Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Contrast Designs Wins Hasan Fathy Award

Last week Contrast Designs was awarded the special mention in the Hasan Fathy architecture award  for the Serlachius Museum Extension project. The award is considered the most prestigious award in Egyptian architecture, and is jointly awarded with members from the Mies van der Rohe award, the Aga Khan award, and the Supreme Council of Culture. Previous award winners include Ali Raafat, Salah Hegab, Mohamed Awad, Saleh Lamei, Mamdouh Hamza, Raef Fahmy, Rami Aldahan and Godran among others. 

Congratulations and thanks to our project team:

Kareem Hammouda
Mazin Abdulkarim
Tamer Nader
Jovan Ivanovski

Andrej Prosevski
Goce Tikvarovski
Ivana Topalovska
Loai Nabil
Sara Mitry
Sayed Abdelmohsen

Find out more details about the winning project here

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Our Urban Futures Workshop

CONTRAST Designs partners Mazin A.Karim and Kareem Hammouda joined the workshop jointly organized by "Cairo from Below", "Megawra" and Ain Shams University last week. Along with 4 other moderators, and students from about 7 different architecture schools, the one-day workshop tried to highlight and open a discussion about several of Cairo's urban issues. From the Cairo 2050 plan, to transport and infrastructure, to personalized visions of Cairo's future, the workshop ended with a wide collection of ideas about the city.

We chose to focus on Cairo's suburbs and gated communities, specifically focusing on "The Wall" as a dominant element affecting the suburban condition. The team proposed visions of how these walls can be seen as opportunity, rather than reason, for segregation and fragmentation. Schemes included the "Transport Wall", the "Music Wall", and the "Drug Dealing Wall".

"Cairo from Below" are organizing "Our Urban Futures" competition that invites Cairenes to imagine and propose ideas for their city, Cairo. More details about the competition here.

A complete collection of the workshop photos here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Al-Manshiya Square Revitalization Proposal

Below is our Third Place winning proposal for the The Revitalization and Upgrading of Al Manshiya Square in Alexandria. The project was initiated by the Governorate of Alexandria to seek ideas for the upgrading of the square as part of a general vision for downtown Alexandria, as well as an architectural proposal for the Motaheda parking space in the square. 

Within the complex current situation of Al-Manshiya Square, lie a lot of opportunities. The square is one of the most lively and most vibrant public spaces in downtown Alexandria. It is also, historically, a space that has witnessed Egypt’s modern history and has been the backdrop to many of the seminal key moments that changed Egypt. The square is also strategically positioned within the commercial district of the city’s downtown area, to accommodate the needs of a large segment of Alexandrians. It has for years been widely known as the destination for commercial activity. The buildings surrounding the square range between commercial, residential, and administrative use. It is also carefully positioned within the city’s public transport network, and is well connected to all major zones of the city.

The revitalization and upgrading of Al-Manshiya square, as well as proposing ideas for the Motaheda parking plot is a unique challenge. The square itself has grown out of control and street vendors have taken over large areas of public spaces and streets which causes a lot of connectivity problems within the existing surroundings. 

A- Downtown Vision

1. Downtown Triangle

The projects proposes a new downtown district that consists of three major nodes, where each node acts as an attraction point and where all three nodes work in harmony in providing a diverse downtown experience.

         1.1   Cultural Hub (Al-Raml Square)

While the area surrounding Al-Raml square has been always identified as the central scene for cultural and tourist activity in Alexandria, the proposal builds on the existing situation and proposes a complete cultural district of museums, cultural centers, art galleries, along with the existing opera performance center. Turning this area into Alexandria’s new cultural district not only for artists, musicians, poets, but also for tourists will provide massive benefits for the city. Its location overlooking the Mediterranean exaggerates its uniqueness and its ability to attract normal citizens and not only the cultural elite. This will be based on renovating and re-using existing structures to house new functions.

         1.2   Transport Hub (Masr Station Square)

In order to vitalize downtown Alexandria, it is necessary that it is very well connected to the rest of Alexandria’s districts. The proposed idea is to maintain a lot of the transport activity that is already occurring in the square and expanding it to accommodate public buses, tram station, underground metro station, and a new biking center. It is also proposed to add a bus rapid transit (BRT) system that connects downtown area with the rest of Alexandria. A great emphasis is made here on providing operational and well maintained transport systems to provide easy access and movement to and from downtown area.

