Architectural Archive of the Royal and Public Buildings Authority
Ref N° 2008-27
"The past is never dead. It's not even past… The quotidian demands of life distract from this
resonance of images and events, but some of us feel it always." William Faulkner
The archive of the Royal and Public Buildings Authority of Egypt consist of a collection of
architectural drawings that span the period from late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. The
documents attest to the centralized architectural and urban projects of a modernizing state before,
during and after colonization. They offer insight into the universality of construction trends in national
state development that characterized modernity, not only in the North, but also in the South
Name (person or organisation)
Center for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (CULTNAT)
Relationship to the documentary heritage nominated
CULNAT is entrusted with the documentation, digitization and cataloguing of the
archival collection.
Contact person (s)
Dr. Fathi Saleh, Director of CULTNAT
Center for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage
Contact details (include address, phone, fax, email)
Smart Village
Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, , Km 28, Giza, Egypt
Tel: + (202) 3534 3222
Fax: + (202) 3539 2929
Name and identification details of the items being nominated
Architectural Archive of the Royal and Public Buildings Authority of Egypt
Ancient Egypt preserved its architectural drawings in vivid 2D representations on temple walls and
papyri.1 But this tradition of representing architectural edifices in drawings has gradually faltered
through subsequent times until we come to the Islamic period where we are faced with magnificent
buildings and building styles yet we have no trace whatsoever of its "conceptualization" and design
phases through existence of architectural drawings or any other form of representation from this
period.2 Yet this tradition was revived to serve the needs of modern Egypt from the beginning of the
nineteenth century onwards.
With the advent of the "modern" state, architectural drawings became a necessary prerequisite for the
execution of Egypt's ambitious modernization scheme in almost all aspects of life. This archival
collection of architectural drawings is important due to the resonance of its subject matter to issues
still pertinent to Egyptian society and the global community at large. Issues of modernity and
traditionalism, foreign dominance and its impact on national identity as well as the introduction of new
buildings to house new institutions serving the modern state. In fact Egypt witnessed an urban and
architectural building spree that lead to the construction of hospitals, ministries, courthouses, post
offices, museums, schools and universities, police stations, sporting clubs, airports, public libraries,
royal residences, administrative buildings and embassies, statues and local markets, slaughter houses
and even prisons. Egypt also witnessed during the same period the erection of entire urban areas such
as Heliopolis and Abbassiyya. All this activity is present in the nominated archive.
The archival collection of the "Service des Bâtiments de l'état" (Royal and Public Buildings Authority
of Egypt) founded in 1895 as a department within the Ministry of Public Works, was the main vehicle
for implementing these projects whether by design, drawing or approving of these projects.
Accordingly, it has become Egypt's only surviving comprehensive memory of its construction and
architectural past. It contains about 2000 building projects covering all aspects of the organization of
formal urban and rural life in Egypt from 1895 till 1965.
Muhammad Ali Pasha (1805-1848)3 created a buildings Authority (maslahat al- benayat) at an
unknown date then:
- In 1829 it was transformed into a Building Organization (diwan al- abniya)
- In 1836 it was then transformed into a School Council (majlis al al-madares)
- In 1837 it became School Organization diwan al-madaris
- In 1859 it became part of the Ministry of Public Works as the Authority of Building
Regulations maslahat al-tanzim
- In 1889: An official decree stating that no building project is to be approved unless it's
approved by maslahat al-tanzim
- In 1895: The Ministry approved the organization, and defined the new administrative entity.
- In 1952: With the revolution, the need again arose to emphasize education, hence it was yet
again transformed into the Authority for Educational Buildings (mu'assaset abneyat al-ta'lim)
and in the period between 1952 and 1956 it designed and built 7001 schools. All of which are
included in our archival collection.
- In 1958: General Building Authority which concentrated on building legal courts at the time
as well.
- In 1965: Institution for Educational Buildings (mu'assaet al abneya al ta'limiyya)
This collection is currently under the jurisdiction of the Arab Bureau which is a design, construction
and consulting public company i. e., it is not a specialized archiving institution mandated with
managing and preserving national public documents!
