INTERVIEW WITH AYA

Merging Urban Planning and Heritage Conservation

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Published: 21 October 2021

Aya is a member of the African Leadership Academy’s 2015 graduating class. She has an undergraduate degree from the faculty of Fine Arts, Alexandria University, majoring in Architectural Engineering and Urban Design. She is passionate about urban development and planning, heritage conservation, and adaptive reuse. Currently, she is interning at Takween Integrated Community Development, where she assists in research, mapping and creating visuals for the projects’ documentations; for instance Bab al-‘Azab Renovation and Activation in Historic Cairo and also site survey conditioning. She was also part of the Kaepup workshop with the University of Cyprus, using space syntax analysis and GIS as a tool in urban space planning. In addition, she was a selected participant in the Off-Seams international workshop held at the Nile University and supported by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Education and the European Commission. She suggested urban solutions and engaged with old Cairo’s urban complexity in vital sites. Aya has also interned with Design Sector Architects in Mapping Kafr Abdou’s research project, where she visualized suggested recommendations and assisted in documenting all the data and research findings. The booklet was published in December 2019 and the outcome was represented in two local exhibitions. 

We spoke to Aya about her career journey, and these are her reflections. 

What inspired your passion for architecture and urban design?                                                                     

I remember when I was a first-year student at ALA, we had workshops and activities held on campus at the end of the year. One of these workshops involved ALA’s renovation and expansion. I participated passionately with concepts and ideas only sketched on sticky notes. Those ideas later on became reality as I witnessed the process of the renovation. I remember visiting Deloitte’s office in Johannesburg and learned about design sustainability and flexibility during the workshop. This workshop triggered my curiosity to join the field as a student and fill the passion of ideating to develop a place and/or a community.

What are the infrastructural challenges in your community or city you would most like to develop solutions for?                                                                  

 My community suffers from a lack of open public spaces and walkable routes. It also needs to apply the value of ‘inclusion’ in many of its newly constructed recreational facilities that used to be public spaces. Also, there are plenty of open spaces that are unused or deteriorated. I believe these spaces can be activated through local initiatives and organizations for spaces rehabilitation.  

During your recent tenure at the TU Delft Summer School, you were involved in a project named Re-imagining Schevenigen Harbor. Please summarise what the project was about and explain how important it was to collaborate with students from different countries with different backgrounds.   

The municipality wanted to scale the port and upgrade the capacity it takes when it comes to newcomers, transportation and job opportunities while considering the flooding issue that faces the Netherlands. The team’s mission was to ideate strategies and solutions that brings safety, mobility and welfare within the Schevenigen zone. As a team, we decided to follow the layer approach in our work. After researching, visiting the site multiple times, surveying, and interviewing the locals to understand their perspective, we came with a couple of ideas. And as we were studying the issue of the sea level rise in that zone, a team member reflected on a similar issue in her home country, Columbia and suggested a concept known as “Cultural Landscape”, which simply means integrating whatever resource in the nature that exists and used to be existent in the past (as heritage). From there we developed our values that all revolved around authenticity. The harbour is known for its fishing trade and also the neighbourhood of fishermen and their families. Our proposal revolved around activating the harbour through heritage craftsmanship; fishing, fish industry (salting of fish and exporting) and fishing boats industry. Also, we brought in the idea of recreational use and tourism that could be elevated bringing in the local activities.

How did this diversity contribute to developing your proposal?                                                                  

Having team members from six countries; Egypt, China, Japan, Denmark, Colombia and India brought in different methodologies used in each one’s home country to solve a specific urban issue. Through an analysis of the country’s culture, needs and solutions, we came up with a concept proposal that fit the Netherlands environmental circumstances, needs and local people’s culture.

 Aya has big ideas for the future of urban development. She envisions more community participation in the planning process and asserts that it is the responsibility of urban planners and architects to create the tools and the mediums for community participation process. This process, Aya believes, would happen technologically. Community participation is important for conserving intangible heritage such as crafts and arts. And since we are in the digital era, crafts’ development can take place besides conserving the old one.

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