Egyptian architecture came under either the direct influence of the work of foreign architects working in Egypt, or the indirect impact of Western architectural publications as well as the influence of Egyptian scholars trained in Europe. This resulted in the loss of a sense of identity on the part of Egyptian architects and in the nationÂ’s architecture.
Egyptian architecture came under either the direct influence of the work of foreign architects working in Egypt, or the indirect impact of Western architectural publications as well as the influence of Egyptian scholars trained in Europe. This resulted in the loss of a sense of identity on the part of Egyptian architects and in the nation’s architecture.
During the early ages of Islam, the sultan (ruler) gave the responsibility of building mosques and palaces to foreign architects. These architects merged into the local environment and interacted with the local laborers. Although Egyptian Islamic architecture was the product of foreign thoughts, it was built by Egyptian laborers and expressed local and regional features. When Muhammad Ali Basha ruled Egypt (1805-1848), on the contrary, its architecture was designed by foreign architects and exhibited alien architectural features. This phenomenon has increased from the time of Khedive Ismail (1863-1879) right up to the present day.
From 1910 onward Egyptian architects began to have a tangible role among European architects working in Egypt at the time. Ali Labib Gabre, graduate of the Liverpool School of Architecture in 1926, was influenced by European architectural theories and principles, which he applied in his public and residential work. This influence can be traced in his design for a villa for the renowned singer Umm Kalthoum. Another Egyptian architect, whose influence was also significant, was Dr Saiyed Kaream, who rebelled against traditional architecture. Kaream finished his architectural training in Zurich, Switzerland, and was influenced by many of the contemporary European architectural styles.
Villa Umm KalthoumAli, Cairo, by Labib Gabr
In the 1940s, when the late architect Hassan Fathy began his search for Egypt’s architectural identity, Kaream published and edited the Magalet Al-Emara (The Architectural Magazine) in order to promote his modern approach and ideas. The philosophy of the magazine was to introduce modern architectural theories and ideas of the Western intellect to Egypt, such as the ‘Organic Architecture’ of Frank Lloyd Wright, the ‘Rationalism’ of Mies van der Rohe, the ‘Expressionism’ of Erich Mendelsohn and the ‘Functionalism’ of Le Corbusier. Although the magazine was significant for the development of 20th century Egyptian architecture, it lasted for only five years.
Residential building designed by Dr. Sayed Karim
There were other architects who were concerned about the issue of Egypt’s architectural identity. Among them was Mahmoud Pasha Fahmy, who was the chief architect of the Awaqaf ministry. This Building represented an expression of the neo-Mamluk buildings. Mahmoud Pasha Fahmy was followed by his son, Mustafa Pasha Fahmy, who was the architect of the king. Fahmy made an attempt to outline the features of a new architectural style which he called ‘Islamic Baroque’. This style was expressed in public buildings and palaces, and exhibited features of traditional Arabic architecture. Among these buildings are the main building of Gezeirah Fair Land (1913), Dar Al-Hekma building, and the Shrine of the famous Nationalist Leader Saad Zaghloul.
Image credit: The Awqaf Ministry Building, Cairo, by Mahmoud Basha Fahmy
The Shrine of the Nationalist Leader Saad Zaghloul in Cairo, by Moustafa Fahmy
In the same period, many other Egyptian architects, including Mahmoud Riyad, who built the Badrawi villa, Abu-Baker Khayrat and his brother Ali Khyrat, studied Islamic architecture and supervised the buildings of numerous mosques.
Villa Abdel-Magid Al-Badrawi, Giza, Egypt, by Mahmoud Riyad
Mobil Company Building, Cairo by Abu-Bakr Khayrat
The early 1940s witnessed another wave of architects, who opposed the invasion of the western alien styles and preferred to revive their country architectural character. Among them were the renowned Hassan Fathy, whose work and architectural theories reached, not only the developing countries, but also the progressed western countries. Ramsis Wissa Wassef also succeeded in asserting his nationalistic artistic approach, which can be detected in his seminal work for Al-Haraniya Village.
Seif Al-Nasr Residence, Al-Fayoum, Egypt by Hassan Fathy
Al-Haraniya Village, Giza, Egypt by Ramsis Wissa Wassef
Another Egyptian architect whose work from the 1960s onwards has stood out in clear contrast with much modern architecture has been Abdelbaki Ibrahim. He published several books discussing the historical perspective of Islamic architecture and the Arab houses. Ibrahim’s Al-Nawras Tourist Village, Isma'iliya, Egypt, 1989, is an expressive example of the integration between modern architecture and abstracted traditional vocabulary.
Image credit: Al-Nawras Tourist Village, Egypt, 1989 by Abdelbaki Ibrahim
1.Abdelbaki Ibrahim, The Historical Perspective of Architecture in the Arab World. Cairo, 1987, pp. 43-44. (in Arabic).
2. Images credit: Unless otherwise mentioned, all photos are credited to this link