        1.3   Commercial/Business Hub (Al-Manshiya Square)

As it is already considered the commercial and business district of Alexandria, it is proposed to organize, revitalize, and renovate the existing structures and promote a strong commercial activity within this district. Commercial activity not only provides citizens with their needs, or even provides continuous revenue for the city, but also promotes a strong tourist presence. This will only happen by renovating and revitalizing the existing buildings, and using them for diverse tourist and commercial activities such as cafes and restaurants within the inner courtyards. It is also proposed to promote within this district a strong direction towards locally producing certain products. Providing possibilities for clothes design, manufacturing, marketing and promotion with a trained team that offer professional guidance to young investors and shop owners are all part of the proposal as explained later.

2. Downtown Connectors

Major connectors are proposed between the three downtown hubs for both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The three major streets of Saad Zaghlool, Fouad and Sherif Streets, and Al-nabi Danial street, all form possible connectors between the three nodes. As one moves from one node to the other through one of these streets the activity gradiently shifts between the two hubs.

3. Pedestrian vs. Vehicular

In order to promote a more sustainable approach and to deal with the existing situation of downtown area, it is proposed to pedestrianize many of the areas within downtown district and use the full potential of the existing structure between 2012 and 2020. Using a long term plan to divert traffic and slowly transform the area into a pedestrian area will enrich downtown Alexandria, and will boost tourism. In the initial phase, parts of Manshiya square and some of the connectors to al-raml will be closed to vehicular traffic and only opened for pedestrian activity and shall remain well connected to public transport. Alternative routes are proposed for the diverted traffic network.

4. Preserving Alexandria’s Built Heritage

Downtown Alexandria is famous for its built heritage which is constantly under threat. Many of the district’s buildings have now been renovated, but some have been left to neglect, vandalism, and decay and are now in dire need for renovation and revitalization. The proposal suggests to renovate and re-occupy these buildings with activities similar to the existing ones (ex. local cafes) and proposes a renting model which ensures proper and enough maintenance is performed for the buildings. The proposal also suggests the appropriation and use of available rooftops which could become a strong facilitator and generator of urban development in such conditions. Using rooftops of existing buildings, whether in urban agriculture or as activity nodes, will be very useful for the district.

B- Al-Manshiya Square

The basic idea of intervention within Al-Manshiya square is to intervene in a very minimal way with the goal of making the square perform much better than it is now. Dealing with the existing without radical change or evacuation of the surrounding fabric can be a very effective way to gradually implement change. Below are a list of the major ideas that were implemented in the square:
  1. Turning the plaza into a pedestrian only zone and avoiding all vehicular traffic except at the southeastern edge of the square. The pedestrian movement is complemented with 4 tram stops surrounding the square, and also an underground metro station. A lot of emphasis is put on bikes and pedestrian modes.
  2. A large underground car parking is suggested in the basement floor of the whole plaza where possible, to help accommodate vehicular traffic and ease of access to different parts of the building.
  3. Connect the square to the waterfront by elevating the korniche road at the connection. This will provide open views and safe access for all users who which to enjoy the beach, as well as creating a new landmark korniche bridge for Alexandria.
  4. Create internal waterfront by allowing the Mediterranean water to flow into the square. The area surrounding the water will be used for leisure time activities. A large dancing fountain will be centered in the middle of the water body and will perform daily shows for cheering spectators and tourists. The water body could also accommodate a floating theatre for open air performances by artists, musicians and singers.
  5. Create a new street market for the existing street vendors in a depression in the ground level plane in order to provide open views and visual continuiuty through the square, while maintining their locations on axis of movement.
  6. Revive the old Borsa building by re-building the front façade with its iconic terrace as a gateway between the commercial and cultural districts of downtown area.
  7. Distribute activity within the square into three distinct zones, the new waterfront/leisure zone, the green zone (park), and the vendors zone. The existing landmark statue will be further highlighted and incorporated between these three   zones.

C- Al-Manshiya Development Center

While Al-Manshiya square hosts a wide range of diverse uses and different activities, and is overwhelmed with huge amounts of imported goods, it still accommodates a large number of production units (printing press shops, furniture production). Here lies great potential to capitalize and promote small and medium sized companies and help them to grow as business models based upon local expertise and needs. With proper guidance and training many of these individuals would be able to launch their companies and brands into the available market in Al-Manshiya square. This could include, but not limited to, clothes manufacturing, furniture, shoes, accessories & jewellery, printing press…etc.

The building is based on a number of design ideas that were used to define how the building operates programmatically and how it appears formally.

