Rescue Perret’s Legacy in Alexandria, Egypt

Maison Perret Alexandrie après démolition

Rescue Perret’s Legacy in Alexandria, Egypt

Perret built and designed several buildings in Egypt between the years 1922 and 1940. The famous French architect and building contractor designed and built three buildings in Alexandria in 1922, 1932, 1938 respectively, and a house in Cairo in 1932. The Alexandrine buildings are chronologically the following : a villa for Gustave Aghion (the subject of this rescue call), an apartments building for Aghion family, and an apartments building for Aly Yehia Bey. The Villa of Awad Bey is his Cairene building. Perret’s first building in Alexandria, and probably in Egypt, is the Villa Gustave Aghion, built in 1922. Gustave, who himself is an architect who graduated in 1919, could have met August while the two were studying architecture at the Beaux-Arts of Paris. The villa is located in Wabur al-Mayya, a residential district developed in the nineteenth century. In Aghion’s villa, Perret’s architectural expression is an interesting development in the architect’s practice. In order to differentiate between the different constructional elements, an aspect Perret was trying to articulate throughout his career, he designed three levels of projection in the facades : the columns’, the beams’, and the in-fill’s. It is interesting to note that Perret never used red bricks as a decorative element before Aghion’s building. He must have liked the material after his experience in Egypt to the degree that he used it extensively in his French and many other buildings.

Perret paid a great attention to the landscape surrounding Aghion’s villa. He provided a symmetrical design along the East-West axis, where the building, a rectangular pool, and a series of stepped loan platforms are consecutively placed. Perret’s landscape design was so much appreciated that it was published in the famous French magazine l’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui explaining the optical refinements the architect considered in modifying the proportions of the architectural and landscape elements.

 

 

Villa Aghion, reconstructed drawing of Perret’s landscape design, published in l’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, April 1937 (by the author)

Villa Aghion is the only building among Perret’s work in Egypt with a published photograph. In fact, all other Perret’s designs in Egypt, with the exception of this villa and perhaps the one of Awad Bey in Cairo were assumed to be not built, which is not true. In Aghion’s Villa, Perret designed and implemented a set of very effective sun-breakers installed around the domed porch of the eastern façade. These pre-cast concrete blocks provide shades in the porch beneath. It is interesting to note that Perret did not provide sun-breakers in any of his residential buildings except in those he designed in Egypt. The architect’s sensitivity towards the Alexandrine hot and humid climate conditions generated such adaptation. The evolution of Perret’s use of the pre-cast sun-breaker blocks is quite interesting. In the case of Aghion’s villa, the blocks were cast so that each unit contains a set of equal pyramidal shapes, without any vertical dividers. They were long blocks, whose lengths varied according to the place where they were installed. In his following Alexandrine building, the pre-cast units were pure pyramidal shape, and they were used alternatively upright, and upside-down. In order for these units to fit within their panels, half blocks were required. In his last commission in Alexandria, Perret used pre-cast rectangular units that are joined together with metal ties within a cast in place reinforced concrete frames. The spacing of the panels, where those units were installed, was designed in such a way that no fraction of the blocks was needed. This indicates that the dimensions of these pre-cast blocks were predetermined, and dictated the panels’ dimensions if not the entire design.

 

 

Evolution of Perret’s concrete blocks (by the author)

 

Villa Aghion, Perret’s drawing of the Eastern Façade (Fanelli, fig. 130)

The Demolition of August 28th 2009

I received a phone call this morning from a relative who lives nearby the villa to inform me that a bulldozer right after dawn managed to demolish a portion of the fence and get into the garden to start hitting on the reinforced concrete columns of the eastern façade. I quickly informed Dr. Mohammad Awad, who mentioned that he is aware of what was going on. Dr. Awad informed the Governorate’s office, which sent a force to stop the demolition, and to take the doers to custody. The Villa, however, is left in a delicate state of conservation. The central dome lost its eastern supports and can collapse at any minute now.collapse at any minute now.

 

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Villa Aghion, North-Western Façade (by the author in 1993)

Suggested Rescue Measures :

1) Emergency Phase

2) Conservation Phase

Undertake a study for the overall conservation of the building and its surrounding garden including but not limited to :

3) Legal and long term Phase

Alaa el-Habashi, August 28th 2009

 – Bibliographie complémentaire concernant l’activité d’Auguste Perret en Egypte

 – Un article en français est aussi publié sur le site de La Tribune de l’art