In a city like Cairo, it often feels like streets and buildings have been copied and pasted, en masse. The buildings that do end up standing out are the ones that have withstood the test of time, proudly displaying the characteristics of the era in which they were built in their every detail. It is not common to find a modern, architectural creation that breaks the monotony of the residential and commercial assembly line of unoriginal cardboard boxes that exist in every single district of the city (regardless of its socioeconomic status).
Photograph of Dawar El Ezba
Cairo is home to approximately 350 informal settlements, which house about 40% of the city’s 20 million residents. Ezbet Khairallah is one of Cairo’s most populated informal areas, with more than 850,000 people calling it home. Only one school serves the entire area’s population. It is needless to say that Ezbet Khairallah suffers from a severe lack of services, which makes Dawar El Ezba an even more inspiring project.
Dawar El Ezba is a vibrant cultural centre that offers art-based programs to the population of Ezbet Khairallah. The centre is operated by Dawar for Arts and Development, an independent cultural organization that runs a number of art-based programs with the purpose of affecting social change. The architectural mastermind behind the bright, yellow structure is Cairo-based architect Ahmed Hossam Saafan.
Everything about the design of this building is remarkable; starting from the striking colour to the context-specific elements. Inspired by the abundance of metal and wood workshops in the area, Saafan chose to use locally-available materials to build the centre, which gives the otherwise conspicuous building a quality of belonging and makes it a “living agent” within its location. The centre encompasses an art studio, a gathering space, an administration office and a theatre/workshop area.
The construction process was not without difficulties. Saafan spoke to us about the challenges he faced when designing and building this very unique structure.
Photograph of Dawar El Ezba
“From all of this, a concept is derived to fit the needs observed through these studies. All merging with the program goals of providing designated spaces, which makes the project integral to the place [specifically] and not another.”
The research process yielded a design inspired by the people the centre was meant to serve.
“The main inspiration also comes in part from the abundant numbers of children within the context. This inspired creating an inviting, imaginative space that could in part interact with their curious minds”
The ingenious design of Dawar El Ezba is awe-inspiring and we are not the only ones who think so! The building has been featured on coveted platforms Archdaily and Designboom. The project has also received a Gold-level Cairo Design Award. The Dawar El Ezba cultural centre is a beautiful example of the environmental and social impact that a thoughtful design can have. We truly hope that more architects and designers are inspired by Saafan’s human-centred design process.