1- Connecting the building with the square and plaza. 

This was achieved through linking the program of the building with the vendors activity and the commercial programs occurring in the plaza, and also through the formal language used to define the plaza and building together as one whole. This was also promoted by opening public spaces in the ground floor and providing connections between the two different sides of the project as a connection force. Large steps are added between the building and the square to provide pleasant sitting and picnic spaces, and which could also be used as open theatre for large performances.

2- Occupying the Building Façade

From the understanding that linearity and movement are two of the key factors of defining street commercial activity, the proposal aims to provide this linear promenade of street shopping within and on its façade. A continuous loop of movement (stairs and ramps) circulates around the building 
giving it its unique gradient form.

Project Team:
Kareem Hammouda
Mazin Abdulkarim
Tamer Nader
Sarah el Defrawi
Loai Nabil
Sayed Mohsen
Andrew Fayek
Mohamed Tantawi
Heba Hashem
Momen Saleh

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Voicing Bahrain" again in July issue of Domus

Our entry for the Bab Al Bahrain competition has been reviewed in the July issue of Domus Magazine. It has been previously featured in the supplement provided with the last issue of Domus in May. 

Read the complete post about the project here

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Voicing Bahrain in Domus

Our proposal 'Voicing Bahrain' for the Bab Square Competition in Bahrain was featured in the May issue of Domus Magazine. The project is published along with some other shortlisted projects and the competition winners.

Read the complete post about the project here
And what we thought of the results here

Friday, April 20, 2012

"it's Countryside"

Contrast Designs partners Mazin A. Karim and Kareem Hammouda, appear in the documentary film "it's Countryside" by Italian director Saverio Pesapane. The film discusses the undefined state of urbanizaiton of the Egyptian Nile Valley, and is part of the project "900 km Nile City". It was prepared for and is currently showing at the IABR in Rotterdam. The biennale opened its doors today and continues until August 2012.

Watch the Video and browse through the project here
For more details about the IABR click here

Opening of the exhibition at the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi)

Shooting of the film at Ibn Tolon Mosque, Cairo

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Forbidden - Short film

Our new short film on the dissecting of public space in post-revolution Egypt

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Voicing Bahrain

Below is our complete entry for the BAB Al Bahrain Competition. The competition was seeking new urban design ideas for BAB square in Bahrain's downtown center, turning it into a viable urban square and taking into consideration the new changes in lifestyles and behaviorism in the Arab World. 

Read what we think of the results here

Voicing Bahrain
Public Space as Responsive Environment

 “In order to create a type of politics unrealizable at present, we are trying out in advance the different methods which might one day bring about the political situation we have in mind. This is simply a matter of suggesting prototypes . . . and taking note of their possibilities and drawbacks. We have never imagined that we could bring about revolution with pockets of alternative architecture, which to make a revolutionary impact, would have to infiltrate the existing constraints. The familiar question is: “If tomorrow morning we woke up to find the earth taken over by local authorities, how would we change our way of planning and constructing the built environment?”

Lucien Kroll, 19802

As countries and societies are constantly (re)identifying their historical and cultural resources, architects are being more often involved into design interventions that are based on careful studies of complexity of the existing contexts, both spatial, cultural and environmental. Bab Al Bahrain (BAB) building and its surrounding square are interwoven in the diversity of interrelations that are produced by the two historical faces of Bahrain. On one hand there is the building itself, comfortably situated in the capital’s old quarters, thus standing as a silent souvenir of Bahrain’s rich history; on the other hand, countless numbers of glazed high-rise towers, gated luxury developments sitting on reclaimed land, all embody Bahrain’s modern history and its ultimate quest for modernity.

existing situation of BAB square

The proposal aims to activate the square as a vibrant city center, symbolizing Bahrain’s history, heritage and modernity collectively, and to allow it to act as an integral part of everyday urban life. This unique sense of place is achieved by attracting the public of all ages, improving communication and social exchange amongst the users, and by creating a flexible multi-use space able to host numerous cultural and social activities and events. Besides the permanent activities located in the new BAB square, it will also be a place for continuous temporary events and exhibitions, and shall remain in a state of constant flux and transformation not only programmatically, but also spatially. It will be a space that is responsive to its changing setting, manipulating the way in which it is perceived and interacted with. It will be a space that is in continuous dialogue and exchange with Bahrain, its history, its citizens, and its social, cultural, and political happenings.

