Independent Design Magazine

AR-UP Conference in Egypt: Towards Smarter Design

AR-UP Conference in Egypt: Towards Smarter Design


In October 2019, the Faculty of Engineering at Ain Shams University, Egypt hosted their Third International Conference with the title: “Architecture & Urban Planning (AR-UP): A Smart Outlook”. Its aim was to shed light on smart design methods that would allow designers and planners to create more efficient and sustainable buildings and cities.

Hilton Heliopolis hosted the conference for 3 days from the 14th-16th of October. The attendees were multi-disciplinary researchers and academics, as well as practitioners. Most of the attendees were from Egypt but others participated from India, and various European and Middle Eastern countries. They attended to share their ideas, innovations, and experiences.

Additionally, several talented Egyptian and Arab researchers presented interesting papers. They have carried out rigorous empirical and theoretical studies that tackled issues of sustainability and smart design. The studies were ranging from conceptual to practical approaches of design. The studies are all available in the proceedings of the conference. Besides, a selected number of papers will be published in a book in Spring 2020.

AR-UP Conference Key speakers

In addition to the talented researchers, a diverse group of 11 keynote speakers shared their ideas. They presented how each of them tackled the concept of smart design in their own field.

Professor Hassan Abdalla from the University of East London presented a comprehensive notion of what a smart city could be, giving examples of his work in European cities.

Italian architect and urban planner Prof. Stefano Boeri who designed Egypt’s first ‘vertical forest’ presented his interesting Forest City approach to resolving global warming and gas emissions.

Prof. Hanaa Dahy, a professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Stuttgart, presented her innovative work in developing smart materials and designs.

Dr. Christian K. Lackner who is a professor in medicine gave his interesting views on how smart hospitals have developed and should be in the future.

Architect Waleed Arafa presented his incredibly inspiring work on Basuna Mosque in Egypt. He went through the process by which he developed the project. He also explained how it smartly responded to its environment and context. You can watch below the full-speech.

Arch. Ebtissam Mohamed Farid from Alexandria presented the prolific work of her firm Encode. She explained how she and her partners persist to maintain the quality of their work and keep on developing it.

Also, on the final day of the conference, Prof. Maria Alessandra Segantini presented several of the projects designed by her design office C+S. She highlighted the importance of the tangible (Building + Landscape) and the Intangible (People + Knowledge & Skills) in their designs. The projects she presented maintained a delicate sensibility that demonstrated how their approach could be useful to smartly design for the the environment and the users. Check the video below for the full speech.

‘Smart Outlook’ Themes

However, 6 issues stood out as underlining themes for most of the keynote speeches and papers presented throughout the conference. Those themes seem to have delineated what a “Smart Outlook” would need as we move forward in the field of architectural and urban design in the upcoming years.

  1. Smart requires both the Technical and the Human

The conference presented diverse themes throughout its sessions. Which moved not only between the fields of Architecture and Urban Planning but also between the Technical and the Human. There were very interesting keynote speeches and research presentations focusing on the former, such as; new biomaterials, biomimetics concepts, smart materials, digital architectural fabrication, performance of buildings, and urban structures; while other focused on the latter, such as the spatial human experiences, the quality of life, social events and other human and qualitative aspects of the built environment.

  1. Smart requires access to Information

One of the keynote speakers and several of the presenting authors mentioned that; researchers trying to do serious research in Egypt have to work against the grave restrictions on data and information. Which is inhibiting them from fully gathering the required facts. Making the process of objectively investigating the desired phenomena and making the process of reaching well informed and evidence-based conclusions a more challenging and tedious experience

  1. Smart requires understanding the Understudied

The majority of the papers of the conference presented studies focusing on the Egyptian context. It was evident that the rich context of Egypt along with the fact that is was left understudied for so long has allowed the researchers to find extremely interesting findings at every turn. However, Egypt with its large population, reaching nearly 100 million Egyptians, along with its growing cities, appears to provide an opulent opportunity for researchers who wish to understand many of the understudied aspects of architectural and urban design in the dense and ever-changing landscape of many of its cities.

  1. Smart Outlooks requires Supported Researchers

It was very obvious that both the moderators and the audience alike truly appreciated and embraced the presenters and researchers with comments, critiques, questions, and discussions. This indicated how the field is in need of good and sound research, especially in Egypt. People were really willing to also provide any support when called for. A more structured and governmental supported approach is called upon to present support in the form of funds, logistics, facilities, and labs. In order to make use of such smart researchers and both facilitate their work, and make use of it after it is done.

  1. Smart Needs Exposure and Collaboration

The studies of the rich yet understudied Egyptian context was conducted in many cases by groups of researchers. The collaboration between researchers with different backgrounds has allowed them to reach an even richer understanding of the phenomena they investigated. Those teams and the exposure of their work to other teams have ignited many interesting discussions. That hopefully could lead to further collaborations in the future, which hopefully would even lead to further collaborations with other international organizers, researchers, and professors. Many of which have expressed interest in contributing to the research coming out of Cairo to build and develop their own studies.

  1. Smart but also Patented

Two keynote speakers presented some of their patented innovations in the field of building materials and systems. There were also three papers presenting work that is truly worth moving forward to the patenting stage and to the market of building materials and technology. Such applications would not be only useful for the field in Egypt, but also all over the world. Keynote speakers from several European universities were interested in the outcome and found it to be groundbreaking. The speakers also highlighted the importance of proceeding with the tedious steps of patenting as it could be a means of financial support for future research work.

The notions presented in the papers and the keynote speeches together, confirm that we need to be smarter with our research, designs, and approach to building. The “Smart Outlook” appears to have crystalized as the conference progressed from one day to the next to become:

The efficient use of our remaining natural resources and our upcoming technological developments to humanely advance our future built-environment.”

But the method to reach that Smart state requires several things. First, support from the government and private sectors, allowing more access to information, in a free collaborative environment. Where both researchers’ experiences and findings could be disseminated easily. This could, in turn, lead to a better understanding of the many understudied technical and human aspects of the built environment of the rich contexts of cities in Egypt and all over the globe. Which would subsequently enable us to design better for future generations.

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Ramy Bakir is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Architectural Engineering and Environmental Design at the Arab Academy for Science and Technology in Cairo, Egypt. He is also a partner/principal at the Egyptian based design firm; ASAS Design.