Topic for Debate
Lost architectural identity: Siwa, Egypt
The last year (2003), I did my graduation project on Siwa.

After some survey and studies I found that the identity of Siwan architecture is on its way down to nothing and my proposal was to rescue this identity, as it is a part of the Egyptian identity. But until now, I couldn't find any real act to prevent this deterioration, so please answer and guide me if you think I am wrong.

Tamer Ishak
Lost architectural identity: Siwa, Egypt
You should contact Dr. Ashraf Salama, who, I believe has done some studies on Siwa. Misr International University has a collection in its Institutional Workspace on ArchNet entitled Siwa and Sinai Archives
Shiraz Allibhai
Lost architectural identity: Siwa, Egypt
Tamer, it's an interesting topic you bring up and I'd like to hear more about how you approached it. You mention the issue of identity (Egyptian identity, specifically), which is a key factor in identifying the current trends in Siwa. It is worth noting that the people of Siwa have always rather defiantly identified themselves as Siwans rather than Egyptians, to the extent of maintaining a separate language derived from North African Berber dialects. Therefore it may be misleading to try to shoehorn the issue within the larger contextual framework of Egyptian cultural identity.

As you are based in Egypt, if you have not already visited Siwa I would recommend that you do so. Try to get a sense of the effect of the shifting socio-cultural mores on the built environment from the Siwans themselves. It is a pressing topic for most of the residents, and you will find many willing to voice their opinions to you. You might also want to seek out the curator of the 'traditional Siwan house', a local woodworker who maintains a model Siwan residence that he built through donations and personal funds. He has a vested interest in maintaining the identity of the local built environment, and will give you an informed account of the efforts made towards this by various parties (locals, preservationists, central government etc��), and the obstacles that each faced.

Another topic to consider is the effect of tourism on the oasis. Is it detrimental? Beneficial? Can it be used as a tool for preservation/development? Or is it merely another intrusion? An interesting case study is the 'eco-lodge' at the foot of Siwa��s Adrere Ammellal Mountain. It is a self-proclaimed 'eco-sensitive sustained development for Siwa, whose unique identity is threatened by the spread of central Egypt'. Built in a stylized interpretation of Siwan vernacular architecture using only local materials, its aim as stated by the developer is 'not profit but the value added to the population and the quality it provides to its visitors'. Unfortunately the exclusive resort was built on the site of the 'mazar' of a Siwan patron saint, much to the dismay and resentment of the locals who were prevented from visiting it by the hotel developers, as it lies within the boundaries of the 'eco-lodge��s' property. Needless to say, the Siwans considered this a much more significant intrusion than any concrete housing block.

Good luck with your investigations. It is an important and timely issue.
Ahmed El Husseiny


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