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Young ideas saving the world’s oldest street

Virtual Reality Lab - Faculty of Engineering - Alexandria University - Student Competition 2015

Young ideas saving the world’s oldest street

In Alexandria, students are designing solutions to save architectural heritage. Their university professors have brought young minds and sponsoring companies together in a competition to bring forth the best ideas.

“We wanted to turn a sector of the street gradually into a pedestrian zone, because people driving in their cars do not have the chance to notice and appreciate the historical value of the street. In my opinion, raising awareness and gradual implementation are the key to successful change,” says Gasser Mohamed. He is a student at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Alexandria University and a member of one of the winning teams in a competition to revive Alexandria’s Fouad Street, considered one of the oldest streets in the world.

One of the coordinators of the competition is Dr. Dina Taha, Associate Professor of Architectural Engineering at Alexandria University’s Faculty of Engineering: “The summer activities for Architectural Engineering students began in 2012. They were limited to documentation and virtual modeling of specific places. In 2015 we decided to turn it into a student competition aiming to revive a part of Fouad Street. The main goal was to spread awareness and introduce the students to international experiments in heritage restoration. Renovating a historical building must be done through scientific methods in order to preserve its original architectural style.”

A rare street with intact heritage

Fouad Street, named after King Fouad, lies in the city center of Alexandria. Its history goes back to the Ptolemaic era, 3rd century BC, when it was called Kanub Way. Naturally, the street has undergone many changes, but it has never been abandoned. Also, it is one of the few places left in the city with most of its heritage buildings still intact.

Despite the efforts of some citizens and initiatives, like Save Alexandria, to protect the historical buildings, some of the city’s heritage could not be saved and a part of its history was lost. According to Dr. Dina Taha, who is also a member of the city’s Technical Secretariat for Architectural Heritage Preservation, 1135 buildings are listed in the adopted Heritage List of Alexandria. 47 have been taken off the Heritage List, according to court orders, and 52 have been demolished.

“Alexandria is a large city with lots of historical buildings. It would be unrealistic to try to save all these buildings at once. However, we can focus on the city center that represents the heart of old Alexandria as a start,” says Dr. Zeyad El Sayad, Assistant Professor of Architectural Engineering at the same faculty as Dr. Taha and also a coordinator of the Fouad Street revival competition.

Three dimensions of revival

The competition was divided into three categories. The first, “urban design”, was concerned with finding solutions to the problems facing specific sectors of the street, such as traffic jam. “Street furniture and accessories” was the title of the second category, where participants submitted designs for street furniture such as lamp posts and signage. The last category was for designing “urban benches”. The jury panel was combined of professors from Alexandria University’s Faculty of Engineering and representatives of two companies that sponsored the competition: Sigma Properties, a property management company specialized in developing and reutilizing heritage buildings to turn them into key pieces of urban infrastructure, and Nofa Egypt, a wood flooring company.

Engineer Sherif Saleh, Managing Director of Nofa Egypt, explains that in his evaluation of the bench designs he focused on the practicality and material intensity. “Some of the submitted designs were very good and could compete in the market. We will showcase a prototype of the winning bench design during an exhibition in Dubai,” he adds.

  • Virtual Reality Lab - Faculty of Engineering - Alexandria University - Student Competition 2015

  • Virtual Reality Lab - Faculty of Engineering - Alexandria University - Student Competition 2015

  • At night, young Egyptians go out on Fouad Street. Photo: Butheina Shalan

  • The small sign shows the street’s second name. Originally named after King Fouad, it became El Horreya Avenue (Freedom Avenue) after the 1952 revolution. Photo: Butheina Shalan

  • Different architectural eras meet in this street. Photo: Butheina Shalan

  • Decay is progressing. Photo: Butheina Shalan

  • This house has seen better times. Photo: Butheina Shalan

  • A Muslim scholar’s mausoleum. Photo: Butheina Shalan

  • Alexandria’s opera house, also known as Sayed Darwish Theater. Photo: Butheina Shalan

  • Contrasts can be found everywhere: The facade hides a meeting place for the elite (Alexandria Club), while the traditional Egyptian fast food restaurant GAD is at street level. Photo: Butheina Shalan

Lessons outside the classroom

“I was interested in this competition because we have studied the history of Fouad Street. Our winning design was of a flat metal tree gate. To connect it with the street’s history we also engraved some Latin phrases on it,” says Moaaz Ashraf, student at the Faculty of Fine Arts and a member of the winning team in the street furniture and accessories category.

To Rehab Mahmoud, a student at the Faculty of Engineering and a member of the team that won the bench design category, the biggest benefit of her participation in the competition was getting to know the street better and trying to apply what she learned theoretically in real life.

“We were already working on heritage property development on Fouad Street”, says Karim Mahmoud, a board member of Sigma Properties. “So Dr. Zeyad suggested that his students share their ideas with us in order to connect what they learn in the classroom with reality. Some of the submitted ideas were good, but lack experience and implementation cost optimization. It is a good start, and if these competitions continue the results will improve,” he is convinced.

“The history of the buildings and residents of Fouad Street is very rich. That’s why I started organizing walking tours for it”, Zahraa Awad, a tour guide, explains. She lays out some of the problems facing the area: “The lack of parking spaces, the drainage system being worn out – which causes the street to drown in the winter –, the negligence of historical buildings and the failure to restore them correctly and finally the construction of new buildings that do not reflect the street’s history are some of the problems I have noticed during my tours.”

Creating rules and routines for the future

Dr. Zeyad shares his opinion on alternative approaches to preservation. “The logical method to preserve historical buildings is to make them profitable. For instance: after some restaurants opened in Fouad Street the rent of shops there increased. The owners of the surrounding buildings started regarding them as investment opportunities instead of a burden they want to get rid of.”

An initiative working towards the revival of Fouad Street has sprung out of the competition. It is currently working on forming an NGO that is to include representatives of the governorate, residents, citizens interested in heritage, students as well as representatives of the benefiting companies. One of the NGO’s tasks will be to set some rules, for instance: to forbid certain acts that harm the heritage of the street and to install a monthly fee for maintenance on all stakeholders of the street like shop owners and residents. Thanks to the competition and the NGO, a bright future now awaits one of the oldest streets in the world.


    July 2016
    Space & Housing
    Egypt, Alexandria

    Rettet Alexandria
    Sigma Properties


    Bassent Atef
    is a freelance journalist and is based in Alexandria.

    Translated by

    Bassent Atef


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