University Creates Student Oasis in Egypt's Desert

Correction May 21, 2008

The audio for this story incorrectly pronounces the name of architect Abdelhalim Ibrahim Abdelhalim as Abdelhamid Ibrahim Abdelhamid. The spelling has been corrected in this story.

AUC Square, the entrance to the university, links the institution and the greater community. i i

hide captionAUC Square, the entrance to American University in Cairo, links the institution to the city of New Cairo. The buildings are made of sandstone from quarries in Egypt. Intersecting arches appear throughout campus.

Davar Iran Ardalan, NPR
AUC Square, the entrance to the university, links the institution and the greater community.

AUC Square, the entrance to American University in Cairo, links the institution to the city of New Cairo. The buildings are made of sandstone from quarries in Egypt. Intersecting arches appear throughout campus.

Davar Iran Ardalan, NPR
Near the entrance, architects built a dome modeled after the Great Mosque in Cordoba, Spain. i i

hide captionNear the entrance to the campus, architects built a dome modeled after the Great Mosque in Cordoba, Spain. The dome symbolizes the height of intellectual and mathematical achievement in Islamic civilization.

Davar Iran Ardalan, NPR
Near the entrance, architects built a dome modeled after the Great Mosque in Cordoba, Spain.

Near the entrance to the campus, architects built a dome modeled after the Great Mosque in Cordoba, Spain. The dome symbolizes the height of intellectual and mathematical achievement in Islamic civilization.

Davar Iran Ardalan, NPR
AUC features a series of small courtyards with balcony spaces and intricate wooden lattice work. i i

hide captionAUC features a series of small courtyards with balcony spaces and intricate wooden lattice work. The open spaces will not be air conditioned, but the ceilings and light shafts are open to the air and create a fresh ventilation system.

Davar Iran Ardalan, NPR
AUC features a series of small courtyards with balcony spaces and intricate wooden lattice work.

AUC features a series of small courtyards with balcony spaces and intricate wooden lattice work. The open spaces will not be air conditioned, but the ceilings and light shafts are open to the air and create a fresh ventilation system.

Davar Iran Ardalan, NPR
Offices buildings feature mashrabiya, or wooden window screens. i i

hide captionArchitects visited medieval Cairo to get inspiration from traditional Egyptian and Islamic architecture. Offices buildings feature "mashrabiya," or wooden window screens, that provide privacy and protection from the sun.

Davar Iran Ardalan, NPR
Offices buildings feature mashrabiya, or wooden window screens.

Architects visited medieval Cairo to get inspiration from traditional Egyptian and Islamic architecture. Offices buildings feature "mashrabiya," or wooden window screens, that provide privacy and protection from the sun.

Davar Iran Ardalan, NPR

An hour away from the clogged heart of downtown Cairo, Egypt, a satellite city is springing up from the desert dust.

The city of New Cairo is the future home of the American University in Cairo, which is building a sprawling 260-acre campus to replace the current campus downtown. The project is bringing major residential and commercial development to what was once the middle of nowhere. And architects from around the world are using environmentally conscious designs to create an oasis for students.

AUC's $400 million campus, scheduled to open this summer, will accommodate more than 6,000 students, faculty and staff. University President David Arnold says the campus' new location will help relieve the overcrowding and pollution clogging Egypt's capital city. In turn, he says, New Cairo's population is expected to grow to 4 million people by 2020.

The school's new facility is located in a desert depression, which architects and designers have used to their advantage. Abdelhalim Ibrahim Abdelhalim, one of the project's chief architects, says planners placed buildings on the southern side of the valley, reserving the lowest levels for gardens and thereby creating a reservoir of cooler air. Buildings are oriented toward the prevailing northeast winds, and an array of fountains and greenery help cool the center of campus.

"Gardens ... help condensate the cool air of the night and will ventilate the whole campus during the day," Abdelhalim says.

Designers also kept Egypt's rich cultural heritage in mind as they planned the campus. About 80 percent of the walls on campus are made of locally mined sandstone. The material helps keep rooms cool during the day and warm at night, and should cut cooling and heating costs in half.

The school, a U.S.-accredited university, will have a main entrance that features an intricate series of arches and domes modeled after the Great Mosque in Cordoba, Spain. Abdelhalim says the dome symbolizes the height of intellectual and mathematical achievement in the Islamic civilization. Architects left the core of the dome open to the sky, creating a vertical corridor of air.

Abdelhalim says the scale of the campus was kept small — no building is more than five stories — because planners wanted to encourage socialization on the ground level. Some offices have balcony spaces and intricate lattice wood work overlooking the courtyard. Mashrabiya, or traditional wooden window screens, provide privacy and protection from the sun.

For now, the biggest tasks that remain involve filling the university's library with books, the Olympic-size swimming pool with water, and getting faculty and staff ready to make the transition from downtown Cairo. Classes begin Sept 1.

Produced by Davar Iran Ardalan and Ned Wharton.

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