“El Gouna never had a master plan, it is an organically growing town” Architect Hend El Dahan. This is evident in its fascinating satellite view, as its coastline that changed rapidly since its establishment in 1992. We will reflect on the town founding story and El Gouna Architecture development throughout the years. In this reflection, we combine our own experience and Architect Hend El Dahan’s professional perspective.
How did it start?
Around 1989, Samih Sawiris and his friends picked a beautiful Red Sea spot to build their summer homes. It was a great location to establish a marina for their boats. It was the first marina in Gouna, Abidus Marina. Yet, little did Sawiris know, everyone else wanted to join them and it became a very special Egyptian town.
Afterward came the establishment of Paradisio Hotel, White Villas, and Mövenpick. At this point, they built a residential area for construction workers, Kafr El Gouna. However,its Architecture was very interesting for many visitors that they wanted to buy those houses for themselves.
Later, Abutig Marina and the other neighborhoods followed. In parallel, El Gouna established other Architectural highlights such as Steigenberger Golf Hotel and El Gouna Golf Club and Villas by Michael Graves.
El Gouna Architecture
The town followed Nubian Architecture to start with and mixed it with creative solutions. All over El Gouna, buildings and landscapes have common features that bring the whole town together. For example, the facades are a set of locally derived palettes and materials that applies to the whole town. This color palette ranges from earthy tones of red, beige, blue, and green. Also, the landscape ties its urban context together by using local materials.
A distinct change in El Gouna Architecture is obvious when comparing older neighborhoods to newer ones. While this difference shows in Architecture design, it is evident in urban composition too. So, Kafr El Gouna and Abutig Marina are a sample of earlier projects; while Tawila and Scarab represent later types.
Kafr El Gouna & Downtown
Soheir Farid, Ramy El Dahan, and Ahmad Hamed are well-known architects who adapted Nubian design in Kafr El Gouna. In other words, they designed an intersecting collection of domes, thick walls, and arches to create an environmentally aesthetic neighborhood. Then they added wooden pergolas and palm, to mix the materials and balance the solid with the void. Moreover, the architects also designed Rihanna, Downtown, and the Italian compound, following this localized Nubian Architecture.
Abutig Marina is located northwest the Downtown, At the first sight, it looks different in Architectural style from Al Kafr. But once you walk along its streets for a few minutes, you feel the connectivity through its fine local vibes. For instance, the Mashrabeyat (i.e. artistic wooden extrusions) and arched corridors bring the town together. Little other details make Abutig stand out, and relate at the same time. Some of those are the Nubian brickwork on the facades, directing wind and breaking sunlight. Another is the well-crafted shutters, the horizontal facade engraves, and the diverse collection of outdoor staircases.
Later on, Real Estate developments applied new variables to the Architectural context. Hence, El Gouna started pre-defining the projects that followed, to reach out to diverse clientele. Subsequently, buildings became identical and placed beside each other, such as Joubal and Fanadir. Unlike the dynamic building placements in neighborhoods like elKafr. Those changes led to a constant skyline, and a higher one.
Tawila is a modern-looking neighborhood, as some of Fanadir’s phases or Joubal. As a result of the villas’ clean and straight lines, its Architecture does not relate to the initial Nubian designs. In addition, windows and handrails are all wide glass surfaces, taking up more than 50% of the facades.
El Gouna development went northwest along the coastline. Now, some gated projects are built in the desert, each with their special design. One of those projects is Sacarb. Scarab is a group of continuous units around a chain of pools and water features. In general, the project reflects the desert surroundings with palm trees inserted in its pools, and stone slates covering its facades. In addition, it includes a twist of traditional Arabian Architecture by adding parametric patterns to the facades’ wooden coverage.
As mentioned before, El Gouna Architecture development affected its urban context in return. In the initial neighborhoods, urban design encouraged pedestrians and bike riders to use their paths and streets. The buildings’ orientation in relation to each other created shaded ways and direct paths for wind along its continuous arched corridors.
“We can walk in a nice spring day from White villas to Abutig Marina comfortably, and safely”
– Hend El Dahan
Since more projects became repetitive duplicates around the lagoons, the urban context changed accordingly. As such, the streets became wider and faster, in other words, more car-oriented. In a sense, the scale and spacing of the buildings do not allow organic paths, shading, or ventilation.
Technical University of Berlin Campus El Gouna (TUBCG)
This large building by El Gouna Library is a translation of German Architecture in the Egyptian desert. Somehow, the campus Architecture fits into El Gouna. Despite its functional and straight form, the campus textures, elevations, and colors fit its surrounding.
With a closer look, the campus is not just a rectangle; it is a group of switched courts. Vertical wise, the switch in cubes and levels between each zone of the project makes it dynamic. For example, the Auditorium and Forum are marked in color, mass, and openings.
Elevations wise, the facades engraved shapes imitate the windows and doors graphically. As well as those engraves, wooden patterns cover the windows overlooking the campus courtyards. On another note, shaded corridors surround the campus courts with wide flat arches. Extruded outlines surround most of those flat arches and windows to complement the elevations.
Back in the day, G-Space was a cultural branch of the American University in Cairo. Previously, it used to be one more Nubian-based building. Nowadays, it became a co-working space, combining together modern and local design. It offers many types of working spaces, meetings, and more. This variety shows creatively in its Architecture and Interior design.
From a birds-eye view, the building divisions and landscape portray the indoor and outdoor activities. It is an earthy red building, surrounded with pitched arches, enveloping white courts, and outdoor meeting spaces. More and more elements define the building, like its roof’s wooden offices.
G-Space landscape stretches organically around the building, connecting its higher and lower levels together. And besides the greenery, the seating areas are part of the landscape, material, and shape-wise.
The Blue room is one of the building’s most interesting spaces. It is a central area, colored in blue and white, and is designed to host workshops and more. Another interesting part of G-Space is its domes. That is because each dome defines a particular space in the building, and acts as an art piece in itself.
Conference and Culture Centre
Studio Seilern Architects designed the complex to include a Conference center, Concert hall, and Plaza. They were inspired by Middle Eastern and traditional Egyptian Architecture. The Plaza was constructed in about 16 weeks starting July 2019, and the remaining zones will still follow.
The Plaza defines the project in hand with its landscape, and hosts different cultural events. It semi-encloses two spacious zones separately. Its structure combines few sets of arches, creating a circulation corridor. Those majestic arches on both sides of the corridor do not face each other directly. The switching positions of the facing arches and the arches’ design isolate sound from the urban surroundings.
The Landscape plays an important part in this setting. Cactus and other desert plants arise in multiple spots inside the plaza. The plants reflect different dimensions and colors to the concrete structure. Additionally, water surfaces surround the arches from the outside, and cover some area from the inside. Coming into the plaza, the paths seem to float on the water. The water also reflects the whole structure image in an artistic manner.
El Gouna Architecture echos its singularity between Egyptian towns across the country. In conclusion, it has a distinct entity, combining local architecture with modern attitudes, and is still growing organically. If you are interested in more traditional and organic projects, check out Architecture of Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center.