Monday, August 04, 2008

Architect treads softly in shadows of history

Rocky Mountain News

For an architect, it's tough enough designing a huge facility covering 15 acres and housing a cavernous underground garage, a posh hotel and hundreds of thousands of square feet of office and retail space.

But to map out a $730 million, 8.1 million-square-foot business and tourist complex adjacent to one of the most historic Islamic sites in Egypt?

That can pose real headaches:

* Plenty of bureaucratic red tape.

* Top Egyptian officials and archaeologists who charged initially the project would blemish Cairo's skyline and threaten views of nearby historic sites.

* UNESCO officials from Paris who wanted several levels lopped off the complex, saying an Italian architectural firm's design was too tall.

These were the kind of thorny issues architects at Denver-based Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative had to consider while drafting and revising a proposed design for the Cairo Financial Center.

which opened a Cairo office in 1999 - won the contract this year after besting rivals with its design plan.

Before OLC, five architectural firms had worked on the controversial Cairo Financial Center complex. It was proposed more than a decade ago. Construction work on a different, now- scrapped design had begun.

For OLC, which designed Glendale's Infinity Park rugby stadium, the deal is the firm's biggest ever. It also represents one of Egypt's biggest industrial projects.

A Cairo newspaper article suggested the financial center could allow Egypt to rival the booming Persian Gulf state of Dubai as a Middle East business hub.

To land the deal, OLC architects had to ensure their design wouldn't "humble" the nearby medieval fortress known as the Citadel, situated at the foot of Cairo's Mokattam Hill. The big 12th century structure houses a famed mosque and is one of the most visible landmarks on Cairo's skyline. A top Egyptian official has likened the Citadel to "Egypt's fourth pyramid."

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