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Trailblazing Arab Women Redefining Architecture and Urban Planning

June 11, 2024
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From the historic streets of Egypt to the vibrant regions of Algeria and Palestine, a new generation of Arab architects are making waves in the fields of architecture and urban planning. 

These pioneering professionals are not only challenging the status quo but also introducing new ways of designing and shaping the spaces and buildings around us.

May Al-Ibrashy, a conservation architect from Egypt, has dedicated her career to preserving the architectural and cultural heritage of her country, especially in historic Cairo. 

With close to 30 years of field experience, she undertakes projects to safeguard Egypt’s rich heritage, working closely with local communities to ensure their integral involvement in preservation efforts.

Al-Ibrashy coordinates “Athar Lina”, an initiative run by Megawra-BEC (an architectural office specializing in conservation and heritage management) in partnership with the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. 

She is also an adjunct lecturer of architecture at both the American University in Cairo (AUC) and Cairo University.

Photo Source: Prince Clause

Egypt’s Magda Mostafa, an architect and professor at the American University in Cairo, is redefining the field of design through her innovative and socially-conscious approach. Mostafa leads a design studio focused on autism and neuro-inclusive design and architecture.

She also serves as Advisort of the UNESCO-UIA Validation Board, a global think-tank responsible for setting architectural education policies and practices, as well as maintaining standards of excellence.

Additionally, Mostafa is Founding Partner and Principal of StudioTM, a UAE-based firm where she specializes in designing for individuals with autism, demonstrating her commitment to inclusive and accessible design.”

Photo Source: AUC

Another trailblazer from Egypt, Sarah El Battouty, is the founder of ECOnsult, a pioneering environmental design and auditing company. With over 18 years of experience in green building and sustainable development, El Battouty has earned global recognition for her groundbreaking work in the field of eco-friendly architecture.

El Battouty’s ECOnsult was commissioned by the Egyptian government in 2022 to update lower-income housing and make it greener. She was also appointed a global ambassador with the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in 2022–the UN arm responsible for climate change and administers the annual Conference of Parties (COP).

Complementing this impressive Egyptian architects group is Shahira Fahmy, the founder of Shahira Fahmy Architects, a firm based in Cairo that has gained international acclaim. 

Fahmy studied at Cairo University and Harvard University and was a visiting professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture. 

Fahmy founded her firm in 2005 and her firm’s first major project was the interior design work for administrative offices, halls, and theaters at the new campus of the American University in Cairo. 

After this initial project, Fahmy and her firm went on to work on a variety of private residential, commercial, and hospitality design projects in and around Cairo. These included high-end furniture showrooms, restaurants, and villas within exclusive real estate developments.

Photo Source: Vogue Arabia

Across the Mediterranean, Alia Bengana, an Algerian architect, has carved out an impressive international career. 

After graduating from the Paris-Belleville School of Architecture, Bengana spent a year studying in Rome, which marked the start of her European and global career path. She has gone on to work with renowned firms in Barcelona, Paris, and the United States, establishing herself as a leading voice in sustainable design and environmental evaluation systems.

Bengana has focused on sustainable, bioclimatic design, with a particular interest in raw earth and natural building materials. 

She has taught workshops and lectured on these topics at architecture schools in France and Switzerland. Bengana has also collaborated with media outlets to investigate and raise awareness about more sustainable alternatives to materials like concrete. 

Currently, Bengana teaches at the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne and contributes to a Swiss architecture magazine. She is also working on a comic book adaptation of her research on concrete.

Photo Source: EPFL

In Palestine, Dr. Suad Amiry has made a name for herself as a renowned architect. 

Amiry is the founder of Riwaq in Ramallah, an organization dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings and the revitalization of traditional communities. 

One of Amiry’s first projects after founding Riwaq was compiling a comprehensive registry of historically valuable buildings across Palestine. Completed in 2004, this inventory documented over 50,000 structures, with around half found to be abandoned.

Building on this groundwork, Riwaq launched a 10-year job creation program focused on conservation efforts in 2001. The initiative trained local workers in the use of traditional building materials and techniques.

Furthermore, in 2005 Riwaq began their “50 Villages” project, which involved restoring public spaces and collaborating with villagers to renovate their own properties.

Photo Source: Kalimat Magazine

These Arab women architects are not only redefining the traditional norms of their professions, but also inspiring the next generation of female architects and urban planners. 

Their stories serve as a testament to the incredible talent and resilience of women in these fields, and they stand as role models for aspiring designers, planners, and visionaries around the world.

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