Living Off the Nile

Insights into New Campus

September 17th, 2010 by asmetana · No Comments

In response to a comment about the inspiration for the AUC’s campus, comparing AUC’s new campus to the city of Cairo, as well as analyzing UMW in a similar fashion, I bring you the following.

AUC Campus Inspiration

The new campus reflects a modern, artistic twist on traditional Islamic and Arabic designs. I think that the architects wanted to use traditional Arabic features in order to celebrate their artistic and cultural heritage. At the same time, all the buildings are very extravagant and modern, showing how Egyptians can be prosperous in the present without needing to give up their pride in the past.

The AUC new campus is unlike the rest of Cairo. Traditional features, which were once common in old medinas (cities) are rarely found in the Cairene neighborhoods outside of mosques, villas, or fancy Egyptian restaurants. It is rare to find a neighborhood that has arabesque inspired buildings with courtyard, arches, and balconies displaying intricate geometrical designs. Normal buildings are plain concrete blocks that care more about housing a large amount of people in an area than aesthetics. However, it is a shame that traditional features have been abandoned since not only were they beautiful, but were well suited to the desert environment. Apparently, many of the Arabic features displayed on campus serve practical purposes of keeping the students cool despite the hot desert sun. According to the architect of the AUC library, Stephen Johnson,”Traditional Arabic mashrabiya [wooden window screens]for privacy and sun-protection, malkafs [wind catchers] on roofs to capture prevailing winds and circulate fresh air into buildings, and shukshaykhas [vented domes] to remove hot air appeared in modern expression at the new campus, too”. Very clever. Also, all the walls are stone at least three feet thick, keeping the buildings insulated and helping the university save energy on AC.


There are older parts of Cairo that have a similar layout to New Campus. The seemingly haphazard floor plans for the academic buildings resemble to older areas of Cairo. For example, Khan al-Khalili ( a souq or marketplace in Islamic Cairo), is made up of  a tangle of alleys dotted with courtyards. Getting lost is quite easy.  Similarly, New Campus is not populated by buildings that are single, self-contained blocks with one straight corridor running down its length, but instead buildings are a compilation of several courtyard conjoined with one another, sometimes at weird angles.

However, this layout is quite different than modern Cairo. Cairo is a massive city and all the areas that I know, Zamalek and Downtown, display a lot of European influence. Zamalek is home to many European-style palaces alongside plain apartment/business buildings. Meanwhile, downtown Cairo has a stronger European flair. It  has widened boulevards and streets that were constructed in the late 19th century at the request of Ismail the Magnificent, who wanted the area to resemble Europe, Paris in particular.The buildings themselves look as though they have been transplanted from France ages ago and have been given some time to weather. There are no buildings on new campus that have even the slightest hint of Parisian flair to them. In addition, the Parisian influence has resulted in the use of roundabouts in the downtown.

European Influence Downtown

I think a mixture of roundabouts and a natural growth of the city from its old medina layout has affected the overall street layout of the city. Cairo has some orderly grid-like sections, but they tend to spiral out from various points like spider webs. American cities in comparison are much to simple. They follow a boring, though practical, grid-like framework. If you compare the street maps of Cairo with that of Fredericksburg (Below), you can see what I’m talking about.

Cairo, Egypt

Fredericksburg, VA

UMW’s campus reflects this orderly American layout. Most of the buildings are simple rectangles with a corridor running down its length. The only variations to this are the rotundas inside of Trinkle and Jepson, but the hall ways of these buildings follow the same idea of the rest of the buildings. The buildings on UMW’s campus are Jeffersonian. UMW is similar to AUC in that its architecture reflects its heritage. Jefferson was a famous Virginian and he represents a commitment to higher learning and knowledge. AUC’s buildings also reflect a commitment to higher learning. For example, “Near the entrance to the campus, architects built a dome modeled after the Great Mosque in Cordoba, Spain. The dome symbolizes the height of intellectual and mathematical achievement in Islamic civilization.” ( UMW’s buildings are also have a similar architectural style to the older buildings in Fredericksburg that go back to the days of the Revolutionary War with red-bricks and front porches.

UMW’s buildings are also have a similar architectural style to the older buildings in Fredericksburg that go back to the days of the Revolutionary War with red-bricks and front porches.

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