Community Jameel Center in Downtown Cairo: Modernist and Mamluk Architecture Captured by Ebrahim Bahaa Eldin
In Downtown Cairo, the Jameel Center pays homage to modernism and Mamluk architectural heritage. The Abdul Latif Jameel Center for Middle East Management Studies illustrates effective and adaptable architecture. The old business education building, a monument in Cairo’s multi-layered architectural and academic heritage with staple elements such as concrete façades, has Mamluk-inspired arches, and wooden mashrabiyyas. Photographer Ebrahim Bahaa Eldin captures this unique architecture and its surrounding environment.
The center, which was established in 1989, serves as a hub for modern management education and training in the Middle East. It has now developed into a key component of the surrounding GrEEK Campus, Cairo’s first technology and innovation property. It plays a significant role in shaping Egypt’s tech-immersed entrepreneurial ecosystem, located at what used to be the American University in Cairo. The finished product is a multi-faceted structure that soon established itself as a key component of the educational landscape at AUC by offering conference rooms, computer and reprographic labs, conference rooms, classrooms, and offices.
The construction of the Jameel Center began in 1987 under the guidance of architectural consultancy Dar Al-Handasah and the supervision of Suhayl Bathish, an architect of Palestinian origin. Bathish used an approach that combined all aspects, including the architectural concept, the choice of location, materials, and structural systems. The goal was to create a space that could adapt and evolve, minimizing the necessity for future significant interventions.
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The main concept was to create a versatile building with maximum flexibility that would accommodate different functions as the need arose throughout its lifespan. –Ahmad Bahgat Chahine, head of Dar Al-Handasah’s Dar Al Hadassah’s architectural department.
The building was initiated by the late Abdul Latif Jameel and his son, Yousef Jameel. It was constructed using an endowment given to AUC by the Jameel family to house the university’s Department of management studies and Institutes of Management. The aim of Batish was “to create an efficient, flexible, user-friendly landmark building with a unique identity that would stand out within the campus, while at the same time integrate effortlessly with its surroundings.”
Using fair-faced concrete façades to achieve a contemporary appearance, the project also incorporated traditional design elements such as wooden mashrabiyya screens and Mamluk-inspired marble arches. These elements were chosen to evoke the classical character and architectural vocabulary of the original AUC buildings in the Tahrir area, as well as Cairo’s Mamluk-era architectural heritage. Interestingly, the mashrabiyya screens, traditionally employed to provide ventilation and passive cooling by shielding windows, serve a functional purpose beyond aesthetics. They are designed to regulate the entry of light into the building, contributing to its sustainability and performance.
The coffered ceiling on the first-floor mezzanine level is one of the building’s more fascinating design features. According to Ahmad, to further emphasize the architectural character of the building and connect with the fair-faced walls and façade concept, the concrete, grid-like structural system was purposefully articulated and exposed whenever possible. Furthermore, the columns and façades’ circular indents offer a visual feature that relates to the building’s construction methods and limitations. Metal through bolts held the façade formwork in place while the concrete set left behind the rounded marks, purposefully leaving them visible.
Info via Community Jameel, Sabrina Gilby, and Ahmad Bahgat Chahine.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 18, 2023.