A firm believer that “the quality of architecture could impact the quality of life”, Ain Shams University Architecture Professor and founder of architectural consultancy firm Cube Consultants Ashraf Abdel Mohsen works from a brightly-lit office, featuring his oil paintings of discrete landscapes. Invest-Gate speaks with the soft-spoken, humble man, who smiles warmly as he explains his vision on changing Egyptians’ lifestyle through his designs.
Cube Consultants is one of the five member companies forming the 5+UDC consortium appointed by the Egyptian government to design and plan the new Administrative Capital megaproject, but their impressive portfolio includes numerous developments in Cairo, Luxor, Sharm El Sheikh, Gulf countries, among other international locations and Egyptian embassies abroad.
In 2005, Abdel Mohsen began working on proposals to resolve Cairo’s urban issues. “I thought to myself, the city is in such an intolerable state…how could we be teaching students about sustainability, quality of life … when we live in a city that is left the way it is? How can Downtown Cairo become what it once was? How can the city’s major squares return to their former beauty?” he wonders.
At the time, he had not yet pitched his ideas to the government, but was merely creating progressive redesigns of the city out of personal interest. The General Organization for Physical Planning (GOPP) eventually heard of the man making a hobby out of redesigning Cairo’s urban planning and hired Abdel Mohsen to create a redevelopment plan for Giza’s Remaya Square. However, Abdel Mohsen went back to them with a redevelopment plan for all of the Giza city, encompassing his envisioned Khufu Avenue running from Dokki all the way to the pyramids.
The GOPP was so impressed by Abdel Mohsen’s passion for revamping the Giza urban planning that they scheduled a meeting between him and then-Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and five other ministers to arrange further discussion. According to Abdel Mohsen, Nazif was impressed, particularly with the inspiration from Egyptian heritage, and spent over ninety minutes asking follow-up questions. From there, the Cairo 2050 Vision came into being, aiming to develop the city into one more green, global, and connected, according to the Cube Consultants website. The project will reportedly expand Cairo by 10,000 feddans.
“The people of Cairo and Giza should be the richest [given the assets at hand]…the Luxor Obelisk in Paris is quite something…why do not we have something similar in one of our major squares?” he questions.
Abdel Mohsen notes, “Our vision was to wipe off the dust from forgotten riches…and use that to generate revenue for building new metro lines, parks, and sports clubs — building an entirely different lifestyle from scratch.” He adds that Cairo was one of the most beautiful cities in the word in the 1930s, and that the plan is to restore its previous glory.
After five consecutive years of work on Cairo Vision 2050, the revolution took place, and the project was stigmatized for alleged ties with Gamal Mubarak, former President Hosny Mubarak’s son. “Even though I never even met the guy,” he laughs. “The public misunderstood the project vision of expanding Cairo on an additional 10,000 feddans as well as our vision of enhancing citizens’ quality of life, and instead we were smeared as a pure investment.”
Abdel Mohsen and his team have also worked tirelessly towards a vision they dubbed Egypt 712 7 Cities, 7 Capitals, aiming to expand the concept of major hubs nationwide from merely the Nile Valley. Three capitals would be newly-built in the desert, one being the currently under-construction New Administrative capital, while four others are already in existence and to undergo further developments.
“Alexandria the Capital of Knowledge, Cairo the Capital of Culture, Luxor the Capital of World Heritage and El Salloum the Capital of Aerospace Research are the old cities to be developed according to the vision,” he says, before outlining that the new cities would be constructed from scratch.
“Seneen in North Sinai would be built as a Capital of Business & Trading, Nefertari the New Capital in the Western Desert 200 km from Cairo, and Toshka Egypt’s new delta,” he clarifies. This vision was put in place by experts across disciplines, who held workshops to examine the needs of Egyptian citizens and diversify the main centers of attraction across governorates “as opposed to everything being based in Cairo,” he comments.
“For me, the New Administrative Capital is a dream where all the principles we have been speaking about should be implemented — it should be green, smart, and sustainable,” Abdel Mohsen tells Invest-Gate. He and his partners from 5+UDC are hired to put the strategic masterplan for the New Administrative Capital, including different zones such as the area dedicated to government administration buildings. The 700-square-kilometer megaproject runs with a green river at its spine, alongside several surrounding parks each larger than New York’s Central Park.
Their mission was clear, putting into consideration creating a sustainable city, combining a natural environment, a healthy community, and economic vitality. The New Administrative Capital was designed as a smart city, with many utilities, services, and various transportation networks. It reportedly encompasses a network for walking areas and bicycle areas, working towards creating a livable city through new destinations and improving connectivity, with a wide variety of shops, cafes, schools, religious institutions and public parks for residents, workers and visitors alike. Abdel Mohsen also runs a non-profit organization with the same aims, the Remal Foundation for Urban Development.
Abdel Mohsen tells Invest-Gate that he never left Egypt or travelled abroad for long-term work or academic assignments except for leisure or business trips, as he was determined “from day one” to serve and help his country succeed.
Abdel Mohsen founded Cube Consultants in 1990, four years after graduating at the top of his class from the Ain Shams Faculty of Engineering, initially working from his grandfather’s old apartment. After another four years of tackling numerous projects independently, he finalized the company paperwork. Cube’s projects include the Palestinian Embassy in New Cairo, restoration and development works to the National Theatre, and the Vortex Dubai Gateway, among other projects implemented nationwide and regionally.