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Ashraf Abdalla

Ashraf Abdalla is a Doctoral Candidate in Architecture at Columbia GSAPP. Abdalla holds two Master of Science degrees (CCCP & AAD) from Columbia University and has participated in the architectural symposium “Architecture and Representation: The Arab City” at the GSAPP (Fall 2014) and the CCCP’s workshop initiative “The Venice Observatory” at the 14th International Architecture Venice Biennale (2014). Prior to pursuing an academic career, Abdalla gained professional experience working in architectural offices in both the U.S. and Egypt.


A striking feature of the Anglo-American academic accounts of architecture history in modern Egypt (mid-19th century-present) is the virtual absence of a scholarly examination of Egypt’s architectural debates and production during the period from the 1930s-1950s. Largely informed by postcolonial theory, these accounts lack a rigorous treatment of Egypt’s locally initiated and sustained efforts at the time to advance, what could be identified as, an indigenous modern architectural movement.

Taking shape during the 1930s-1950s, at a critical phase in the country’s ongoing socio-political struggles, when the quest for national liberation from British colonial rule was joined by, and expanded into, the demand for a larger project of social modernization, the Egyptian modern movement sought, from the moment of its inception, to develop an indigenous architectural response that is national in character in precisely being modern. That is, in its very engagement with the modern demands and material conditions of Egyptian society, the majority of which belonged, at the time, to the rural class.

While emerging in the late 1930s during the years of Egypt’s semi-independence status under British colonial rule (1922-1952), with the aim of developing a distinctively modern-national architecture, I argue that the dictates of the Egyptian modern architectural movement were, in effect, revered in the early years of the country’s postcolonial phase in the late 1950s. It was thus a distinct modern movement, the attributes of which could not be granted to a colonial legacy, or reduced, in a linear fashion, to a simple precursor to the country’s subsequent phase of postcolonial modernization efforts.

The significance of this modern movement lies in its far-reaching theoretical implications, which extend beyond its specific socio-historical context. Not only did the inception of the movement lay the foundation for the subsequent development of the architectural field in Egypt, but it did also aspire to an architectural vision of social modernization, the examination of which would pose a certain predicament to the postcolonial architectural approaches concerned with the relation between modernity and the so-called “non-West.”