AUC Architecture Graduation Project Wins First Place in a National Competition

Mariam Barsoum Pic

January 17, 2019, Cairo – The graduation project of Mariam Barsoum, an architecture graduate of The American University in Cairo (AUC), has won the first prize in the competition that was held recently by the Society of Egyptian Architects (the Egyptian Section of the International Union of Architects). The competition jury, composed of the heads of departments of architecture in Egypt, selected Barsoum’s project from the top graduation projects of all Egyptian Universities. Barsoum’s graduation project is an architectural intervention designed to help improve the lives of the people of the Shakshouk informal community in Fayoum Governorate. The project intends to help the local community by providing job opportunities and better life conditions, based on an in-depth study of the users' needs. On winning the award, Barsoum said: “I am really grateful, most importantly because I feel that I will be raising awareness about the depth of the problem in Egypt, motivating other students to follow the same path of investigating the informal sector and developing solutions to the unprivileged communities. And more importantly trying to re-define the role of architects in our community and how it’s not only about building fancy glass façade buildings, but also about the simple things such as giving back to our community.” 

Ahmed Sherif, professor and chairman of the Department of Architecture, The School of Sciences and Engineering at AUC, said: “Mariam's graduation project, supervised by professor Ashraf Botros, is composed of integrated residential, commercial and tourist developments. The design builds on understanding the existing urban and life patterns of the local community, thus, it responds to their way of life. The design also provides a large level of flexibility of implementation to suit the varying needs of the low income people. The project utilizes prefabricated systems for efficiency and speed of construction and embraces a number of unique sustainable design concepts.”

Barsoum has always been fascinated by informalities in Egypt ever since she was in high school.  “My daily communal route in the school bus involved looking at the informal areas and through the years I have been observing their organic growth. I was noticing that informalities are now emerging as an alternative way of construction in Egypt and in an unhealthy way.”  Although she was only 17 at the time, and wasn’t yet settled on pursuing a degree in architecture, she felt that she should have a role towards developing solutions to these unprivileged communities.

As Barsoum pursued her studies in architecture at AUC, she decided to reinforce that idea through her graduation project. “As my graduation project was approaching, I started to question the role of architects concerning this field in Egypt, and wanted to redefine the periphery between the architect and the community. Therefore I decided to act as “the guide” and give these communities a process that is based on their own improvisation, resources and more importantly existing informal village pattern to become sustainable to avoid the pitfalls of social housing.”

Intrigued by buildings, she began to notice how they can influence the way we live and our behavior in general. “And since we spend most of our lives in buildings, architects could actually affect people’s lives positively, and that’s really what I wanted to do.”

Barsoum explained how liberal arts education at AUC widened her horizons: “I believe the liberal arts nature at AUC played an important role in this achievement, getting exposed to different courses outside my major such as sociology, anthropology, philosophy have really shaped my thinking and acted as guiding tools towards my achievement.”


Last year, Alyaa Sherif's architecture graduation project has won the second prize in this competition. Also, the architecture graduation project of Heba El Sawy, has won the UNESCO-UIA & MIDO Student Design Prize for Responsible Architecture “Anthrotecture: The Mountains of Mansheyat Nasser".


“This is an impressive recognition of the quality of projects produced by the students of the Department of Architecture, we are very proud of these achievements. They are testimonies of the quality of education at AUC at the local and international levels,” said Sherif.

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Founded in 1919, The American University in Cairo (AUC) is a leading English-language, American-accredited institution of higher education and center of the intellectual, social, and cultural life of the Arab world. It is a vital bridge between East and West, linking Egypt and the region to the world through scholarly research, partnerships with academic and research institutions and study abroad programs. 

The University offers 40 undergraduate, 52 master’s and two PhD programs rooted in a liberal arts education that encourages students to think critically and find creative solutions to conflicts and challenges facing both the region and the world. 

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