Zaha Hadid, the Baghdad-born, London-based architect, has received two major commissions in as many weeks for large-scale projects to be built in Cairo, Egypt.
First came word of a new speculative development southeast of the city center. The Stone Towers is a 5.5-million-square-foot office and retail complex set in 42 landscaped acres, including a five-star hotel and sunken gardens, all designed by the 2004 Pritzker Prize laureate. Two weeks later, on June 9, Hadid was declared winner of an invited competition for an “Expo City” on the site of Cairo’s longtime fair grounds, combining shopping, hospitality, and convention facilities.
“It was a coincidence,” says Expo City project architect Michele Pasca, speaking of the nearly simultaneous announcements. Stone Towers had been under way since October, when developer Rooya Group first approached Hadid about a new commercial district to be constructed adjacent to an existing residential community. Expo City, by contrast, came about quite suddenly. “We submitted our initial design in late April, and our final presentation was at the end of May,” states Pasca.
The winning Expo City proposal, slated for completion in 2012, is a 5-million square-foot ensemble of raked high-rises and low, sinuous structures clad in creamy white. The façades are to feature a composite panel system, though the firm has yet to determine the material best suited to the harsh Egyptian climate.
It is Egypt itself, its landscape and culture, that serves as Hadid’s primary reference for both projects. “We found a certain pattern and rhythm to the minarets of the Egyptian skyline,” says Stone Towers project architect Chris Lepine; that rhythm found its way into the Stone Towers’ staggered procession of banded, cantilevered mid-rise buildings whose textured pre-cast concrete fronts create a of play light and shadow that recalls Egyptian relief carvings. The first-floor storefronts are connected by pedestrian pathways, all ringed around a plaza called, in a nod to the Nile, the Delta.The river was also a touchstone for Expo City: Along the Nile, Hadid says, “there is…a constant flow between the water and the land” that finds expression in the eddying forms of the exhibition hall and convention center. Still, connected as they are by locale, their designers insist that Expo City and Stone Towers are altogether discrete projects. “We haven’t chosen a common Egyptian ‘theme,’” says Pasca. “We think that’s a plus.”