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2nd Edition of Cairo Design Week Takes Over the Capital This February

Running from February 23rd to March 2nd, the design celebration will be hosted in three of Cairo’s heritage zones.

Karim Abdullatif

2nd Edition of Cairo Design Week Takes Over the Capital This February

Cairo Design Week (CDW) is returning for its second edition from February 23rd to March 2nd, 2024. In 2022, the inaugural edition of CDW turned the timeless neighbourhood of Heliopolis into a creative melting pot. This year, Egypt’s boldest design event expands to two more iconic districts, Downtown Cairo and Cairo Citadel, with additional pockets opening up in Maadi and Zamalek.  

Showcasing Cairo’s undying love for design, CDW will feature a seemingly endless array of immersive exhibitions, larger than life installations and cultural events, bringing together local and international designers and artists as they celebrate their commitment to craft and the city.  

Each design district will have its own creative extravaganza, presenting contemporary Egyptian design in the heart of the city’s heritage. Historic villas will be dressed in every possible colour, legacy brands will celebrate decades of design and young minds will be spotlighted in the reimagined Cairo Design Award.  

“When you think of Egypt you don’t picture contemporary scenes, instead it’s the heritage,” Hisham Mahdy, Founder of Cairo Design Week, tells SceneHome. “We chose those locations so that visitors, whether they’re Egyptian or foreign, find that the location, the content, and the case are all related.”  

CDW emphasises the conceptual side of design: its daily practice, the lifestyle and ergonomics, demystifying the objects we use on a daily basis, from the way a chair hugs us to how a cup rests in the palm of our hands. The appeal is in the abstraction. If you present a couch to someone, they might not like it. But colours and shapes are left open for interpretation.   

“We want families to have conversations about design and what it means to be a designer,” Mahdy continues. “For us, design is about happiness, whether it’s in a house, a bag, or a shoe, we design the things that make us happy. We’re showcasing what we have in Egypt to Egyptians and the world, for people to know the processes of design and the volume of its industry in Egypt.”  

There’s an element of discovery to CDW. Now with three locations simultaneously holding a cacophony of creative expression, there’s plenty to explore, with pop-up events at every district. “Each district has a landing point, where people gather and explore from there,” Mahdy says.  

In Downtown Cairo, the landing point is the design district hosted in the recently renovated Tamara building, which Karim El Shafie, CEO and Chairman of Al Ismaelia for Real Estate Development - which is behind countless rehabilitation projects in the historic neighbourhood - refers to as a “gorgeous example of Belle Epoque architecture.”   

“Many of the successful models of events we know today, the festivals and exhibitions, struggled in the first couple of editions,” El Shafei says. “Cairo Design Week’s first edition was a major success. It allowed Egyptian designers to approach design conceptually, even if there’s no immediate product.”  

Downtown Cairo has always been a hub for art and architecture, so it was only a matter of time before it hosted the design week. “Everyone wanted the design week to come to Downtown Cairo. These events aren’t only for enthusiasts, they’ve become more accommodating to people and opened up to a wider audience,” El Shafei says. CDW will also contribute to debunking the myth that historic neighbourhoods are difficult to navigate. At CDW, you’ll walk from one exhibition to another, stopping in the middle to have a cup of coffee in the heart of a renovated Khedival Cairo.   

Fulfilling its purpose as a hub for designers, Tamara building will be hosted by Alchemy Design Studio, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary by going back to its origins in Downtown Cairo. “We want to induce a creative community in Downtown Cairo,” Karim Mekhtigian, Founder of Alchemy Design Studio, says. “To revive the heritage and identity of Downtown Cairo, we need the community to become part of it.”  

Creatives from various fields, be it fashion, design, or photography, will function year-round in Tamara. While last year’s exhibition, the Moviola, celebrated cinema heritage with sets inspired by Egyptian movies, Mekhtigian’s approach with Tamara is to instill creative cohabitation.  

“We always try to show people that we already have a lot of beautiful stories, heritage, and culture that we can explore and reinvent,” Mekhtigian says. “The world isn’t interested in seeing its stories, we need to give it ours, share who we are, how we think, and how we design in Egypt.”  

The Downtown Design District will be spread over a score of iconic locations, including Consoleya, Cinema Radio, Radio Theatre, Hanger, Townhouse Factory, La Viennoise, Maseej Hotel, and Kodak Court. Downtown Cairo will also host talks, screenings, and workshops by DeForum, Film My Design, Cairo Workshop, Designdustry, Studio 34 and Cairo Designathon.  

“The first edition was a pilot, everyone had their expectations but whatever they were, reality surpassed what anyone expected,” Mohamed Radwan, Founder of Cairo Designathon and the Content Director of CDW, says. “With that success comes a huge responsibility. The planners, partners, and members of the design community expect the second edition to be much stronger in terms of quality and international exposure.”  

The Cairo Citadel is set to unveil its historic gates for the Citadel Design District, a unique convergence point for design and fashion enthusiasts. This exclusive district showcases meticulously curated experiences, featuring the distinguished contributions of renowned Egyptian furniture and materials manufacturers.   

