By Tess Santorelli | Photos by Ahmad El-Nemr
While AUC is celebrating its centennial, another important University birthday is happening this year — the 10-year anniversary of the New Cairo campus.
In 2008, AUC made history with the establishment of a new campus, designed from scratch, in New Cairo. After the decision to move from AUC Tahrir Square was made, the University purchased 260 acres of land in 1997 for its new home at the center of New Cairo. An international team of architects and planners made up of seven firms from three countries designed the campus.
Throughout the planning phase, it became increasingly obvious that this would not be a process of simply moving the old campus to a new location. The New Cairo campus — despite following the roots of AUC Tahrir Square — would have its own unique identity and would continue to evolve and mature over time.
In designing the campus, the team sought to capture the international identity of the AUC community as well as the multidimensionality of the liberal arts curriculum in an architecturally diverse space. Inspired by Egypt’s history of advanced engineering practices, they revived traditional processes for cutting stone and sourced materials from Upper Egypt to build up the walls, bolstering the campus with the strength of a brilliant past. In 2009, one year after the relocation, the University received a special award from the Urban Land Institute for the design and construction of AUC New Cairo, now ranked as the top green campus in Africa.
Built using 24,000 tons of reinforcing steel, as well as 115,000 square meters of stone, marble, granite cladding and flooring, the campus weaves Egyptian urban and architectural traditions into a modern campus and is designed to be accessible to people with disabilities. Sandstone for the walls of campus buildings is all from a single quarry in Kom Ombo, 50 kilometers north of Aswan. The stone arrived by truck in giant multi-ton blocks, which were cut and shaped for walls, arches and other uses at a stone-cutting plant built on the site.
The new campus launched a wave of growth in New Cairo. What was once a slowly developing suburb flourished into a lively community with public performances, plays, exhibitions and special events, extending Cairo’s rich arts scene to the area and making AUC a cultural hub. The growing campus life sparked the surge of a bustling urban landscape in the area, attracting the numerous businesses, restaurants, cafés, shopping centers and residences that now populate the city, and in turn, contributing to the economic development of the New Cairo district.
Abdelhalim Ibrahim Abdelhalim, principal of Abdel-Halim Community Design Collaborative, led the international team in executing the master plan and architecture principles for the design and construction of AUC’s New Cairo campus. He said in his first encounter with the campus being used that he was worried his team ”lost the way.”
“[Now], the campus is realizing itself,” Abdelhalim noted. “A community is being created, and I’m not sure that it’s the same community that was in downtown Cairo. It’s different, and I’m glad to hear that. During the planning process, we assumed that it is a must to follow the roots of the old campus, but we discovered that the new campus is actually much more complex than just simply moving the old campus. I think the campus is now entering its maturity. It has already evolved and will continue to do so.”
In its relocation, AUC foresaw an opportunity to foster increased engagement with its surrounding community and trigger the positive development of the New Cairo area. The historic move created a new frontier for AUC to continue to lead as Egypt’s global University.