Such as the ostraca of Plan of the Royal Tomb of Ramesses the Ninth,
The medieval artists documented some of the drawing patterns and how to execute them.
Pasha and viceroy of Egypt (1805–48), founder of the dynasty that ruled Egypt from the beginning of the 19th
century to the middle of the 20th. He encouraged the emergence of the modern Egyptian state.
The most prominent construction projects within the collection are:
- A slaughter house (1898) fulfilling highly elaborated sanitary conditions and the oldest architectural
drawings in the collection;
- The mausoleum of Sa'd Zaghloul (1929) designed by Mostafa Fahmy pasha, a pioneering Egyptian
architect who was the head of the Tanzim. The folders of the archive are quite interesting as the
project has two avant-projet concepts: one in Neo-Mamluk style and the other in the Neo-Pharonic
style reflecting the assertion of Egyptian intellectual of their true national Egyptian identity, especially
after the 1919 revolution against British colonialism, the mausoleum was built in the style of the latter;
- The Supreme Court of Justice (1924) which is significant due to its size and material. Its elevation is
drawn on 5 meter long by 1.20 wide canvas. The ground plan is 2.5m long and 2m wide.
- The Egyptian Parliament and the Senate; Cairo University (1933); the Egyptian Geological Museum
- The Coptic Museum in Cairo (1932), which houses masterpieces of Coptic art in a Neo-Mamluk
building resonating the style of the Fatimid mosque of al-Aqmar.
in addition to the designs for artistic masterpieces, such as the Nahdit Masr (The Renaissance of
Egypt) Sculpture (1928), the Statue of national leader, Sa'd Zaghloul (1924) and the Bridge of
Khedive Ismail (1933). (See attachment)
Albeit the strategic importance of this archival collection, we do not have any detailed information on
the content of the collection or its actual components. Surveying available bibliographic material has
shown a strong lack of available information on our subject matter. In fact the survey came up with
one unpublished thesis on the Archive by Safwa Bedair from a librarian’s perspective which means it
deals mainly with the indexing of the collection and not the analysis of its content in terms of
architects, draftsmen, types of projects and activities, which are missing and in need of further
- Prof. Dr. Yehia El-Zeiny, himself a former Director of the Board of the Arab Bureau and Prof. of
Architecture & former chairman of the Architectural Committee at the
Egyptian Supreme Council for Culture has first hand experience with the collection.
- Dr. Prof. Mohsen A.B.Bayad, Head of Architectural Department and Deputy of Student Affairs,
Faculty of Fine Arts, Alexandria University was the on of the early persons to draw the attention of the
Center to the omnipotent importance of the collection.
- Dr. Emad Abu Ghazi, Assistant Professor of the Libraries, Documentation and Information
Department, Faculty of Art, Cairo University has a global view of the relevance of the collection to the
formation of modern Egypt due to his interest in this historical period and his advisory role in many
theses on the available documents of the same period i. e., late nineteenth and early twentieth
Town Planning, and the Crafting of Moden Space in South Africa
Is authenticity established?
The archives of the "Royal and Public Buildings Authority" comprise authentic architectural
drawings. They include drawings for complete projects throughout each implementation phase, from
the avant-projet and conceptual phase, to development and design, to the working drawings phase, that
is, the structural and mechanical. Also, for most of these projects, record drawings or as-built
drawings exist, while there are modification drawings for a large number of them. Also recorded on
these drawings of the various implementation phases, is the process of evaluations and approvals from
within this Egyptian government institution. Annotations for approvals or modifications and signatures
of high officials of this institution represent evidence for the authenticity of the documents. In a
number of the drawings, the seal of the institution is visible.
