A proposal prepared during the course of my Master Program at the Arab Academy For Science and Technology (AAST), for the Architecture Design Process Course. The course requirement was to tackle architectural identity and heritage, while exploring the issues of contemporary design process.
I chose the city of Port Said, for it’s unique architectural heritage. My stated aim was to explore means to revive the heritage of the Valiant city of Port Said. The city has enjoyed an architectural flourishing upon its establishment in the 19th century, but the rich architectural heritage of Port Said has long been neglected and left to wither.
In order to embark upon defining the Design Problem statement, I had to determine what is the architectural identity of Port Said, and which aspects of this identity will I try to revive in the design project.
First I researched the physical and historical aspects of the architectural heritage of Port Said. Nonetheless I knew that the research of physical attributes, was not enough to reach a relevant problem statement, and conjointly I ran interviews with stakeholders and experts on the Heritage of Port Said, as well as inviting members of the community to participate in an online survey.
The analysis of the data generated by these interviews and surveys, coupled with the research of the architectural heritage elements, led me to generate this design statement:
“REVITALIZING THE ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE OF PORT SAID, THROUGH INTRODUCING A MUSEUM TO TELL THE STORY OF THE CITY, IN A SITE OF ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE AND CULTURAL VALUE”
Which subsequently led me to pick the Simon Arzt Department Store Building as the subject of my revival project. Simon Arzt Department Store, Building No. 16 on Port Said Urban Heritage list (Urban Harmony, 2010), is a vacant building with a rich heritage and of an distinctive architectural significance. The building is currently left in a state of decline.*
Similarly, when embarking on the form generation exploration, my starting point was a contemporary parametric form, that reflects my personal design influences.
But as the design development progressed, the form generation started moving towards a configuration more grounded in the Port Saidian context, albeit in a contemporary morphology, reflecting and reinterpreting elements from the city’s architectural heritage, but using contemporary methods and materials.
Rather than introducing a form that is rather alien and invasive, I opted to an approach were the form was derived from the necessary functions added to facilitate the rehabilitation of the Simon Arzt department store and it’s adaptive reuse as a museum.
The aesthetics of the introduced form was a contemporary adaption of an architectural symbol of the city.
The façade of the new introduced form, is composed of two layers, a double glazed glass skin, covered with an environmental metal mesh, derived from the wooden verandas that is a strong component of the Port Said architectural heritage. “This remarkable architecture is found nowhere else in Egypt – or anywhere else in the world, for that matter.” (Piaton, 2011).
Besides the environmental and visual aspect of this adaptation of the wooden veranda, it was an attempt to echo the symbolism that this Port Saidian architectural element bears.
The wooden verandas were a dominant architectural feature introduced by the Canal Suez French Company, later on, in 1888, the Egyptian Government imposed a building law that requires arcades to be built on all main streets of Egypt.
However, Port Saidians pushed back, and acquired an exemption that allowed them to continue building wooden verandas, but on the side streets only, resulting in the unique mixture of both Haussmann style arcades on main streets and wooden verandas on the side streets.
“The verandas [were] finally prohibited in 1921 by a vote of the City Council… because this council was mainly composed of members of the European community of Port Said… Egyptians members of the City Council were the only ones in favour of conservation of the verandas.” (Abouelfadl, ElKerdany, Wessling, 2017, p. 8).
Thus the appropriation of the wooden verandas, and it’s reinterpretation in a museum telling the story of Port Said, is my attempt to invoke the connotations of the city’s resistance against imperialism and the establishment, encapsulated into an architectural symbol.
* Footnote: Port Said Governorate recently announced a plan to revive and renovate Simon Arzt Building and turn it into… nothing other than A MALL!