Inspiration at the Cairo Design Week

Menna H Ashour , Tuesday 29 Nov 2022

Architect Menna H. Ashour shares her exploration of Cairo’s design scene and architectural heritage at the first Cairo Design Week in Heliopolis

A talk at the Baron s Palace
A talk about "Design and people: How our spaces affect us" at the Baron Palace. (Photos: Cairo Design Week)

The Cairo Design Week (CDW) launched its first edition at the Baron’s Palace in Heliopolis with events taking place from 19 to 25 November across a plethora of historical landmarks in the Korba district, including the Al-Cayan Building, the Villa Magenta, the Ghernata Palace, as well as other locations, such as the Villa Ahmed Helmi, Photopia, Odyssey, and Design 101.

Heliopolis was transformed into a kind of living museum for design and the imagination during the event, becoming an interactive medium hosting all kinds of audiences who were following their passion and curiosity. This was not an event that was only for professional designers.

Everyone was happy and enjoying their time exploring the area, networking, socialising, learning, dreaming, exchanging ideas, engaging in inspiring conversations, and making memories, all the while seeing the city as the home of art, architecture, and inspiration as it has always been.

“The CDW is an NGO that enhances the creative movement in Egypt, aiming to promote young talents and the Egyptian creative scene through a platform that communicates independent events covering diverse fields of art and design,” Hisham Mahdi, designer, founder, and president of the CDW, told Al-Ahram Weekly. 

“This premiere event’s goal is to raise public awareness about the architectural heritage of the city while acting as a hub for creative enthusiasts from every niche and nationality to socialise, collaborate, network, and share ideas through interactive installations, exhibitions, talks, panel discussions, competitions, tournaments, walking tours, and entertainment.”

Hisham Mahdi, the founder of the CDW giving the opening speech

The Baron’s Palace set the stage for a week of informative talks, with each day covering a particular theme in design such as heritage, art, women, sustainability and technology, each of them ending with film screenings. The exhibitors also showcased immersive spaces and inspiring installations as part of CDA Design District. 

Another event organised as part of the CDW was the Cairo Designathon, aimed at reappropriating design thinking in workshop form. 

Mahdi among a group of guests at the CDA22 ceremony

The fifth edition of CDA22 award ceremony was also held at the palace, where its design awards were announced in front of invited guests and VIPs with a party afterwards featuring Hani Adel, Hani Al-Dakkak, and other famous musicians. 

The Fashion Design District at the Villa Magenta

The Villa Magenta hosted the Fashion Design District, a cornerstone of the CDW that served as an ultimate fashion destination for local and international brands like Bulgari and Okhtein to showcase their work in an immersive experience. It hosted the launch of Colour ADD in Egypt, an initiative by GLC Paints in collaboration with the Portuguese Embassy to launch an alphabet for the colour blind and make colour accessible to all.

Al-Cayan Building

The iconic Al-Cayan building hosted many exhibitions as part of the CDW. The Moviola was an experience that engaged with the world of design through a cinematic lens and was led by alchemist Karim Mekhtegian and magician Hisham Mahdi.

Mekhtigian, Leheta and Amr Yousef in the "Moviola" 

There was also the exhibition “Timeless Crossroads: Italy and Egypt in Culture, Design, and Fashion” powered by the Italian Embassy and showcasing the cultural links between the two countries through scenography. CDA Design district was another exhibition that showcased conceptual works and innovative installations by industry-leading creative minds.

Michele Quaroni, the Ambassador of Italy in Egypt in the opening of the "Timeless Crossroads"

Meanwhile, the Ghernata Palace hosted the CDW Art Week that featured the thriving Egyptian art scene. There was also the Grey Garden, a haven for green and sustainable art installations all made using natural materials. There was a table-tennis tournament using a table made from recycled marble and in which the winner received an iPhone 14.

Another inspiring venue was Odyssey, where Karim Al-Hayawan and Nehal Leheta, co-founders of Design Point, featured their work through an antique collection called “Tales of Egyptian Treasure”. The Photopia photography studio hosted talks and photographic walks in partnership with Heliopolis Heritage, a group helping to raise awareness of the area’s heritage.

The Ghernata Palace

There was also Design 101 connecting young designers with production companies.

Last but not least was the event at the Villa Ahmed Helmi that immersed visitors in the hopes and dreams of the late pioneer of Egypt’s design industry Ahmed Helmi, CEO of Meuble Al-Shark.

The CDW is the result of years of planning, Mahdi said, adding that it is an extension of the Cairo Design Awards (CDA) that started in 2017. The aim is to create a platform where design professionals can interact, he said, giving artists and creatives exposure and the chance to develop their visual repertoire and contribute to the shaping of aesthetic taste and its relation to Egypt’s unique identity.  

Designers have a very influential role to play in society beyond the creation of useful products or buildings that balance aesthetics with functional requirements. They are also storytellers who can communicate their own culture and identity in different media.

Miguel Neiva, the creator of the colour ADD

“Egyptian designers have an important role to play in the economy because of their relationship to local manufacturing,” Mahdi said. The idea is to create products that have an authentic Egyptian style that aligns with the local culture and tells a distinctive Egyptian story instead of relying on importing or imitating foreign ideas, he added.  

“The memory of any city is built upon cultural interaction and exchange,” said Al-Hayawan, a photographer, designer, and co-founder of the Design Point Studio that also exhibited at the CDW. 

He said the CDW was important because it helps to create a community that facilitates cultural exchange, social engagements, and human interactions between diverse layers of society that might not have the opportunity to meet otherwise. It is like a cultural salon, Al-Hayawan said, but one that strengthens connections and pride in the surrounding city. 

Hani Adel

“It is a platform for rising young talents that could be discovered from this experience, whether they have a role as participants or in networking or communication,” he said.

“This year was a pilot version of the CDW, a rehearsal in the Heliopolis district to test the waters. In 2023 edition, we hope to expand in the Downtown district, the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) and Heliopolis in order to put Egypt on the map as one of the must-visit design destinations in the Middle East,” Mahdi said.

The CDW is supported by some of the biggest names in Egypt, with its board of trustees including major figures from the design and other communities like Hisham Mahdi (president) Gamal Salah, Mohamed Hamouda, Mai Salama, Karim Mekhtigian, Rasha Kadi, Azza Fahmi, Amr Mansi, Amr Helmi, Sherif Abdel-Hadi, Adham Nadeem, Karim Al-Shafei, and Hani Shokri.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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