©Christian Richters, photographer – image courtesy of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture




In 1984, His Highness the Aga Khan envisioned a park for the citizens of Cairo, one of the densest cities in the world. The 30-hectare site was selected, because of its enormous potential as a “green lung” at the centre of the historic city. The topography of the site, formed by debris accumulated over centuries, provides viewpoints dominating the city and offers a spectacular 360° panorama of Cairo.

Following debris removal and grading and the creation of plant nurseries to identify the best plants and trees for the soil, terrain and climate, the experience of the site was radically changed. The Park is marked by walkways, pools, hills, informal picnic spaces, formal gardens and amenities. Its vegetation varies from dry, succulent plants to lush, grassy meadows with shade trees, to formal gardens and, finally, to bustan-like orchard spaces. Elements of historic Islamic gardens are evoked in the form of symmetrical layout, inner and outer zones, the defining medium of pools and fountains, and important axes. The Park features a formal axis that is tied together along its entire length with a water channel. Water fountains and pools are dispersed and lead, ultimately, to the freer form of a lake. Gardens and pavilions in the classical Islamic tradition, surrounded by geometrically planted orchards, enhance the arrival point on the edge of a lake. The central pathway, accompanying alleyways and series of formal gardens are anchored at each end by the hilltop restaurant and lakeside café. A network of informal pathways surrounds the more formal areas and leads through all levels and corners of the site. The design explores a creative and interpretative relationship between the architectural design treatment of key architectural features in the park- in particular, the lakeside café, hilltop restaurant, and various plazas – with the architecture of historic Cairo. Al Azhar Park is self-sustainable and a driver and catalyst for a whole range of associated urban regeneration projects in its surroundings. It is a model of development this is replicable in other historic cities.
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