“Sednaoui Al Khazendar” building and its surrounding square are interwoven in the diversity of interrelations that are produced by the two historical faces of Cairo. On one hand there is the building itself, comfortably situated in one of the capital’s oldest quarters, thus standing as a silent souvenir of Egypt’s rich history; on the other hand, in the shadows of that very same building, countless numbers of street sellers and buyers, pedestrians, cyclists, bikers, all embodied in the symphony of flowing cars and their horns, have found the dynamic universe of life patterns that we were willing to investigate in our project. Starting with a long analysis process of the situation we were able to formulate three conceptual lines of intervention that would eventually enable us to give new birth to the Sednaoui Al Khazendar Building and its surrounding area.
1. Al Khazendar Urban Walk
In order to improve the accessibility of the building, the project is used as an opportunity to put forward a new model that mostly responds to the needs of the pedestrians. In that sense, the project proposes a solution where traffic is re-routed, thus generating a significant urban territory where the car traffic is prohibited and pedestrian activity promoted. This solution will eliminate existing intersections between the two directions occurring at several points surrounding the square, namely that in front of the Sednaoui building. Thus, the new traffic plan is viewed as a continuous loop that gravitates around the new pedestrian area and continues the traffic flow to and from Attaba square. The new ‘Khazendar Urban Walk’ will provide a vibrant commercial, cultural and recreational pedestrian axis that will accommodate numerous activities and allow for different permanent and temporary festivities.
2. Al Khazendar Market
In order to further develop the concept of extension of the pedestrian space, the front square in front of the Al Khazendar building is elevated, extending its surface to an underground plaza that is about to become an interim space, something between an entrance foyer, an event space, and eventually a micro climatic cocoon. Within this space a number of activities become possible, but most importantly to house a vendor market for part of the existing vendors in the area as well as temporary events. This large open space covered by an elevated perforated carpet hovering seamlessly on slender steel columns, becomes an extension to the Khazendar square existing plaza and a representation of the continuous dialogue between the building and its urban surrounding. Following the same logic, the redesigned surface that sits on top of this underground, the main ceremonial “plateau” when approaching the building, is intensively (re)developed using spatial elements that promote cultural exchanges in the open air landscape. We decided to construct a new, rather than conserving the present square landscape. The “exploited” square surface design comes from the narrative of self-reflection of the Sednaoui Al Khazendar building into its surrounding landscape. Achieving a certain type of continuity between the vertical and the horizontal, this new landscape endorses again the continuous dialogue between the building and the square. Because of their undoubted qualities, the main conceptual components of the present square, the water and the vegetation, are still present.
3. Sednaoui House of Arts
The redesign of Sednaoui Al Khazendar building itself goes beyond the purely conservation and preservation issues of creating a frozenly protected built environment. On the contrary, we tried to think of the building more as an open setting that could be inhabited by different programmes that will eventually transform the space into a place where the city and the building are constructed as a single whole. In this newly established unity, the project proposes functional, technological and environmental solutions that would make the Sednaoui Al Khazendar building a very lively and active cultural heritage.
In the project design methodology and analysis, the evaluation of the building qualities came at the first place. What we were able to realize immediately is that the most specific element of the building itself is its structural system. For us, the steel columns and beams are much more than simple construction elements onto which the facades are erected as an envelope. Firstly, we would rather like to see this three-dimensional grid as a conceptual framework that provides every user with a familiar orientation in the overall space. Furthermore, in those abstractly formulated cubicles we were able to foresee a spatial model upon which we would be able to propose a new flexible programmatic content, responsible for the rehabilitation of the building.
While the initial brief called to transform the building into a commercial center (mall), it was our intention to rethink and challenge what it could really offer in terms of new programme. This new programme promotes a space for the craftsman artist, the one who once played an important role in the society but whose labour is now drowned in the tons of low quality goods that due to global economy arrive from China, filling over to the streets of Cairo in countless numbers. Rather than this, the Al Khazendar building will accommodate a variety of creative people, who will there work, exchange, exhibit, and certainly put on the market the high quality manufactured goods they produce.
The spatio-programmatic modules are about to be integrated in the previously mentioned, structural and orientation grid that is actually the milestone of identity of the Al Khazendar building. The distribution of these flexible modules is done according to the logic of compatibility and balance of the solid and void spaces. In that sense, the modules are not only populated in the building in order to create the highest possible programmatic density, but instead, the “empty” space that has been left between them is equally important as in public space the void is the active part. While this empty space acts as a catalyst for artistic innovation and creativity, providing new possibilities for exhibition and display areas into a larger volume, the voids between the artisan modules are inhabited with some supporting programmes such as meeting spaces, cafes, rentable display areas, musical performance areas, etc. Maintaining its significance as the central volumetric element of the building, the Sednaoui atrium will be place for continuous temporary events and exhibitions, and shall remain in a state of constant flux and transformation. On the other hand, the roof of the building is to become glazed, a concept of materiality that will provide much higher quality of natural lighting in the interior of the building, simultaneously providing a greater energetic efficiency but also an unprecedented atmosphere. This roof is then complimented by several recreational activities taking place on it, from temporary exhibition opening and events to permanent restaurants and cafes.