Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Building Brief


This just explains some of the symbols and reasons built into my building. Don't worry, I'll get back to poetry soon. I have a lot to say there.

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Giza is a southwestern suburb of Cairo. It houses five million people, most of them poor. Giza was once the location of the prime meridian. Now there are four main districts of Giza: the Necropolis, Alharam, Zamalek, and Almohondeseen. The Necropolis is site of Egypt’s two tallest pyramids and brings in a lot of tourist money. Alharam was a popular nightclub locale during British rule but is now rundown. Zamalek is become more and more of a middle-class neighborhood. It is on the edge of Giza closest to Cairo and housing is cheap. But the vast majority of Giza is a low-income, over-populated housing district called Almohandeseen.

My market sits on the Nile shore a block away from the southern border of Giza. To the west is a large low-income housing complex followed by alley after alley of Almohandeseen houses stretching all the way to the Necropolis. Across the Nile is the site of Fostat, the first Arabic capital of Egypt. There is also a shopping strip and Grand Hyatt hotel on the other side of the Nile. South is a freeway before a large farming district.

Parts of the market could have been built by the first man. I wanted that simplicity and historical slant to contrast with my glass roof. The roof is composed of a series of six foot by nine foot, self-contained jalousie windows. These can open to let the heat out, but they also provide rain protection when needed. The shape of the roof is intentionally reminiscent of a pyramid or obelisk, an ancient representation of the benben. In Egyptian Ennead creation mythology, the first man, Atum, rose from the primordial waters on a mound of earth. They called that mound a benben. Pyramidions and obelisks were referred to as benbenets, or like benbens. I wanted to take this ancient concept and represent it with modern techniques and materials because I am fascinated by both history and modern technology.

The large curved wall is half the height of the café roof. It is reminiscent of nilometers – ceremonial and decorated pits that measured the yearly flood height of the Nile until the Aswan High Dam stopped its irregularities. These were very important to farmers and priests alike. The farmers relied on cycles of the Nile’s floodwaters to grow crops. Priests used them in religious ceremonies to ensure the yearly return of those floods.

The arcade features five columns and lintels as well as two hallways. Their shadows symbolize the dark periods of Egypt’s past. Each of the columns or walls is inscribed with the approximate dates they represent. Since Atum rose out of water the end of the arcade closest to the water is the earliest time period. The shadow from the short hallway cutting through the curved wall represents the time before and during the pre- and proto-dynastic periods when Egypt was separated. The first column and lintel symbolize the First Intermediate Period when Egypt fell apart during a long famine. The second symbolizes the Second Intermediate Period when the Hyksos, foreign rulers, took over half of Egypt. The third symbolizes the Third Intermediate Period when Egypt split into three parts from ineffectual and foreign rule. The fourth symbolizes the two periods where Persians ruled Egypt as well as the early parts of the Alexander induced Greco-Roman period. The fifth represents the period leading up to and through the beginning of the Arab conquest. The long hallway represents the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of Egypt as well as its contemporary, weakened state. There is a door at the end of the hallway that implies hope simply by its placement at the end of this line of dark symbols.

By mixing ancient and modern I hope to create a space that all people can encounter non-violently. The café is for the middle class, the tourists, the employed. The open spaces are for farmer’s to conduct business. The swimming hole is for the lower classes. With my building right across the street from project housing, I wanted to create a place where kids can play. The space is meant to mix class and culture, which I hope would foster understanding. The building is surrounded by contrasts: historical and contemporary, poverty and wealth, desert and Nile. These are not new contrasts – they have been present for at least 4500 years. The sites of Memphis and Heliopolis are both within a few miles, as is the site of the slave labor camp for Khufu’s pyramid. The site is more generally located between the genocide in Darfur and the Palestinian conflict. Egypt is a crossroads for this conflicted area. My building is a crossroads for the conflicted district of Giza.

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