam Saafan. Dawar is a social enterprise located in Cairo’s heart in Ezbet Khairallah, one of the largest informal settlements in Cairo. The building generates a dialogue as a breathing agent because of rethinking the building resources amongst metal and wood workshops existing in the neighborhood. The design features imply a sustainable trajectory; the building also acts as a vibrant landmark and a revitalizing cultural agent.
9. TRADITIONAL ORNAMENTING TECHNIQUES
The history of Egyptian architecture showcases the world’s most artistic techniques. Architectural elements like columns and piers were covered with hieroglyphic and pictorial carvings in brilliant colors. Many Egyptian ornament motifs are symbolic and Egyptian sculptures possessed the highest capacity for integrating ornamentation and fundamental forms of building. Using such intricate carving techniques and designs in today’s context can help connect the past and the present, also helping to increase the sense of regional belonging, as mentioned above.
10. APPROACH TOWARDS METABOLIC LIFE OF MATERIALS
Egypt is characterized by the abundant River Nile and the deserts surrounding the other ends. The paradox one faces in the 21st century is the optimum use of natural resources. For this, Architects Islam Mashtooly and Mouaz Abouzaid along with Steven Velegrinis, Drew Gilbert & Abdelrahman Magdy have unveiled “Aqueducts as Lifelines,” their vision for the future of Cairo. The central idea is to connect people with water; the city shall be laid with a series of lines and paths to act as a catalyst for development.