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The Story of Darb 1718 : Interview with Moataz Nas...

The Story of Darb 1718 : Interview with Moataz Nasreldin

Darb 1718 Linesmag

If you’re someone who’s interested in art and culture, then most probably you’ve heard of “Darb 1718”. Located in the heart of old Cairo “AL-Fustat” district, it has been a driving force for culture in the area. Today we’re going to take you on a journey to know more about the story of Darb 1718 from the founder himself, “Moataz Nasreldin”.

About Moataz Nasreldin

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Moataz Nasreldin

Born 1961, Moataz Nasr is a fine artist who participated in the 1977 bread revolution on the 17th and 18th of January that year, and has sustained a gun wound in his shoulder during these events. From this background, we get the name of “Darb 1718”, with the word “Darb” in Arabic meaning “ to hit” and “a path” at the same time, representing the path of change through art and culture.

Moataz has hosted us to talk more about the story of Darb 1718  and how it developed with time, so let’s dive into it:

-How did “Darb 1718” come to existence?

Darb 1718 Linesmag
Darb 1718, Photo Courtesy: Linesmag

-In 2002 the area was a slum area called “AL-Mosalasa” -The Triangle-. The building’s conditions were terrible and people had so many problems. So the government decided to move the inhabitants to another area, bring the whole district to the ground, and have a garden in its place. Having a studio there, and seeing the strong artistic and cultural potential of the place, Moataz approached Cairo governor at the time with a proposal of having a cultural center. At first, the governor wasn’t very convinced with the idea, but with time and as the idea became more solid, he approved and gave him the land to develop “Darb 1718” cultural center.

-Who is the Architect behind the design of “Darb”?

-It’s the architect Dr.Mona Zakareya, who is a friend of Moataz. At that time she was working on the restoration project of old Cairo’s churches. When Moataz approached her with the idea she was very enthusiastic saying that she has been waiting for a project like this for a long time, and then she was the one responsible for bringing this idea into the physical world through her architecture.

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Photo Courtesy: Linesmag

-What problems did Darb 1718 face during the construction process?

-The first problem that faced Darb 1718 was the finances. Because it is a non-profit project and is for the community itself without an investor, the building process extended over five years, although the scale of the project isn’t huge. That was the result of financial problems as the project depended mainly on funds, which are not always consistent.

The second problem was the land itself. due to the bad condition of the area, the soil wasn’t suitable for construction, having tons and mountains of rubbish. Beneath the rubbish were some historical ruins of the old Fustat. Moreover the level of underground water is high which was another problem. So it was really tricky to deal with all these things and it took time and money.

The third problem was bureaucratic issues with people from the government. As a result, they had to close the project for a whole year after completion till the papers were right and it was legitimate to open.

So the building process began in 2002, ended in 2007, and the project started working in 2008.

Darb 1718 Linesmag
Photo Courtesy: Linesmag

-What were the phases of the project and what are the spaces it includes?

-They completed the project in one single phase. It includes workshop spaces for the artisans in the area, and all the spaces needed for cultural activities: Galleries, Exhibitions, a small cinema hall, outdoor areas, and many other spaces and services.

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Photo Courtesy: Linesmag

-How did the surrounding historical/urban context affect the conception and design process?

-The area is very rich in architectural vocabulary, it has the historical religious complex and many other historical places. They wanted to be in harmony with the context be it the graveyards nearby, or the churches and mosques on a larger scale. The colors and form, are as close as possible to the context, simple, and functional. The aim was to make it almost an unexpected oasis in the heart of the area. They also noticed that people started painting their houses with similar colors, which helped in adding identity to the area.

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Photo Courtesy: Linesmag

– How did the social context influence\got influenced by Darb 1718?

-At first, the locals didn’t like the idea, as the community is very close, and not familiar with the activities that Darb hosts. So the team decided to involve the community as much as they could. Scheduling programs for women where they can learn handicrafts and earn a living. They host workshops for children where they learn about art and culture. So with time, strong connections developed. Even some participated in the construction process, and are now working as employees. Also, many locals have their pottery workshops in Darb. When having events, they allow locals to attend for free, as they respect the place and treat it as their own. And the proof of this strong connection is that during the events of 2011, the locals were the ones protecting Darb from robbing or sabotage.

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Photo Courtesy: Linesmag

-Having different kinds of activities, how do you deal with that having a limited number of cultural spaces?

-By constantly designing and redesigning the spaces according to events they can adapt. The outdoor space for example occupies concerts, screenings, and fairs. In galleries, they use movable partitions to redesign the space according to the art presented.

-What are your future plans for the Development of Darb 1718?

-Having a theatre for contemporary art forms has been a dream for a very long time. Currently, there are some renovations on a nearby land plot, and they’re discussing the possibility of having the theatre on it. Also, they are expecting hopefully to have an extension for Darb 1718 in different places other than old Cairo. If everything went well we might see this coming true by the end of 2021.

Darb 1718 Linesmag
Photo Courtesy: Linesmag

-Any final thoughts about the story of Darb 1718?

-These types of non-profiting projects take a lot of patience, time, effort, and money. Darb team wishes that the government could make the paper process easier for them and encourage these types of cultural projects. They hope to get encouragement from people and that’s by visiting and attending their events. Finally, wishing for more press to write about Darb so that more people know about the place, which will certainly push them forward.

Darb 1718 Linesmag
Photo Courtesy: Linesmag

That was the story of Darb 1718, check out their website from here. And If you’re interested in knowing more about old Cairo as a historical place, you might want to check our article: Babylon Fortress Stories and Secrets, Here on Linesmag!

David grew up loving all kinds of narrative arts, it made him realize that everything revolves around, and ends up being a story. During studying architecture, he discovered that it is directed by a concept, a message or an idea interpreted in a physical form, and is directly influencing the lives of its users. And David is always eager to make these architectural stories, stories worth telling.