Egypt celebrates pioneer of the science of folk architecture

Amira Noshokaty , Sunday 10 Dec 2023

An exhibition by pioneer architecture and tutor Essam Safi El-Din traces Egypt's folk architecture.

professor Essam Safi el Din explaining the 5 types of folk architecture in Egypt. Next to him is professor architect Hatem El Taweel and Professional Nahla Imam. Photo: Amira Noshokaty


Last week, the National Organization For Urban Harmony (NOUH), in Collaboration with the House of Egyptian Architecture, celebrated the iconic architectural documentation of the architect and tutor Professor Essam Safi El-Din. The celebration that was held under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture included an exhibition of artwork that documented all types of Egyptian vernacular architecture.

Professors Essam Safi El-Din, founder and pioneer of the science of folk architecture, architect Hatem El Taweel, and Nahla Imam, the heritage consultant to the Minister of Culture, also held a talk where they discussed the essence of the vernacular architectural heritage of Egypt.

The talk was moderated by Architect Hamdy Sotohy an expert on vernacular architecture at the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).

“Egypt has a unique diversity of folk architecture in its seven districts and we cannot talk about folk architecture without paying our respect to one of the pioneers of folk architecture in Egypt [Safi El-Din], who has left a remarkable mark on the science and history of such architecture in Egypt,” explained Mohamed Abu Seada, the CEO of NOUH at the opening of the lecture.

“I started noticing the different types of folk architecture ever since I was three and half years old when I realized that there is a difference in the scenery between Shubra where I live and in Shebeen El-Kom, and Ezabt El-Nakhl, when I went to visit with my family, which I learned was called ‘Ariaf’ meaning peasant architecture,” noted Safi El-Din.

He talked about how he met Ramsis Wissa Wassef who helped him and encouraged him to exhibit the sketches he made of alleys. Wissa Wassef also introduced Safi El-Din to Hassan Fathy, another pillar of local architecture.

“After years of research, I realized that in Egypt there are five types of folk architecture, which are directly related to the geographical and environmental aspects of such places”

“There is the ariaf folk architecture that is found in the Nile Delta and Upper Egypt, the desert folk architecture, the coastal folk architecture, the Nubian architecture, and the folk architecture of ancient districts of old Cities in Egypt,” explained Safi El-Din.

The smartness and simplicity of the folk architecture are quite impressive. The way people use the environment as their main resource puts modern concrete buildings in a highly questionable situation.

“The exhibition has lots of details and science that are overwhelming, “commented architect Hatem El-Taweel on the work on folk architecture.

“There is that trend of the postmodernity that leans towards going back to nature. Like we do in medicine and diets, there will also be a return to alternative architecture, traditional architecture, and going back to nature. That sense of heritage is amplified especially among the youth. [For example,] take the young troupes and see how they use it; the fact that most of their audience is young is a message in itself,” noted Professor Nahla Imam.

This unique exhibition shall move to a special hall under the name of Professor Essam Safi El-Din at the Museum of Folk Arts on the premises of the High Institute of Folk Arts and will be opened to the public shortly. 

Short link: