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Interview with the Incomparable Omar El-Farouk

Interview with the Incomparable Omar El-Farouk

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A master of architecture and a maestro in design, meet the architect Omar El-Farouk. We’ve had the true honor asking Omar El-Farouk about his education, career, life and more. So, keep on reading and we promise you won’t finish until you’re inspired.

Mariez Hany: Tell us about yourself

Omar El-Farouk: I was born on the 2nd of November 1942. I grew up in Downtown Cairo where my passion for antiques and appreciation for traditional architecture grew up as well. Enchanted by the fine architecture, I used to wander in the streets of Cairo for hours just gazing at the exquisite architectural elements that were all around me. For instance, the ornamented door details and embellished window designs. Consequently, I joined the architecture school in the faculty of fine arts in Cairo. It was where I met exceptional professors and where my journey as an architect began.

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Photo Courtesy: Bassam Alzogby

MH: Can you describe your encounter with the great architect Hassan Fathy and how did that affect you as Omar El-Farouk?

OF: Hassan-bey was my guru. 1957 marks the first time I met him. I was in my second year in architecture school, bored with the dead university curriculum yet eager to learn more. Hassan Fathy was invited to come and lecture us and from the moment he opened his mouth to speak, I was immediately dazzled. I can’t put into words how he amazed me with his exceptional mind and outstanding thinking. However, I can say that I sat still for hours in my chair just listening to him! After the lecture, I hurried to meet him and from that instant, he became my master and muse and offered to train me in his office here in Cairo. He was a true legacy and genuinely wanted to help people live better lives by providing good architectural experiences. Above all, I learned everything from him from design thinking to construction methods.

MH: We noticed that your designs are greatly inspired by traditional architecture. Is that type of architecture something that you believe in?

OF: Architecture has always amazed me. My school was originally a palace, this palace was my source of contemplation for hours. Also, Old Cairo has never failed to fascinate me with its traditional architecture that you can’t help but enjoy. In addition to that, my encounter with amazing professors as Hassan Fathy and Ramses Wissa Wassef had its way of shaping my preferences. Above all, traditional architecture is the architecture of comfort and beauty that is delivered through its elements. To illustrate, providing thermal comfort had always motivated me to design for better living. I remember doing a research paper named: “The courtyard as a temperature regulator”. In this research, I explained the power of a traditional element, a courtyard, can greatly elevate the design experience by providing better micro-climates. My belief in traditional architecture led me to have a Master’s Degree in Vernacular Architecture from London University.

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Dar Abdullah Schleifer. Photo Courtesy: Omar El Farouk Official Facebook Account

MH: You’ve designed many projects in Tunis Village as: “Dar Yousra Khan”, “Dar Abdallah Schleifer” and “Dar Ali El Mofty”. How did it all start? And how do they differ from one another although they are all residential buildings?

OF: Firstly, it all started about 40 years ago when the Swiss Artist Evelyne Porret chose Tunis Village to work on her pottery projects. Above all, Tunis Village was famous for pottery from the Pharaonic age until our time now. So, we went there so that I can design her a workshop and a home. To be honest, when I first saw Tunis Village, I immediately re-imagined it.  To illustrate, when I started to explore it, the land was bare but promising! I had a dream to build with the splendid traditional architectural style and make it spread all over this land. Therefore I started with the pottery workshop and then continued to build many many others.

Dar Yousra Khan

It was an experimental project. Usually, we build walls with stone, a heavy weight material suitable to carry the ceiling. Then, we top it with either a domes or a vault that would be in brick, a less weight material that can be supported by the stone wall. However, in this project, I decided to try something new which is to construct the whole entrance, walls and ceiling all in stone. It was a unique approach that nobody did before!

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Dar Yousra Khan. Photo Courtesy: Omar El Farouk Official Facebook Account
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Dar Yousra Khan. Photo Courtesy: Omar El Farouk Official Facebook Account
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Dar Yousra Khan. Photo Courtesy: Omar El Farouk Official Facebook Account

Dar Abdullah Shelifer

This house has a beautiful location that has many splendid features. In this design, I worked with different traditional architectural elements that blended together to give this exquisite outcome.

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Dar Abdullah Schleifer. Photo Courtesy: Omar El Farouk Official Facebook Account
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Dar Abdullah Schleifer. Photo Courtesy: Omar El Farouk Official Facebook Account
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Dar Abdullah Schleifer. Photo Courtesy: Omar El Farouk Official Facebook Account

Dar Ali El Mofty

In this project the client wanted an embracing home and more a like a sanctuary. So, I designed it to be intimate, warm and welcoming.

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Dar Ali El-Mofty. Photo Courtesy: Ahmed El Mofty
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Dar Ali El-Mofty. Photo Courtesy: Ahmed El Mofty
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Dar Ali El-Mofty. Photo Courtesy: Ahmed El Mofty

MH: “Dar Omar El-Farouk” is an exceptional project of yours. What makes it too special?

OF: I spent over 20 years designing and building that house. I wanted to create an adequate example of traditional architecture. Most importantly I wanted people to experience how good proportions, suitable materials and different construction techniques harmonize together to generate fine architecture.

Dar El Farouk in Fayoum- Photo courtesy: Mohamed Abbas El Sharkawy
Dar El Farouk in Fayoum- Photo courtesy: Mohamed Abbas El Sharkawy
Dar Farouk in Fayoum - Photo courtesy: Omar El Farouk
Dar Farouk in Fayoum - Photo courtesy: Omar El Farouk

MH: How did nature influence your design in the project of “Hassan El Shazly” mosque?

OF: Most importantly, Hassan El shazly was one of the greatest Sufis in the world who lived about 800 years ago. So, I was truly motivated to design a mosque that carries his name. The project’s location was very inspiring and extremely abstract. You’re just surrounded by mountains, just enormous steady mountains around you which challenged me through their powerful nature. Subsequently, I had to design something as powerful to blend with the surrounding. Therefore, I worked with the scale tool to create a huge mosque balancing with the persistent mountains. It’s an abstract, minimal and spiritual design that corresponds with the building’s function and harmonizes with site’s nature.

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Hassan El-Shazly Mosque. Photo Courtesy: Omar El Farouk Official Facebook Account
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Hassan El-Shazly Mosque. Photo Courtesy: Omar El Farouk Official Facebook Account

MH: What was the most challenging project that you’ve worked on? Why? How did you overcome the challenge?

OF: I think my answer would be the New Mexico mosque. To clarify, the site’s weather was very challenging; it was almost always raining in winter there. The construction was in mud-brick, but this material wouldn’t endure the vigorous rain. So, we had to re-design the mud-brick unit itself and provide other additive waterproof elements so that the mosque could stand the heavy rain and snow.

To sum, our interview with Omar El Farouk was simply insighful and inspiring! To know more about our iconic architect, go to: Arcade: Omar El Farouk. To read about our interviews with other amazing architects, check: Ahmed Hossam Saafan: Dawar El Ezba Center and Mahmoud Sakr: Architect and Traveler. 

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Ambitious architect, eccentric writer and a lifelong learner. Fascinated by the world and always in search of new adventures and experiences to tell. The dream is to inspire people to pursue new perspectives through the splendid art of writing.