By: Waleed Shehata
Historic Cairo contains possibly the finest and best surviving collection of more than 600 listed building, as well as its preserved urban fabric. Sorrowfully, sixty or more years ago, Cairo’s historic quarters have started facing deterioration symptoms. The long government neglect resulted in squatter settlements, diluted infrastructure and informal industries. This situation together with poor public awareness toward the value of heritage contributed to severe deterioration conditions for years. Despite dedicating a huge financial resources from the local government and international organizations the preservation, restoration and protection of historic Cairo’s monuments extend far beyond saving, or even restoring bricks and mortar for tourists. With conservation of the authentic fabric in mind, the adaptive reuse of Cairo’s heritage buildings is a recommended strategy for integrative revitalization and urban development of the historic city.
In architectural heritage conservation, adaptive reuse refers to the appropriate functional conversions of heritage buildings to suit the existing use or a proposed use. “The fact is that the best of all ways of preserving a building is to find a use for it, and then to satisfy so well the needs dictated by that use…” Viollet-le-Duc, 1854. The function is the most obvious change, but other alterations may be made to the building itself. Adapting a valuable building for reuse can include intensive exterior and interior modifications that are purely aesthetic and/or functional; such as the circulation route, the orientation, and spatio-physical relationships. In some cases the process of adaptive reuse may exceed the boundaries of the existing structure, or it may even necessitate the construction of an annex building depending on the peculiarities of the project. In other words, adaptive reuse includes any intervention to adjust, upgrade, introduce new services and uses to suit desired functional requirements, while safeguarding the place. The process itself should be applied to the building while retaining its structure, character, original identity and general authentic significance for future generations.
Thus, adaptive reuse of heritage buildings does not only step up the maintenance of the structure and delay its decay, but it also allows the functioning building to get involved in the living context it lies within, unlike buildings that are deserted and disused.