To delve more into Upper Egypt with its distinctive architectural pieces, Invest-Gate interviews Dr. Maher Stino, who together with Dr. Laila El-Masry Stino founded Sites International in 1986. Providing various services from architecture to environmental planning and engineering, among many others, in the US and Egypt, Sites has been awarded a number of renowned projects like New Aswan City and Al Galala City. Dr. Stino tells us more about his company’s projects, as well as, his opinion about the country’s current business environment.
How and when did you start your architecture firm?
Sites International was established in 1986, and became a limited shareholding company in 1998.
Our vision was to start the profession of landscape architecture and planning in Egypt, with a special focus on landscape architecture, which did not exist at all in Egypt at that time.
What is special about Sites and makes you different from other firms? What are the services you provide?
Sites International is an award-winning, multi-disciplinary consultancy firm with offices in the US and Egypt. And our pioneering work in the Middle East has received international recognition.
We offer our clients fully-coordinated and comprehensive project services that include feasibility, planning, and all design stages through to tendering and construction site supervision. The company specializes mainly in master planning, detailed planning, landscape architecture, architecture, structural engineering, site engineering, construction site supervision, and project management.
Our mission is to create fully integrated projects, where the built and natural environments blend meaningfully to produce works of functional and visual harmony. Our design solutions capitalize on the unique physical features of any site. Our emphasis is on cost effectiveness, sustainability, optimal land use, water budgeting and re-use, utilization of local building materials, and the selection of suitable native and indigenous plants.
Sites’ diverse portfolio of projects includes large leisure and touristic resorts, residential and commercial developments, historical districts, educational institutions and campuses, parks, and open spaces.
You have offices in both the US and Egypt, what is the difference between both countries in terms of business environment and facilitation of procedures?
Operating in Egypt proved to be much more difficult than the US; the limitation that we faced here in Egypt were numerous when we tried to produce the same design and planning qualities seen in the US.
In Egypt, time allowed to finish the work is limited and the fees are very low when compared to the US. In addition, contractors are not qualified to produce quality landscape and site works. The building industry in Egypt also does not offer a variety of quality building materials; and high-quality plant nurseries do not exist.
You worked on the new tourist strip in the New Aswan City, tell us more about this project?
The tourist strip is a -1,200- acre waterfront project that comprises hotels, residential buildings, and a- six- kilometer promenade with shops and cafes, among other amenities.
How will this project change the touristic map of Aswan?
New Aswan City promenade will offer tourists a new physical and visual experience of the Nile River. The tourist strip includes a large waterfront park across 140 acres, in addition to residential walks and bike lanes.
You worked on the renovations of some of the most important works in Aswan such as the Nubian Museum and the Cataract Aswan Hotel. How did it feel to work on such a major national project as the museum and what was your architectural approach towards the hotel’s renovation project?
Having received the 2001 Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the Nubian Museum is a true illustration of landscape architecture that is important to site topography and context.
Sites’ design concept centered on creating several themed outdoor display areas and including a long stream, representing the Nile River as it flows through Egypt. The stream symbolically starts in the topographically rough landscape of Upper Egypt, descends through several cataract-style waterfalls, and ends in Lower Egypt with palm trees and greens of the Delta.
In the late 1980s, UNESCO sponsored the establishment of the museum to display the history, culture, and heritage of the Nubian people. The museum rests on a unique hilltop site, overlooking the Nile River city of Aswan. Featuring numerous indigenous plants that spread over natural rocks, the -43,000- square- meter site comprises an amphitheater that is carved out of the steep adjacent slopes, and a small Nubian village that brings Nubian culture, and daily activities to life.
On another note, the Egyptian General Company for Tourism and Hotels (EGOTH) entrusted Sites with the master plan and landscape architecture design for the Cataract Aswan Hotel as part of the hotel renovation plan Given the splendor of the site and its breathtaking location, the design reflected elements of the interior and exterior architecture in the courtyards, terraces, and gardens, important to the natural, built and historical context.
The Cataract Aswan Hotel is originally built in the late 19th century on top of a granite hill at the Nile River edge in Aswan.
Is working on projects in Upper Egypt different from Cairo due to infrastructure issues?
Not that much.
What are your most important and latest projects in general?
The planning of a- 2000- acre new town as part of El Galala project, in addition to the- 14-kilometer- long Al- Alamain waterfront promenade.
How do you see the current business environment in general and what are your expectations for the industry performance in the future? Are you hopeful?
Despite the slow economic conditions in Egypt, the real estate sector is flourishing. Given the devaluation of the Egyptian pound, people are investing heavily in real estate. However, it is very difficult to predict what is to happen within the next five years.
What is your advice to rising architects?
Work hard and stay dedicated to your work regardless of any challenges you face.