Is world significance, uniqueness and irreplaceability established? (see 4.2.4)
The archival collection of the Egyptian Royal and Public Buildings Authority is significant as it covers
a period beginning in the late nineteenth century, a time of modernization and cosmopolitanism in
Egypt, and ends in the 1950s, a time of radical political, economic and social change where socialist
policies affected the mechanisms of construction emphasizing an approach that placed function before
form. These drawings, hence, reflect an urban space that functioned as a catalyst to divergent political
and socio economic realties of Egypt. As Egypt was a British protectorate at the time, but had already
undergone major modernization schemes by its rulers since Muhammad Ali. Hence European
influence superseded the British in the form of migrating populations from Anatolia, Greece, Italy, and
Greater Syria, to name but a few, as Cairo and Alexandria became more attractive to foreign
investments. The Archive "methodically" documents these trends through its cosmopolitanism of the
architects involved, the search for a nationalist identity by Egyptian architects through their quest for a
truly Egyptian architectural style and the conglomeration of all these public projects drawings
\documents housed in one physical entity in itself a unique incident, especially in the developing
Given the role that Egypt's Pharaonic and Islamic architecture play in world history and the rise of the
Egyptomania trend in Europe and the US, it becomes crucial to delineate the historical development of
the architecture of this country emphasizing the diversity of its tangible heritage and its symbiotic
relationship with other world architectural styles and even fashions.
Finally, it would be important to highlight that an overview of the available archival collections of the
sort online reveals the rarity and uniqueness of the collection. The available collections all pertain to
First World countries, covering one locality or province, or documenting the work of significant
figures in the history of architecture. They are in possession and under the management of
architectural foundations, academic institutions or individual collectors.
Collections of architectural drawings that are available online generally fall under one of these
categories; catalogues of collections that are found in National Libraries in Europe and in the USA
comprising drawings from various sources, sometimes via donations, while at other times via
acquisitions. These collections, despite being rich, are not comprehensive since they do not cover the
achievements of one institution or person, but rather focus on the geographic location, i.e. they would
pertain to one city, county or country. Examples within the first category include: The National
Library of Wales (; The Archives of Charles Goad's
Firm ( or The Architecture and Design
Collection in the University Art Museum at the University of California, Santa Barbara
( The second category entails online collections for the
archives of one architect, and these would be initiatives of foundations that commemorate his lifetime
achievement such as: Fondation Le Corbusier in France for the achievements of Le
Corbusier (drawings available online http:///www/; or the Barragan
Foundation in Switzerland for the Achievements of Louis Barragan (
In essence, none of these collections are as comprehensive as the nominated collection; either in terms
of the variety of building designs, the political centrality of the undertakings, or its relevance to a wide
national public, which renders the nominated document of immense historiographic relevance.
Is one or more of the criteria of (a) time (b) place (c) people (d) subject and theme (e) form
and style satisfied?
The significance of the documentary heritage lies in the fact that this institution was a main
representative of the public building's authority in Egypt; it was founded in 1898 as a department
within the Ministry of Public Works. Its responsibilities included the design of public buildings and
construction management for hospitals, schools, courts, prisons, police stations, museums, sporting
clubs, airports, public libraries, royal residences, administrative buildings and seats of ministries. To
this day, this archival collection represents the only existing record for more than 2000 building
projects. The collection is unique and irreplaceable in respect to its evocation of its time, subject and
theme, and form and style.
In relation to time,
 The archival collection of Egyptian Royal and Public Buildings Authority is evocative of a
crucial period in world history that attests to the expansion of modernity outside of its center
in Europe and its appropriation by central authorities in the Third World into new forms of
governance, and national state-building techniques.
 It, hence, provides concrete evidence for a gradual and yet decisive break with traditional
forms of organizing human life replicated in different countries in the Third World.
In relation to subject and theme,
They present an archaeology of the economic, political, and socio-cultural transformations
that many Third World countries underwent in roughly the same period.
They also represent the socio-spatial transformation of the urban landscape in the Middle East
breaking down the structure of the traditional "gated" Islamic city in accordance with
modernizing trends in construction and urban development.
Following international trends, new districts were developed outside of the old city walls.
From a form and style perspective,
The designs include a unique mélange of architectural styles, incorporating European classical
architecture with local materials and assimilating motifs from both Ancient Egyptian and
Islamic architecture.
