International Competition for the Urban Design, Harmony & Historic Conservation of Opera and Ataba Squares

in collaboration with Vinayak Bharne & John Dutton, AIA; 2010

Cairo Egypt

Opera and Ataba squares together, form one of the three main transportation hubs in Cairo’s CBD, the others being Tahrir and Ramses squares. They link the commercial and business district of Khedivial Cairo to a group of wholesale specialized markets surrounding Ataba Square, and traditional markets in el-Azhar district. The two squares, originally a major cultural and recreational node, are currently separated by the Opera multistory garage built on the original site of the Khedivial Opera House. A diverse mixture of land uses, commercial activities, and a number of historic buildings characterize the surrounding area.

Our proposal seeks to restore harmony and urban identity to the historic Opera and Ataba Squares area of Khedivial Cairo. This can only be done in a coordinated approach, one that balances transportation needs, civic identity, development opportunities and a pedestrian friendly environment conducive to tourists and residents alike. This formerly distinguished place, once considered the ‘heart’ of Cairo, is situated at the nexus of Khedivial Cairo with the historic Fatimid Cairo to the East. It therefore serves as both a connection, as well as a center, a place for people to move through, but more importantly for people to come to. Accomplishing this requires reworking the infrastructure of the area, from the demolition of the elevated highways, to the transformation of street and block structures to allow more controlled vehicular movement through the area, as long as such vehicular movement does not infringe upon a generous and elegant urban place for people. The new street and block structure allows better definition of the public streets and two new squares. It allows a better relationship between building and city space, a more elegant way of defining this as a place, a destination of cultural and business significance. We envision creating different identities for the two squares: a more formal “hard” Opera Square, firmly in Khedivial Cairo and visually and spatially prominent. The other, more informal, “softer” Ataba Square is proposed as a shaded date palm grove. Ataba Square is more connected to the informal activities of markets, hotels, and administrative employees alike, as a respite from the heat and concrete of the city. The scheme is devised to work with the proposed winning scheme of the recent competition to revitalize all of Central Zone of Khedivial Cairo.