Yacoubian Building, Architecture from literature


The subject of the thesis was the trasposition of a novel into an architecture. Here the novel is Yacoubian Bulding by ‘Ala Al-Aswani. He contextualizes his novel in a mansion built in the thirties which stands on one of the main avenues of the city center. Yacoubian Building materializes itself all that Egypt has become since the building was built: forbidden love, sex, corruption, religious hypocrisy, arrogance of the powerful people and fundamentalism.

Once introduced the topic, it’s time to subvert the traditional conception about how to create an architecture. There isn’t need, there isn’t context, there isn’t function. There is only one gap, the one left by ‘Ala Al-Aswani. A gap of infinite dimensions, within which to take a dream journey in search of one of the possible roads leading to democratic beauty. The building in which are set the events described in the story of Al-Aswani is a perfect example of democratic beauty. The architecture of the splendor and excellence that is cannibalized and denatured. The characters of the novel take possession of every corner of the building and they transform it according to their taste and their needs, to turn it into a shapeless heap of space.

In the present work I tried to imagine and represent Yacoubian Building in this cannibalized version. I did this by writing a new story, this time from the point of view of the Yacoubian building architect. Throughout the project is evident that the novel’s ghost is able to impose its immeasurable strength and how this force is able to dialogue with all the obsessions of those who has produced the documents. Well, you find in this images the result of this improbable dialogue.

(The term “Democratic Beauty” refers to the research that Cherubino Gambardella has pursued for many years. This research is focused on producing an architecture of cheap quality – a lot with little.)


What prompted the project?

The project is prompted by the desire to embody the dream of a writer, ‘Ala Al-Aswani and the one of the characters of his novel: Yacoubian Building. The attempt is to subvert the traditional concept of the production of the architecture. There is no need, there is no context, there is no function. There is only one interstice, the one left by ‘Ala Al-Aswani during the writing of his novel. An interstice of infinite dimensions within which I tried to weave a new likely plot. From this task came a new tale that seems like a false story. That is a story that behind an incredible multi-verse of characters, places and sensations, reveals to be stuffed only with imagination. Well, the story outlined in this work could, in some ways, resemble a false story, but it is not. Rather, I tried to structure it by embedding a canvas of overlapping textures: a series of altered and amplified writings that attempt to intertwine, giving rise to a convincing story made up of pieces of literature and architecture.

What defined the language of representation of the project? How does each image talk about and frame a specific moment of the narrative?

The language of representation is deliberately fragmentary. The need for this fragmentation must be sought in the very essence of the whole work.The idea is to represent a dream and as such, it is made by a continuous evolution of colours, spaces and settings that are closely related to the sensations and scenes that are visualized. Each images go to frame a specific moment of the narration of ‘Ala Al-Aswani, trying to freeze beyond the moment described in the novel even the sensations that the bystander tests, through the use of colours, lights and contrasts.

What prompted the use of classic orthogonal projections as that of the plan?

The use of the orthogonal projections as an instrument of investigation and narration of the architectural project is very important to me. It shows with objectivity what I want to represent through an abstraction that for its schematicity is almost poetic. Moreover, thanks to the fact that it is the technical instrument of representation for excellence, showing Yacoubian Building with orthogonal projections has allowed to make the object depicted more real, understandable and tangible.

How important is the dialogue between text and image?

The dialogue between the text and the images is useful in order to try to have a complete overview. However, this dialogue is not essential, the text and the images have their own autonomy and are perfectly usable independently one from the others.The text was thought as if it were a convincing manifesto of the building. Almost it is like a museum that host an exhibition of himself and his history is the brochure that advertises the exhibition.

What was your work process in woking in between narrative and drawing? How did one stimulate and feed off the other in a continuous loop?

The production process of this work has been lysergic as the result. There was not a real split between the production of the text and the production of the images, they are gushed together as fragments that were compacted to give shape to the building. The architecture and the narration have contaminated each other several times in order to feed each other during the whole production process. There would have been no Yacoubian Building without the text that was produced, just as the text would not exist without the Palace. They are both the expression of the same essence, two individuals sharing the same heart, like the dragon and the prince of Dragonheart.

Did you eve rethink of challenging any other narrative based mediums as maybe the book/animation?

For a happy but short period of my life, I have been a regular producer of poems. I wrote about 300 poems and they all range between different topics and styles. In 2011 I published my first book “Dell’amore ed altri temi” which was followed by a series of publications of my texts in different anthologies. In the period in which I attended the faculty of architecture, I began to prepare my second book, a project that has paved the way for the production of my thesis in architecture “Yacoubian Building. Architecture from literature “. This second book, which should have been called “Tratti incandescenti”, was based on a narration that ranged between fragments of poetry and images, paintings and sketches produced by me and other artists. Unfortunately this project will never see the light or, at least, it will not be published soon.