Ataba & Opera Squares Competition Proposal / ZELLNERPLUS, OLIN, PACER, MR+E, and Nelson Nygaard

southwest aerial view

Intended as a catalyst and model for the ongoing redevelopment of Cairo, Egypt, ZELLNERPLUS, OLIN, PACER, MR+E, and Nelson Nygaard proposed a scheme that seeks to bridge the gap between the medieval, or Islamic, and the axial, or European Cairene cities. They would do so through the evacuation of the competition zone of its current disconnected fabrics. In their place, they proposed a green urban archipelago made up of a new connective tissue that will weld together the competition site’s disparate functions, flows and neighboring fabrics. More images and architects’ description after the break.

This is a competition entry for a major public space in Cairo, Egypt. The Ataba and Opera Square areas combined with the Azbakiyya Gardens collectively form a 100,000+ square meter urban figure that sits at the threshold between the old, medieval city of the Fatimid Caliphs and the modern Cairene city founded by Khedive Ismail in the 19th century. This was the setting for the competition, which called for an urban plan, infrastructure improvements, landscape architecture, garden design and large scale architectural solutions.

northeast view

Fabrics and Market Fatimid Cairo is dense and granular in make-up: informal, loose, un-gridded and organic. Its polycentric nature is non-hierarchical by nature and path dependent or hedonic (choice based) experientially. Khedivial Cairo, by contrast, is divided into sections and blocks- reflecting Parisian and Italianate influences. Khedivial landmarks and public spaces are connected by series vectors and boulevards. This is Ismail’s Cairo and it is hierarchical, nodal and formal. Midan El-Ataba El-Khadra is the site of Cairo’s largest fresh food market. It is sometimes referred to simply as Ataba Square, which means ‘threshold’ and it’s chaotic activities spill into the adjacent Opera Square zone creating a unique mixing of pedestrian and vehicular activities that defies late modern attempts to tame Cairo’s diurnal, rhythmic traffic flows.

north aerial view

Approach Below the field we imagine an extensive underground network connecting the Ataba Metro Station (Greater Cairo Line #3) and an improved and extended Al Azhar Tunnel to a new partially underground Plaza, Market and Parking Complex punctuated by a series of large light and circulation shafts. We see these spaces as akin to the traditional Khan el-Khalili Souk in their density and richness.

site plan

Above the field we imagine a sprinkling of new cultural and civic buildings adjacent to and woven through with a new network of green lanes and public zones. Finally we imagine that this green urban archipelago could overflow its boundaries, from place to place, creating a network of strand-like green Streets and Lanes in the bordering, medieval and modern cities.

Cairo fencing club

Results By fully removing the Al-Azhar elevated road and extending the Al-Azhar Tunnel beyond the competition zone, the scheme provides a model to tame Cairo’s diurnal, heavy traffic flows, giving pedestrians priority and returning the site to its proper urban function. We imagine that the park will extend its green paths into the city, linking disconnected districts both visually and ecologically. Taken as a whole this proposal effectively provides a solution to the various problems encountered currently on the site (traffic congestion, lack of parking, squatter markets) while simultaneously giving the site’s landmarks a new public significance, thereby setting the pace for the thoughtful reclamation and elevation of the area’s many historic buildings.

site sections

Image gallery

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About this author
Cite: Alison Furuto. "Ataba & Opera Squares Competition Proposal / ZELLNERPLUS, OLIN, PACER, MR+E, and Nelson Nygaard" 04 Jun 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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