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Profile: Ramses Wissa Wassef

“An artist’s work is no longer of much use in modern society. Exhibitions in art galleries are visited by people as social events, like race meetings or cocktail parties. Basically, art is dying in the twentieth century because it has been torn as under from daily life. It has become part of the trade in rare, expensive luxuries, or else it is cast aside. It undergoes all day to day caprices of fashion and gains attention by being provocative or sensational, or even by making use of drugs. And then the works that have won fame, or notoriety, are put into museums to be admired” -Ramses Wissa Wassef, Woven by Hand.

Ramses Wissa Wassef (1911-1974) is the architect who best conceptualized and designed modern houses adapted from rural vernacular architecture in Egypt. His architecture is a direct result of his involvement with the social and cultural contexts that inspired him in the first place and the context in which he designed. Unlike Hassan Fathy, who was celebrated first in the West and later in Egypt and the Arab region for his mud brick architecture, RWW worked closely with people as partners, not as recipients of his wisdom. The legacy of Ramses Wissa Wassef lives on despite the lack of academic attention, particularly from the West (in contrast to Hassan Fathy) because of the humanist approach of his design process. The inhabitants and users of his buildings today praise RWW and share fond memories of their time with him as a member of the community. His architecture oeuvre is not limited to the domed village houses and includes private villas, public buildings and churches.

Below is a brief biography provided by Archnet.org

Ramses Wissa Wassef was an Egyptian architect and educator. He earned his BA degree from the Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1935. His graduation project “A potter’s house in Old Cairo ” received the first prize by the examination board. Upon returning to Cairo, in 1938, he was nominated as a professor of art and history of architecture in the college of Fine Arts in Cairo.

"One cannot separate beauty from utility, the form from the material, the work from its function, man from his creative art."

In 1951, Ramses Wissa Wassef embarked upon an experiment in creativity which would become universally acclaimed. He set out to prove that creativity was innate — that anyone could produce art. He had become discouraged by the general decline of creativity in 20th century urban culture and dismayed by the deadening influence of mass production. He felt that routine education was stifling. For his experiment he chose uninhibited, free-spirited young children who were isolated from many aspects of modern civilization.

Wassef saw that the “modern architectural revolution”, which had hit Cairo, was producing a multiplicity of buildings constructed without any sense of aesthetics but rather for their fast rentability. From this point on, Wassef was firmly resolved to never sacrifice his artistic vision for current trends of construction.

For a list of buildings by Ramses Wissa Wassef along with a selections of related articles on the architect provided by Archnet.org, click here.

[Villagers of Haraneya outside of Cairo speak of their experience living and working with Ramses Wissa Wassef and his efforts to establish a the center for Egyptian tapestry. Video by Omnia Khalil & Tarek Waly]

Two recent exhibitions celebrated RWW, the first was hosted at the American University in Cairo’s Rare Books and Special Collections Library (February 2012) and the second was hosted at the Palace of the Arts – Cairo Opera House site, Zamalek (November 2012).

For further information, here are some useful links:

Wissa Wassef Art Center

Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the Wiisa Wassef Art Center

Ramses Wissa Wassef Architectural Drawings at the AUC Rare Books Library

Egypt Today: Celebrating Ramses Wissa Wassef