Magdy El Khouly Street: A Communal Upheaval in the Heart of Cairo
Poised to reshape Ezbet Khairallah, this street rehabilitation project manifests a community’s unyielding spirit for change.
Two years after transforming the lives of Ezbet Khairallah’s inhabitants with Dawar El Ezba Cultural Center, Egyptian architect Ahmed Hossam Saafan returned to the Cairene neighbourhood with a fund by the Dutch Embassy to rehabilitate its surrounding streets to suit the needs of its children, women and men alike.
“The roots of the project were dug deep into the community’s aspirations,” Saafan tells SceneHome. “Anchored by rigorous engagement, the project sought to create an environment that caters to the safety and well-being of its residents.”
This endeavour represents more than just architectural innovations such as playful paver patterns that entice children to play, reimagined elevations that set a light tone to the urban environment, and unpretentious public designs; it stands as a testament to the transformative power of community collaboration.
“Through community meetings, a symphony of voices blended together to mould a shared vision for this public space, ensuring that it resonated with the lives it aimed to enhance,” Saafan says. The project’s commitment to sustainability extends beyond the physical elements. By utilising local materials and labour, it nurtured economic sustainability.
A fusion of design ingenuity and local resources paved the way for the project to invigorate livelihoods. Community workshops posed a fundamental question to the inhabitants: What’s the street to you? Saafan found that Ezbet Khairallah’s streets embody a myriad of meanings, from communal courtyards for gatherings to lively festival grounds.“Over two years, we navigated the evolving essence of the street, a narrative intricately woven with notions of ownership, preference and compromise. In this journey, the project evolved into a catalyst for urban dialogue,” Saafan recalls.
The design strategy was oriented around simplicity. Vibrant hues of change stand out against a backdrop of unpatterned environments while elements were inspired by traditional upper Egyptian houses. “Our renewal effort encompassed a holistic makeover. From refurbishing elevations and enhancing infrastructure to installing street benches, paving pathways and illuminating spaces with vibrant lighting.”
Inviting engagement and interaction, a detachable multipurpose kid’s area served as a dynamic canvas for youthful imagination to flourish. “The result was a rejuvenated street environment, thriving with vitality and camaraderie. The revival of communal spaces curtailed negative behaviours that once plagued the streets, fostering a renewed sense of security and belonging,” Saafan says.“As an architect, I am humbled to witness Dawar El Ezba Cultural Centre and its companion projects take root and flourish,” Saafan says. “I envision an inclusive and vibrant Cairo, where communal neighbourhoods thrive. This isn’t merely an architectural achievement, it’s a manifestation of possibility, resilience and the unyielding spirit of a community seeking positive change. This is an ongoing narrative, a mosaic of lessons, experiences and dreams.”
With Dawar El Ezba Cultural Center and its companion projects, the dialogue for urban renewal which was started in 2019 and supplemented in 2021 continues to gain momentum, inclining those who come across it to participate in the journey of transformation aimed at reshaping Ezbet Khairallah. Even if that’s through the written word.
Photography Credit: Ahmed Hossam Saafan