Biography of Ramses Wissa Wassef
Ramses Wissa Wassef (1911-1974) is, without a doubt, one of the most iconic architects in Egypt. Some of his works include The new Lycee Fracais du Caire (1938), St. George Church in Heliopolis (1954), Mahmoud Mokhtar Museum (1960) and many other outstanding projects. In this article, we’ll take you in a tour in one of the most prominent works of the great architect. We will be exploring the architecture of ramses wissa wassef art center in Harrania to discover this architectural gem.
A Historical Glimpse of the Art Center
The art center at Harrania is the product of the architectural artist Ramses Wissa Wassef. In a desire to nurture the built-in creativity believed to be present in each and every child, the late architect established this center in 1952. “I had this vague conviction,” said Ramses Wissa Wassef, “that every human being was born an artist but that his gifts could be brought out only if artistic activity was encouraged from early childhood by way of practicing a craft.” Therefore, he designed this center to teach Harrania’s village children the art of weaving and to revive that traditional craft. Ever since that center was born and until today, the organic artwork of those villagers has been a huge success and pride of the center. To know more details about the center, check: Woven by Faith: Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center.
It’s worth mentioning that the architecture of the center began with the single room. Firstly, Ramses Wissa Wassef gathered the little villagers, whom he actually bonded as friends, and designed a room for them. This single room held 15 boys and girls together and embraced their learning process. Later, when the kids began to grow and were teenagers, they asked their friend, the architect, Ramses Wissa Wassef to build another room. So, the boys would have a room and the girls would have a separate one. Then, with the years passing, the kids, who were once 7 years old, became fathers and mothers. Therefore, they required another extension of the building to host their own kids while they weave. So, with the kids’ maturing and budding, the center also was!
Ramses Wissa Wassef was a motivating teacher not only to his college students, but also to the little villagers. To clarify, at the very early stage of the center construction, he used to teach kids how to build with natural materials and earth techniques. So, he explained the process of construction and showed them how it all works. Then, he encouraged them to try to build vaulted hen house. These rooms are to be constructed with the mud brick material and the bearing wall technique. The outcome of that experiment wasn’t only seen when children gathered and built hen houses. However, the true outcome was when a couple of kids actually loved the art of building and later became master builders.
Ramses Wissa Wassef architecture was highly influenced by the medieval Cairene neighborhoods and was inspired by the beauty of the ancient Nubian houses and the principles and philosophies behind them. So, he developed an architectural style that bore the stamp of his own strong personality and responded to the challenge of the times without breaking away from the past but also motivated by these grand epochs. Ramses Wissa Wassef believed in the aesthetical, cultural and climatic properties of these styles. So, he implemented that in the design and construction of his own art center.
The Center’s Complex Buildings
Originally the whole place started as a center for teaching the creative weaving art to villagers. However, it has since evolved to be a complex comprising workshops and showrooms, a pottery and sculpture museum, houses and farm buildings and a huge garden loaded with plants that are used to give the stains for the weaved pieces.
Art Center Complex Walk-Through
When entering the center, you will find yourself in a beautiful heaven where a small garden welcomes you. Then, you have to choose to go left or go right. The right section of the complex encompasses the workshops and the atelier all built in the traditional architectural style. To reach the workshops, one have to pass through a narrow mud-brick pathway surrounded by wall from both sides. This narrow pathway allows air to flow faster creating a cool breeze and also allows the shadow of the wall to fully the passer so as not to be displeased by the direct sunlight.
After the pathway, you will meet an opened and planted courtyard surrounded by the workshop rooms. Ramses Wissa Wassef designed the workshops with a courtyard for two reasons. Firstly, is the environmental reason. The opened courtyard helps the night’s cold air to be restored so that in the morning when the sun hits, the place would still be cool. The courtyard also helps in the good air flow between the surrounded rooms. Secondly, is the social reason. To clarify, courtyards were used in the vernacular village architecture to act as gathering point for people to chat. So, Ramses Wissa Wassef designed it to be a nice place for workers to connect and bond.
The workshops were the place of joy and creativity. It’s where the villagers create their wool and cotton tapestries. Designed in the vernacular style, this whole section is the dynamo of the whole center.
Subsequently, after being in the workshops, you will explore the atelier. The atelier will attracts visitors with its breeze of cool air and when going inside, it will capture you with its displays. The first art piece that you will see is Ramses Wissa Wassef’s own tapestry work, honored and framed. Next to that piece, you shall see the Agha Khan Award for Architecture certificate proudly hung on the wall. Then, when you move around the atelier, you will be charmed by the artworks from the villagers which were made in the nearby workshops. The atelier’s ceilings are designed with vaults with circular openings creating a very interesting lighting effect to the displaying. With its endless domed compartments where you can wander for a while.
Habib Gorgi Sculpture Museum
Being done with the right side of the complex, you can go back to the small communal garden in the middle of the complex to go to the left side and see what the architecture of Ramses Wissa Wassef art center has in store. This section of the campus encompasses a sculpture museum which has nothing to do with the weaving art but has everything to do with traditional architecture. This museum is Habib Gorgi museum.
The construction of the whole mass is entirely adobe and covered with mud. The outstanding intelligence of design isn’t only in the vernacular or authentic way it looks and feels. However, it’s also in the method of showcasing the sculptures of Habib Gorgi. Ramses Wissa Wassef designed groves in the walls throughout the entire museum in different places and in variable settings. These groves would accommodate the unique sculptures. In addition to the creative wall groves, the architect created artistic lighting holes each designed for every sculpture piece. We should add that you will be thrilled by the dramatic effect the contrast of light creates within the museum where the whole museum is actually dark and the only light that your eye seeks directly takes you to the sculptures.
Other Complex Buildings
So, after experiencing the workshops, the atelier and the museum, you shall proceed forward in the vast center. Here you’ll pass by Ramses Wissa Wassef family residential house, a couple of farm houses and vernacular structures engaged to swaying palm trees. All of these buildings are overlooking the endless green fields where the center grows its own plants as “foa” and “neela” to get pigmented colors from. In addition to the traditional architecture scattered pieces where we see natural materials as adobe and wood perfectly in harmony, there is actually another atelier in the far end of the center. This atelier’s design and construction was with arched rooms and domed roofing. It hosts another collection of some of the early weavers’ tapestries, one of the earliest looms used in the place and pictures of works of Ramses Wissa Wassef. So, it’s all of his spirit there.
At last, we should be mentioning that although the architecture of Ramses Wissa Wassef art center is incomparable and its endless green fields makes you feel the beauty and serenity of another universe. However, when we visited the place, we noticed a concrete multi-storey jungle surrounding this magnificent art center. It’s absolutely frustrating to see the complex embraced by these ugly structures without respecting it. Yet, we’re sure that even through all the changes happening around it, Ramses Wissa Wassef art center’s is a gem. It’s worth mentioning many of the world’s most prestigious museums celebrate the tapestires of the art center. Some of which include The British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum.