Cultural Park for Children, Cairo, Egypt
by Jimmy Dunn
The last time you were in Cairo, you probably missed the Cultural Park for Children, even if you took your kids along for the trip, and even though your tour probably came within a stone throw away from the park.
Located in the Sayyida Zeinab area in the heart of medieval Cairo near the Ibn Tulun Mosque, the park has won the prestigious Aga Khan award (1992) for architecture, and is a favorite of area children. It is also a fine place for your own kids to soak up some local culture, actually come in contact and even play with the children of Cairo. Of course, it is also entertaining. Here, one finds a complex full of libraries, art studios, rooms with computers and video games, playgrounds, fountains and several areas for theatrical and performing arts. The park's boundaries consist of low walls penetrated by arched openings and a main entrance gate. A main avenue intersects a secondary street lined with facilities built along the park wall, including an outdoor cafe, small shops and seats. There is even a clinic and other community services located within the park.
Arabic architecture has always been about intricate designs. The complex is an architectural garden laid out in complex geometric patterns, sometimes with bright paint but also the sandy colors of Cairo. It occupies one hectare of land and is built on a former garden, utilizing some existing trees and shrubs, including an avenue of palm trees. The resulting atmosphere is one that engages curiosity, fantasy and play, while at the same time reflecting the structure of geometry in the surrounding monuments. This balance between angular and curved shapes, as abstractions of historical architectural elements is integral to the grand scheme of the park. The emphasis of the design is to encourage exploration and empirical learning through architectural form. Rooms have frequently been left open to the sky, so that children can appreciate the structure more. An important lesson of the Cultural Park for Children is that it is the unsaid, in architecture, which is often the most important thing. Rhythm is a basic theme that unites all the disparate parts of the project, and gives it strength.
It has also created a since of pride in the areas residents resulting in a renewal of a once deteriorating part of Cairo. The park was completed in 1990 for the Ministry of Culture. The architect was Abdelhalim Ibrahim Abdelhalim.