Recently, Dawar El Ezba culture center design has caught the attention of the many. This yellow building brings life to one of Cairo’s most populated areas, Ezbet Khairallah. It’s a new cultural platform for the residents and a unique landmark in the area. Ahmed Hossam Saafan is the Egyptian architect behind Dawar El Ezba Culture Center. The project that won the gold prize award in CDA 2019.
Saafan talks to Linesmag about Dawar El Ezba culture center design concept and also about development in informal settlements.
Tell me more about your study and background
“I studied architecture in MIU. After that, I worked as a teacher assistant. In 2015, I went to India where I did some explorations and worked as an art teacher in a school. I stayed there for one year. Then I came back to Egypt and lived for a few months in Dahab. I stayed at a farm over there helping out and getting engaged in the construction and art process on site.
After that, I went to work for “A for Architecture” design studio. My work scope involved landscape, architecture, and urban projects. My mentor was Omar Kishk, a great inspirational designer who taught me a lot. Mainly he handed me community design projects. Some of my work involved projects in collaboration with Megawra. I also worked on renovation projects for several factories.”
Dawar El Ezba Culture Center Project
“I spent around 1 year and a half working with Omar Kishk. After that, I got to study at Dawar. Dawar Arts is an independent cultural organization based in Cairo. They utilize a range of arts-based processes for healing, dialogue, and social change from the grassroots up. Dawar got a place in Downtown that holds workshops along with Dawar Kitchen in Ezbet Khairalla. It helps to teach vocational activities and provides for women and refugees.
My client from Dawar “Ben Rivers” told me that they wanted to extend the kitchen. The existing building had an only the ground floor and first floor. Instead of being only a kitchen, Ben wanted to make it also a culture center holding different activities in Ezbet Khairalla. Therefore, we decided the building will have two more floors, to hold theatre, art space, gathering space,” Saafan said.
About inducing the new cultural center in Ezbet Khairallah Saafan elaborated:
“Ezbet Khairallah is one of the most populated slum areas in the city. Located at the heart of Cairo, it has more than 850,000 residents. However, there is only one school in Ezbet Khairalla. In such a region there are a lot of children who don’t get any source of education. Children are always playing down the street. Therefore, having a cultural space that can accommodate the children’s cultural and educational needs was pretty essential.”
The Building’s Space program
The new space program mainly includes an art studio, gathering space, administration office, theatre, and workshop space. Therefore, the kitchen will act as a cultural revitalizing agent within the area and a vibrant landmark. The main aim of Dawar El Ezba culture center was to design an interactive platform for the people of Ezbet Khairallah, ranging from children, youth to adults. This is through community-conscious strategies that enhance their quality of life.
On Dawar El Ezba Design Concept Saafan said:
“The design was based on many site observations and the building’s relation to its surrounding. Standing out is a sort of expression since it is an arts and culture center. The project has 3 visions: urban, architectural, and internal. For the urban vision, I wanted the building to act as a living agent in its context. Something that is alive, landmark, and attractive. For the architecture concept, I wanted to create an interactive platform for the residents of Ezbet Khairalla.”
Seamless Interior Design
“The internal concept is inspired by the main vision of Dawar. Mainly Dawar aims to offer psychological support for those in need. Accordingly, I wanted the interior space in Dawar El Ezba culture center to help people express themselves with freedom. In a seamless white environment, each person can easily stand out in their own personality. It is kind of following the mood Dawar has in the Downtown workshops space. My addition was using wooden elements in the interior since it is widely available in the district.”
“Ezbet Khairalla is the centre of recycling in Cairo. It has a lot of resources including wood and steel. Using local materials consequently gives the impression that the building is there for the people and not isolated,” Saafan said. “Mainly we used corrugated metal sheets, steel and red bricks. We used wood in the interior and lime finishes for the walls to make it breathable.”
Moreover Saafan added that in this region, corrugated metal sheets are mostly used in the ceiling. Therefore, he wanted to show that we can also use metal sheets on the elevations. “We are trying to work with what we have and use it in different ways. In these districts, ideas tend to spread quickly. Hopefully people will follow this example,” Saafan said.
On the south elevation facing most of the sun rays, there is a sandwich panel. The idea is to provide isolation from heat and also sound in the theater workshop area. The sandwich panel has an air gap of 10 cm and bricks. The building also has a vertical living wall. This mainly helps air purification and building cool down. The living wall was originally made from advertising panels. In addition to that, we can see that there is a one-sided slanted roof. This is because there is an intention to apply solar panels in future expansion.
“In fact, there are several reasons behind the design of the elevation,” Saafan said. “The design of the opening size varies according to the windows of the opposing building. In front of the residents’ windows, I designed small windows. On the other hand, the big windows are designed to face a solid area with no windows. Basically, the inter-playing of window slits aims to maintain the privacy of the residents.”
Saafan also added that on the openings there are alternating elements. Some of them are open upwards while some are downards. These alternating angles help catch the outmost of sunrays throughout the day. In the south elevation, the opening is smaller but in winter it still allows sun rays to make the interior warmer.
About the children’s interaction with the elevation
“Additionally, I wanted to create an interactive element in the elevation. The Art-space will be visited by children throughout the day. Therefore, I wanted to create a unit suitable for kids to engage and play with. I also wanted to make the opening playful for the people down the street. From the perspective of a passerby, the changing of the windows’ size can be interesting.”
On the other elevation, the wide opening goes along the whole elevation. Behind this elevation is the theater space. Therefore it offers users the panoramic view of the church as a background of the stage.
The Colour Yellow
Besides being a striking colour that makes the building unique, the colour yellow adds more to Dawar El Ezba culture centre design and function.
“In this narrow street, sunlight cannot reach building through the day. Therefore, I wanted to get most of the sunrays. The yellow colour helps to increase the glow and allows maximum sun reflectivity on the inside,” Saafan said.
How long did building Dawar El Ezba take and what are the main challenges you faced?
“Dawar El Ezba culture center design took three months, while the building process took around a year and a half. The challenges we faced were mainly financial. Therefore, we had to pause building for a while. The building was funded by a German company. At some point we had to apply for a further extension of the fund to continue with the project. In the end, we managed to build it with the least money possible.”
And how did the locals perceive the new building?
“At the beginning, the locals did not understand and were annoyed with the hassle of the building process. I was working with Engineer Hossam Araby on the construction. He dealt with contractors from the neighborhood. By time we managed to get locals from Ezbet Khairalla to involved in the building. Soon they began to feel they belong to this new space.”
What is your opinion about the development interventions in Informal Settlement?
“As a matter of fact, informal settlements have their own potential and can be interesting in their typologies. I believe that we need to understand the existing resources in any settlement and work with them. These resources can be tangible and intangible. Each district has its unique cultural norm and we should study how people are used to live. We should also avoid inducing new age designs that don’t fit those who live there.”
What design projects are you interested in?
“Generally, I am interested in architecture that infuses community. Architecture that encourages people to gather and communicate in various ways. Just like Dawar El Ezba culture center design, I love working on projects that got a sense of people in their context.
In my next project, I would prefer to work on something related to arts. I will be interested to work on a museum for example, a memorial, or maybe another culture center on a bigger scale. Mainly a place that moves people internally where they can engage in inspiring activities.”
What is your favourite architect that inspires you the most?
“I would say Bjarke Ingels, Woha and mostly Francis Kéré. I like following this working process where the problems induce some questions, the questions induce concept, then the concept induces keywords that are eventually translated into spatial experience.”