Redefining Art/chitecture

Heba Elkayal
8 Min Read

From a university student to founding a successful self-named firm in just a little over 10 years, architect Shahira H. Fahmy’s career is a remarkable story to follow.

Fahmy graduated top of her class in 1997 from the Faculty of Engineering, Cairo University, and was offered the prestigious recognition and rank of becoming an Assistant Lecturer. Pursuing her master’s degree simultaneously, while teaching on and off for 10 years, as well as working for the region’s leading architectural firm Dar El-Handasah from 2002-2004, she started her own firm in 2004 with a few freelance architects. And in the midst of all this, she’s also managed to marry and have two children now 9 and 4 years old.

“Now that I had an academic career going on I was a bit hesitate or anxious because I always thought I was going into the practical sphere of architecture . doing the practical side of architecture at Dar Alhandasah, I felt that where my strength laid.

Today, her firm encapsulates architecture, interior design as well as product design. And in a short span of time – since the firm’s inception in 2004 – Fahmy has received recognition both locally and globally by her peers and the field’s innovators and leaders.

In 2004, she joined the American University in Cairo’s new campus project as a sub-consultant working with prime architect Abdel-Halim Ibrahim Abdel-Halim CDC. She worked on many of the main features of the university such as the performing and visual arts (PVA) school theater and the president’s office, amongst others.

Fahmy’s firm has included its repertoire to retail spaces, private homes, and corporate sites. Recently, it also won first place for the design plans and is currently working on Egypt’s first industrial park named “Engineering Square (e2) in 6th of October city.

Yet it was always on Fahmy’s mind to keep up, and better yet, stay one step ahead of foreign firms.

“I always wanted to receive international recognition for my work, and I would submit my work to test the ground outside, and to see how it would be received. And thankfully, we’ve always exited as finalists, or being short listed or having won the competition. So it’s a good feeling to feel that you’re on the right track.

It was also due to such accolades and winnings that Fahmy received a lot of press attention and interest by leading publications in the field of design to feature her work.

Hinge Magazine, Design Magazine, Interior Design Magazine 75th Anniversary Issue, The Financial Times, and Udjat Magazine are but some of the few publications abroad that have paid tribute to her designs. They were also featured in book publications by Andrew Martin and Thames and Hudson.

Fahmy speaks with a little sense of incredulousness as she considers all the attention.

Her latest completed public interior design project was Tamarai, a new restaurant and bar lounge night spot that has been the talk of town for some months now. The interior is warm, with tones of rich maroons, blues and plum matted and toned down. Limestone and sandstone was left in its rough form on the walls and panels. Wood panels were artistically arranged around the bar, extending to serve as the platform for the in-house DJ. The impression is something that is overall Egyptian in its textures, colors and forms.

“Tamarai was a modern and contemporary representation. [Something] that has its own identity but yet, that comes from our history because whatever was done was extraordinary, and we can learn greatly from it.

“What I’m trying to do is something modern but with a reference to our heritage, Pharoanic, Coptic, or Islamic and it’s experimental and I don’t necessarily know where I’m going with it, says Fahmy. “A major aim for me is that when we do something, it relates to our identity.

Asked what her proudest accomplishment has been so far she answered, “Not yet. She continues to ponder the question but is sure of her answer. “You are never satisfied; design is a continuous process although projects always have deadlines.

Design has piqued new interest and curiosity in Egypt as people have acquired the means to spend more on their homes, engage in art in a more tangible manner be it by buying it or commissioning it in its various forms.

“People are more aware of the added value of good design, says Fahmy. And people certainly are, as Fahmy’s name has almost become a label in and of its own with people vying for products designed by her, and if fortunate, have her personal touch to their home’s interiors.

“I think in the coming years we’ll have competition in the market. Five years ago, it wasn’t that competitive but now you feel a difference on all levels of art: film and various cultural [forms]. This is an encouraging factor although competitions may be increasing.

Yet architecture and design in Egypt has both its advantages and disadvantages.

Highly skilled craftsmanship and artisans who are eager to meet the challenge of creating new pieces serve as a fertile ground for Fahmy to create her product designs.

Yet architecture is a pulse one can gauge a society’s development by. Architecture relies on science and technology to a great degree and often lead the development of architectural designs and their very execution.

Fahmy’s designs that were exhibited at the Salone Satellite in Milan, Italy in April of 2007 warranted the same question: “where were the products made? Each product is locally made, and Fahmy takes great pride in highlighting the possibilities that can be yielded due to elements of inspiration and skilled craftsmanship available in Egypt.

Her Tik and Tak bar stools are unique pieces of artwork, yet never compromise fundamentals of design integrity.

“Architecture now has to have an innovative edge. Abroad, technology provides such support to the architect. But here we have not yet reached that stage, however we have the strength of our architectural history, the skills of artisans and craftsmen which enable us to produce something new and make our mark.

Today, Fahmy is looking towards the future of her firm, and is receiving resumes of the highest caliber from both local and international applicants in search of associates she must soon hire to help her tackle the demand for her work.

Yet she seems to be taking it all in stride, and is child like in her modesty regarding the firm’s many accomplishments during its early years.

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