The immersive journey spans Yusuf’s Well, hosting MO4 Network, Creative Industry Summit, Photopia, Image, C.Reality, Mahgoub, 3Brothers, Metal X and Space by Yasmin. Meanwhile, the Police Museum Plaza becomes a vibrant canvas, showcasing Marmonil, Gemma, Natuzzi, Mohm, Jotun, Nadim, and El Araby. The ties between design and fashion come to the forefront in the Fashion Design District Experience within Dar Al Darb, curated by Mai Galal and Maison Pyramide, offering a vivid fusion of creativity and innovation.  

In the previous edition, the curators of the Fashion District created an alluring showcase of local and international brands in Heliopolis’ Villa Magenta. “Being at the Citadel is frightening due to its historical value. It’s a big responsibility and we want to involve even more Egyptian designers,” Mai Galal says. “A lot of international designers are inspired by our heritage, looking at our culture.”

 

The Fashion Design District at Cairo Citadel will highlight local and foreign interpretations of Egyptian culture, as well as sustainable fashion practices. “The theme this year has to do with catering to the five senses, how we feel textures, react to light and smell materials,” Galal says. “We want to showcase to the world that Egyptian designers can comfortably rub shoulders with internationally renowned names.” Live workshops will take visitors behind the scenes of the industry, catering to aspiring designers. 

Both Galal and Maison Pyramide have received requests from across the world. “We’re being placed on the international design map, which is reflective of Egypt as a whole,” Galal continues. “A lot of university students are going to attend and this presents the opportunity to make a real difference, providing them with huge exposure.”   

The impact of Fashion Design District can be traced to the participating designers as well. Last year, Sabry Maarouf held his first exhibition in Egypt. Following the feedback, the brand stayed in Egypt. “Aside from the buzz, there’s a lot of experimentation and pushing of boundaries in CDW,” Maarouf says. “Designers get to express their views and dreams.”  

Heliopolis, the birthplace of Cairo Design Week, puts the spotlight on the Al Cayan Building. On its premises, C.Reality celebrates its 20-year legacy with a Standalone Event in the parking area. The building's floors house diverse talents, including Shosha Kamal Design House, Mohm, Madar, Designability, Mob Collective, BE FID, Esque, Sherine Mahgoub, El Araby, Encode, Urban Kind, Adam’s, Coventry University Experience, and Melee. The rooftop transforms into a multisensory celebration by Phlog.

GLC seizes an entire iconic building, creating a window into another space and time. Photopia offers two immersive photographic exhibitions by legendary photographers and educational programs. Design 101, a platform that fosters talents by Shosha Kamal Design House opens its doors for the second year in a row. Villa Ahmed Helmy hosts the Divas Experience, celebrating cultural typologies. Design Center Cairo showcases functional interior artworks from discarded materials.  

“We’ve always been looking for something that unites and celebrates design efforts,” Dr. Ebtissam Farid, the Head of School of Design at the Knowledge Hub University and the new President of Cairo Design Award[MOU6] , tells SceneHome. “But only the well-branded were celebrated. Others need to be highlighted as well but don’t find the right platform to show their work and be heard.”  

Farid has participated in Cairo Design Award in its early editions and has been a jury member in the previous two iterations. Initially, Cairo Design Award paired young and established designers, which may have felt like a mismatch. This year, Farid conducted a complete restructuring of the award, from the categories and committees, to the branding. “Cairo Design Award is a great platform to celebrate young and upcoming designers, to assess where they are in relation to the market. We needed to emphasise the spirit of the award. We’re searching for fresh, bold and creative minds trying to say something innovative,” Farid continues. “It’s not just about a design that looks good, there needs to be a strong concept, an argument.”  

This year’s Cairo Design Award categories include Architecture and Landscape, Interior Architecture and Design, Visual Communication, Fashion and Jewellery, and Product Design. During this year’s ceremony, Eterna Belleza awards will be announced, along with the start of a year-round approach by Cairo Design Award with multiple themed competitions that aim to cement it as one of the region’s most sought after competitions. “If design improves in Egypt, it will affect us all,” Farid says. “This year’s Cairo Design Award will have a real impact, presenting solutions that make people’s lives better and makes young designers feel seen and heard.”  

“It’s great to celebrate Egyptians but we’re not living in isolation, we’re competing regionally. There are Palestinian applicants, despite what they’re going through,” Farid continues, adding that universities from across the region were contacted as well. “We don't want renders, we want ideas and solutions. We’re trying to remove barriers, making it more approachable for everyone to have their ideas shared and voices heard.”  

If the first edition of Cairo Design Week is any measure, then things are only going to get bigger and impactful this November, with everyone from designers, artists and creative entrepreneurs to university students and design enthusiasts covering Cairene streets with thought-provoking aesthetics.  

“Everyone participating in Cairo Design Week is following a common dream, there’s synergy between all participants,” Hisham Mahdy says. “Alone, we can’t achieve it, but together, we can.” Whether it’s the visions of rising local talents displayed in Egypt’s bustling neighbourhoods, to installations set to cover its streets and escapist pop ups offering windows into alternative worlds, Cairo Design Week will add a whole new dimension to the Egyptian capital.

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