Ramses Wessa Wassef Art Center: An Experiment in the Countryside of Egypt
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Ramses Wessa Wassef Art Center: An Experiment in the Countryside of Egypt

Wessa Wassef Art Center is a unique experiment in the countryside of Egypt, which played an important role in ensuring the revival and preservation of EgyptÂ’s old crafts.

The Egyptian architect, weaver, and master builder, Ramses Wessa Wassef (1911-1974) was one of the few architects to oppose the invasion of modern architecture and its appropriateness to the culture and traditions of his country. The future dream of Wassef was to become a sculptor, but he studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, in Paris, where he completed his diploma in 1935. After his return to Cairo, Wassef was appointed to teach art and history of architecture at the College of Fine Arts Cairo, and later he became the Head of the Architecture Department.

Although Wassef was the product of the Beaux-Art educational system, he was very concerned about national issues and the decline of the traditional architecture and handicrafts of Egypt. Wassef was impressed and influenced by the buildings of the old parts of Cairo and believed that the “hideous fungus-like modern buildings” are going to destroy human sensibility. He found it difficult to explain, “why our own civilisation should produce such coldness and ugliness to replace the wealth of indigenous architecture”. Wassef sought an architecture that would be the product of the way of life of Egypt’s people, traditions and climate and would express his country’s national character. Between 1940 and 1950, Wassef built private homes, schools and churches in Egypt, in which he maintained traditional building techniques and local architectural character.

In 1951, Wassef began to build his own Art Center in Al-Haraniyah village, near the pyramids, about 15 kilometres from Cairo. The art center was an excellent opportunity through which Wassef expressed his nationalistic beliefs and traditional architectural ideas. He experimented with many architectural vocabularies from the Egyptian vernacular architecture such as domes, vaults, and mashrabiyah (wooden lattice work.). The art center was completely built from the available traditional mud bricks. The Art center is a traditional architectural statement, which comprised workshops, showrooms, a pottery and sculpture museum.

Wassef Art Center: Domes Vaults and Arches

Wassef started his experiment in the Art Center with a group of 12 children, whom he taught to produce tapestries straight from the image in their minds and according to their own designs. He believed that children are endowed with an intuitive and creative power, which needs to be explored. With a small frame looms and few colours, Wassef and his wife, Sophie (an artist) started to teach the children the skills of producing attractive and colourful carpets, which expressed their daily life in the village. This unique experiment has been successful in ensuring the revival and preservation of Egypt’s old crafts.

Children producing Tapestries from their own creation

Daily life activities

Countryside, Culture, Tradition

 Village nature and daily life activities

The work of the art centre has been exhibited widely in Europe and attracted the admiration of artists as well as critics. The first exhibition of the tapestries Center took place in 1957 in Egypt followed by another one in Switzerland. Wassef’s tireless efforts to establish his traditional approach were acknowledged by several awards, including the Egyptian National Award for The Arts in 1961 for his stained-glass window designs for The Egyptian National Assembly Building, Cairo. In 2006, an exhibition was held at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London to mark the centre’s 50th anniversary. In 1983, Ramses Wessa Wassef ‘s Art center was the recipient of the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture.




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Comments (7)

Pretty cool!

Wow, beautiful creation from a wonderful art learning school.

Yes, wonderful

So wonderful! I like the pics, too. Thanks

His experiment seems to have been successful on many levels. Another gem from you.

Thanks Jill for your kind words

Nice work!