connecting major political, cultural and recreational activities to BAB square

BAB Square: Interlinked Responsive System

Public space has been a major player and central constituent of political protests and uprisings in the arab spring. It is growingly being considered a space for congregation and meeting, political discussions, and even decision-making. On the other hand, Bahrain’s political protesting (post-lulu square demolition) remains largely nomadic and changeable, moving and mutating quickly, heavily dependent on real-time information transfer. Social networking and smart phone real-time information transfer also endorsed the arab spring and provided an answer to the complex situation of continuous fluctuations. The strength embedded in the internet, social networking, and geo-tagging as new uncontrolled collective space; propose new possibilities and understandings of cities and urban situations based on interaction, responsiveness and continuous change.
At the center of our proposition was the interest in spaces which make invisible processes visible. We’ve established a logistical communication network between the square and other locations in Bahrain, through sound input nodes dispersed in major political (protest), cultural and recreational locations, as well as in several seafront locations. Sound inputs (frequency, volume..etc.) are translated into hot air/smoke streams emitting from 11 giant pillars in the square, inducing the movement of a thin fabric hanging canopy by utilizing air buoyancy and pressure.  Projections of social media feeds, real-time streaming coverage of events are displayed on the pillars accentuating a parallel atmosphere in the square. As events and happenings develop, mutate, move, the square responds accordingly in different ways, turning far invisible activities into visible signals, linking remote locations and happenings together and bringing Bahrain into its square.
In its politically ‘quiet’ scenario, the canopy is stimulated by sea sound inputs surrounding the island, as well as a number of preset scenarios. It moves and ripples seamlessly providing a continuously changing atmosphere and displaying on its screens updates and feeds from major cultural and recreational events/news.

Urban Intervention

The project proposes a solution where traffic is re-routed, generating a significant urban territory where the car traffic is prohibited and pedestrian activity promoted. The new traffic plan is achieved by adding to two underground car tunnels for King Faisal Highway (KFH) and Government Avenue. The existing parking for the Souq district is moved underground divided on two floors and can be accessed through these tunnels, while the existing BAB fountain, cul de sac, and drop off zone are moved one floor below ground. This allows a new pedestrian connection linking the Bab building to the square and ultimately to the kornishe and sea, where further recreational activities occur. Access to the Regency parking is maintained via a one-way road looping back to the KFH, and another similar one-way road on the other side of the square connects the Gov. Avenue and the KFH.

In this perspective these two tunnels provide a new all-pedestrian experience, connecting the city center and BAB to the sea, and continue the traffic flow to and from the central district and the square. This ‘pedestrianization’ of the square will provide a vibrant commercial, cultural and recreational pedestrian node that will accommodate numerous activities and allow for different permanent and temporary festivities.

Activities and Program

On the ground floor level, the project proposes a topography of continuously unfolding, undulating surfaces enclosing a sequence of spaces. This ground ‘topography’ of interweaving pathways of varying widths, not only acts as a network of circulation elements, but also contributes significantly to the character of the space. The delicate undulation maximizes the sense of anticipation as one walks through the site.  Furthermore, it provides functional and programmatic possibilities with its sloping surfaces, and creates enclosures for both intimate and larger gatherings. These include day market, vending , art exhibitions and installations, music concerts, carnivals, religious festivals and movie screenings as well as protesting, meeting friends, relaxing, biking and skating.

The existing post office building is moved to the upper underground level, accessed through a large planted courtyard that provides fresh air and exceptional views. Two additional buildings, the National Archives and the Children's Museum, are located also in the upper underground level and are accessed directly from another courtyard that acts as a unique entrance plaza. With the proposed buildings, additional cultural possibilities emerge to turn the square into a cultural hub for Bahrain such as a traditional music museum and recording studios.

Landscape Integration

While the 30m high fabric canopy provides comfortably shaded areas for the square plaza, the proposal achieves several additional spatial qualities by utilizing a number of landscaping strategies. Dense planting is used between the square and adjacent roads to provide enclosure and visual separation from vehicular traffic. Underneath the canopy groups of palm trees are used to identify green areas which punctuate the space and provide grass surfaces for flexible activity and event uses. The ground floor design of undulating wrapping surfaces provide elements that support constant activities, such as seats, toilets, bicycle racks, trash bins and water fountains.

Project Team:
Kareem Hammouda
Mazin Abdulkarim
Tamer Nader
Loai Nabil
Nada Ghanem
Sara Amer

Sayed Abdelmohsen