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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Ataba & Opera Squares Competition Proposal in Cairo, Egypt by Zellnerplus Architect

June 12th, 2011 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Zellnerplus Architect

This is a competition entry for a major public space in Cairo, Egypt. It is intended as a catalyst and model for the ongoing redevelopment of Greater Cairo. 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, infrastructureimprovements, landscape architecture, garden design as well as large scale architectural solutions.

South West View

  • Architects: Zellnerplus Architect
  • Project: Ataba & Opera Squares Competition Proposal
  • Location: Cairo, Egypt
  • ZELLNERPLUS / Culver City, California: Asaf Dali, Ingrid Dennert, Rob Lisauskas, Scott Plante, Nathaniel Moore, Seth Weiner, Peter Zellner (Principal)
  • Software used: AutoCad , Rhino, V-Ray, Adobe CS

Aeria lView from North

  • PACER CONSULTANTS / Cairo, Egypt: Ahmed Ismail, Partner, Gamal El Sherbini, Manager of Architecture Dept., Ramez Saleh, Architecture Director, Sherif Omar, Architecture Group
  • OLIN / Philadelphia and Los Angeles: Skip Graffam (Partner), Tiffany Beamer (Associate), Dennis McGlade (Consulting Partner)
  • MR + E / Economic Research and Planning / Culver City California: David Bergman (Principal)
  • Nelson Nygaard / Transit Planning / San Francisco California: Michael Moule (Principal)

Art Museum

Fabrics and Market

Fatimid Cairo [969 AD] 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 .

Cairo Fencing Club


Our  scheme seeks to bridge gulf between the medieval or organic (Islamic) and the axial or modern (European) Cairene cities through the evacuation of the competition zone of its current disconnected fabrics.  In their place we propose 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.

Cairo Green Split

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.

Green Space Ground

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.

Energy Approach


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.

Green Void

North East


Site Map



Urban Analysis

Urban Analysis

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