Certainly, walking in Islamic Cairo is always a wondrous experience! It’s a walk of discovering non-ending gems. In this article, we will showcase one of those gems which is the House of Egyptian Architecture. Enlightening and inspiring, there is truly something for everyone in this house. Linesmag had an in-depth talk with the director of the House of Egyptian Architecture, Dr. Heba Safey Eldeen, and it was just thrilling. So, keep on reading to see what this house has to offer.
Mariez Hany: Tell us more about the revival process of the house.
Heba Safey Eldeen: The house came to life as a product of many factors. Firstly, the Cultural Development Fund which belongs to the Ministry of Culture was already working on rehabilitating and reusing historic places to host cultural activities and those places would be later entitled: “specialized creative centers”. The house of Ali Labib and also called Al-Malatily house (which is now the House of Egyptian Architecture) was on their list and so the idea of re-using the building again began from there. Also, my father, Architect Essam Safey Eldeen, proposed the idea of the House of Egyptian Architecture as a creative architectural hub to minister Farouk Hosny and the minister agreed on it and chose this place specifically to work on.
Originally, my father’s vision was to re-use the place as a museum where one can exhibit, learn about and honor Egyptian Architecture and Architects as Hassan Fathy and Ramses Wissa Wassef. He already had numerous architectural models, studies, researches, and books to showcase and gift the community with. However, later we developed the vision of re-using the house as a creative hub that offers diverse and engaging activities for everybody in addition to the museum experience.
MH: When people walk through the house, they feel history under their skin. Can you give us a brief about the house’s past?
HS: Above all, the house is located in the alley of “Darb El Labbana”, off the citadel square in Cairo. Built in the 18th century, the house is considered one of the best-preserved Islamic houses in Cairo. It is designed in the Ottoman style and is also influenced by the Mamluk design features. The house has always welcomed local artists as well as international ones as Pepe Martin, Ragheb Ayad, Shady Abdelsalam and Abdelsalam Elsherif to name a few. As a result, the house of Ali Labib got the name “house of artists”. In addition to these artists, it’s worth mentioning that the great architect Hassan Fathy used to live on the roof of the house. After Fathy’s death in 1989, the house was abandoned for about fifteen years until its restoration and then rehabilitation that we’ve mentioned before.
MH: From a mere Ottoman monument into a creative architecture hub. How was the house transformed from its “dead” state into a place that resonates with life?
HS: The official opening of the house to function as an architectural hub was in April 2016. Since then, the House of Egyptian Architecture continues to provide multiple activities and programs that keep it zestful. The house is an art piece on its own and has so many fine details that people can come just to stare at. Some of these include wall murals, wooden ceiling carvings, and decorations, and simply breathtaking roof views. All of these elements definitely stand aside from the great architectural design and construction of the whole house.
Architecture History Museums
House of Egyptian Architecture presents the history of Architecture in Egypt in chronological order. To clarify, the house offers exhibition rooms showing rural and Nubian architecture, ancient Egyptian architecture, Greco-Roman architecture, Coptic architecture, Islamic architecture, Mohamed Aly and Khedivial architecture, modern and contemporary architecture. When you walk through these rooms, they take you on a journey of architecture and design in Egypt. Through pictures, sketches, and models, one gets transferred to each of these eras.
Pioneer Architects Museums
In addition to the architecture history museums, the House of Egyptian Architecture proudly showcases Hassan Fathy’s and Ramses Wissa Wassef’s works. In these museums, you get to know the biographies of these pioneering Egyptian Architects while their works tell you about their design thinking and philosophy.
For those interested to participate in different workshops, the house opens its door for them. Inside, there is a multi-purpose room that hosts indoor activities. Equipped with digital screens and computers, the workshop rooms provide infinite activities and workshops to those seeking to develop themselves and learn something new. Outside, the garden of the house hosts activities like painting, drawing, and craft-making. So, whichever the type of the activity, House of Egyptian Architecture has the room for it.
The House of Egyptian architecture owns a vaulted ceiling hall that perfectly functions as a lecture hall. Here, extensive discussions and profound talks about architecture, art, and design take place. This hall enriches its users with knowledge that feeds the mind.
Vast and resourceful, the house’s library offers a variety of collections of books and publications for researchers and students. The house continues to enrich and enlighten its visitors through its digital library of rare collections of projects, photograph galleries, and publications.
The House of Egyptian Architecture boasts with its beautiful saloon that provides an amazing atmosphere for cultural discussions. Also, the house’s courtyard with its open and airy atmosphere works as a gathering area for exhibitions and seminars.
MH: Were there any challenges facing you in the rehabilitation process of the house?
HS: In terms of tangible challenge, the main challenge was that the house is an antiquity. So, we couldn’t make any changes in its design or composition. Therefore, we planned to make the best use of each space as it is without any reformations. Also, we had to deal with very delicate structures and pieces as the wooden masharbiyyas and marble fountains. In terms of intangible challenges, came the communication issues. To illustrate, the house had to reach out to students and architects and welcome their ideas while also be an unbiased hub where every opinion is respected so that everybody would feel included and cherished.
MH: How did the revival of the house affect the residents of Darb El Labbana?
HS: The House of Egyptian Architecture positively affected its site on so many levels. For instance, the site in which the house stands is now cleaner and safer. This resulted from the government’s care, the house’s continual activity which made the area more livable. Also, the house engages with its neighbors and involves them in its community discussions. Some of these discussions and activities target the kids through the program of Architecture and Children-Egypt. It’s where kids learn about architecture and design through fun and creative activities and projects.
MH: As the director of the House of Egyptian Architecture, what are your aspirations for the house?
HS: Above all, the main goal of the house is to be an efficient architectural hub and a destination for the entire society to benefit from. Also, one of the main targets of the house is to encourage under-spoken students to communicate with architects and designers that they read about in magazines and never had the chance to meet and connect with. House of Egyptian Architecture also hopes to go global create networks with international architectural hubs in the world.
We encourage you to go visit the House of Egyptian Architecture and be part of its enlightening team. To read more about other houses in Egypt check: The “Architectures” of “Bayt Yakan”: Layers of History and also Poetics of Place: Bayt Al-Suhaymi Architecture