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Architects are restoring run-down buildings in downtown Cairo

by Eva Rose Tesfaye on May 23, 2018

An Egyptian real estate investment firm is renovating a 122-year-old building in downtown Cairo, making it more environmentally friendly.

The firm, Ismaelia Real Estate, has been doing this with several buildings in downtown Cairo, with aims to restore the district to its former glory.

Chief Executive Officer of Ismaelia for Real Estate Investment, Mohamed El Taher says that the materials from which the building is made lends itself to an environmentally friendly upgrade.

“An opportunity presented itself because the buildings in downtown already have an architectural character different from modern buildings, such as the use of natural stone and natural woods. We also wanted to raise their efficiency by using VRF (variable refrigerant flow) air conditioners which are environmentally friendly.”

The concern with the environmental impact of building has mainly to do with the energy crisis in Egypt. This is one of many efforts to deal with it. In March of last year, three power plants were opened hoping to stop the power shortages and pave the way for surpluses.

“In this stage we are in, we all know the energy crisis we are facing, whether its in consuming electricity or carbon dioxide emissions, so what we are trying to do is help as much as we can reduce the consumption of energy, “ said lead Engineer at Ismaelia for Real Estate Investment, Mohamed Hassan.

While Ismaelia aims to restore downtown, the Egyptian government is on its way out. The government is continuing its 45-billion-dollar plan to move its offices to the east of Cairo, creating a new desert capital. The aim, according to Minister Mostafa Madbouly, is to reduce congestion and overpopulation in Cairo. The new capital would include administrative buildings, universities, diplomatic missions, and housing.

Some people however are planning on staying, such as Hazem Moussa, CEO of the financial company, Sarwa Capital. He told Africanews that the accessibility that downtown Cairo provides is unparalleled and he hopes that more buildings can be restored for modern use.

“Being in the middle (of town) is suitable for everyone, as opposed to being on one side – which varies depending on the nature of the work and company, but when you are on one side, you’ll be close to some areas, but really far from others,” Moussa says

The architecture in the district is also extremely aesthetically pleasing and diverse. According to a study by Egypt’s National Center for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage, downtown Cairo experienced a massive building boom between 1860 and 1940 which “gave birth to a unique architecture combining European styles with local influences and materials.” The study called for increased public awareness of these buildings that are in danger.

Modeled after Paris, the styles of the buildings range from neo-classical to baroque to rococo to art nouveau. The area used to be known for its art galleries, cafes, and nightclub. Each building holds rich history and architectural heritage.

But hundreds of these buildings are now neglected and dilapidated. This is typically attributed to the migration of wealthy Egyptians to the suburbs.

Restoring these buildings could also promote tourism in the area, as downtown Cairo is not much of an attraction for those visiting the pyramids of Giza despite all the history.

“Downtown Cairo has never had its share of tourism although it contains some of this country’s most precious buildings,” tourism expert Reem Fawzi told the Arab Weekly. “Restor­ing the old buildings of the city centre will motivate everybody to visit it and encourage business.”

There are several other projects going on in addition to that of Ismaelia Real Estate to restore the buildings into works of art. One government project aims to restore 500 buildings.

“These are all small efforts here and there. But the important thing is that they are gaining momentum,” Tarek Atia, downtown local, tells reporter, Gihan Shahine.

Feature Image via Wikimedia Commons

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Eva Rose Tesfaye
Eva Tesfaye has traveled around the world her whole life but thinks of Africa as home. She loves reading novels and watching plays (especially ones with people of color in them). She has a love-hate relationship with her big curly hair.