These designs and drawings were produced by architects and designers from various
nationalities of different socio-cultural and academic background, which is manifested in the
cultural diversity it incorporates. The buildings were also destined to users from various ethnic
groups given the ethnic composition of Egypt at the time.
Also, a good proportion of the projects consisted of the adaptive re-use of existing buildings, a
pioneering and innovative approach that needs to be promoted to save the built heritage.
The projects involved impressive technical know-how in detailing, significant for a Third
World country.
Finally, these drawings offer evidence to the birth of a unique Egyptian architectural tradition
following a period marked by imported designs. Local architects worked side by side with
foreigners; an interaction that produced a unique mélange of motifs evident in the archives.
Finally, the designs were hand-drawn and colored with a fine artistic sense extinct in
contemporary digital designs. It also makes use of support paper that is obsolete today.
Are there issues of rarity, integrity, threat and management that relate to this nomination?
The archival collection of the Egyptian Royal and Public Buildings Authority is rare as it is the
only documentary evidence of its sort pertaining to the modernization project in building constructions
during the late nineteenth and until the mid-twentieth century in Egypt. It is a collection that attests to
a vibrant cultural and artistic diversity that reflected the cosmopolitan orientation of Egypt, in general,
and Cairo in particular. It is a public property singular in nature of overarching implications for the
entire country.
Owner of the documentary heritage (name and contact details)
The Arab Bureau for Design and Engineering Consultations
Custodian of the documentary heritage (name and contact details, if different to owner)
The Arab Bureau for Design and Engineering Consultations
Legal status:
(a) Category of ownership: Public
(b) Accessibility: Inaccessible to the public
(c) Copyright status: ?
(d) Responsible administration: The Arab Bureau
(e) Other factors
Is there a management plan in existence for this documentary heritage? YES/NO
In addressing preservation plan for this unique archival collection, it is foremost important to highlight
that the "Royal and Public Buildings Authority" no longer exists. The surviving archival collection is
now in the custody of another institution, "The Arab Bureau". Even though the Arab Bureau is aware
of the importance of the collection and is keen on preserving it, it is does not have the capacity to
manage a rare archival collection of the sort or provide the necessary storage environment for its
preservation. The files are stored on shelves and in drawers; covered in dust and subject to the intense
heat and humidity of Cairo. Moreover, there are no regulations pertaining to its appropriate usage by
researchers and interested parties, its exposure to light or air pollutants.
It is for the reasons mentioned above that the Arab Bureau collaborated with the Center for
Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage, CULTNAT, to use its expertise in the field of
documentation in order to help preserve the archival collection. The management plan devised by
CULTNAT aims to document the archives by digitizing the drawings and cataloguing them according
to the international standards set by the Getty Institute for this type of documentary heritage. The
objective is to link high-resolution images to a descriptive database. Central is the restoration of a
good portion of the drawings and the setting up of storage conditions that would preserve the
documents from further damage. Ultimately the digitized collection should be available for
consultation in situ and available online for research purposes.
Provide details of consultation about this nomination with (a) the owner of the heritage (b) the
custodian (c) your national or regional Memory of the World committee
Detail the nature and scope of threats to this documentary heritage (see 5.5)
The documentary heritage of the Egyptian Royal and Public Buildings Authority is subjected to a
destructive storage environment that follows elementary management techniques. The files are stored
on shelves and in drawers; covered in dust and subject to the intense heat and humidity of Cairo.
Moreover, there are no regulations pertaining to its appropriate usage by researchers and interested
parties, its exposure to light or air pollutants.
Detail the preservation context of the documentary heritage (see 3.3)
While there is a management plan that includes the cataloguing and digitization of the collection, no
such plan exists for its storage. As previously indicated, the collection is stored following elementary
storage methods, following no professional organization or preservation methods of any sort. For its
part, and within its area of expertise, the Center for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage is
in the process of devising a plan for the digitization, cataloguing, and electronic dissemination of this
archival collection. The problem with the conservation of the original document is, nonetheless, in
need of urgent action.
This nomination is lodged by:
(Please print name)
Prof. Dr. Fathi Saleh, Director, CULTNAT
(Date) March 25th, 2008