Science Building Removal to Give Iconic Tahrir Campus Facelift
The tearing down of the nearly 50-year-old Science Building at AUC Tahrir Square –– the six-story building on the corner of Kasr El Aini and Mohamed Mahmoud Streets that once housed AUC’s well-regarded science departments –– will make way for more gardens and green space on the downtown campus and marks the transition of that campus from an academic hub to a cultural center that strengthens and expands the role of AUC in the community.
“It is our hope that we can return more green space to the Tahrir area, and the campus will look as it did back in the 1950s,” said Brian MacDougall, executive vice president for administration and finance, stating that there are no plans to construct another building at the site. Instead, it will be an opportunity to add gardens, seating and walkways to the campus.
Only meters from the Science Building being removed is the wall surrounding Mohamed Mahmoud street, which bears life-size artistic murals that have been painted by artists to commemorate those who lost their lives during the January 25 Revolution. In order to start the demolition process, the Mohamed Mahmoud wall had to be removed to allow for the entry of construction equipment. AUC has considered ways to preserve the wall, but that is not possible. Knowing the historic significance of the graffiti there, however, the University has carefully documented the successive paintings, drawing, writings and other works of art that have been displayed on the wall and plans to develop a permanent exhibition documenting the wall’s role in modern Egyptian political life after the demolition of the Science Building is completed and the gardens that will replace it are planted. Plans are also underway for a more open fence design.
The removal of the Science Building is not only in line with AUC’s five-year strategic plan that calls for the revival of the Tahrir Square campus as a cultural center, but is also consistent with the government’s recent plans to renovate the downtown area. Unlike the other buildings on campus like the old palace, the Science Building is the only one on the downtown campus that is not registered as a building of historical importance, and the demolition will contribute to beautifying the area. The Science Building has been closed since the University’s relocation to the New Cairo campus in 2008.
The demolition permit was easily obtained, since the removal of the Science Building is in line with government efforts to beautify the downtown area. The University has already awarded a contract, and the contractor began to remove the Mohamed Mahmoud wall on Thursday, September 17 in order to access the building to start demolition. Because of the inherent value of the building materials, the University will not need to pay the contractor who will dismantle the building. The value of the salvage metal in the building will more than cover the cost of its demolition.
The decision to demolish the Science Building comes at a time when AUC is implementing a new approach to the Tahrir Square campus. “We have been discussing how to best utilize AUC Tahrir Square going forward, and it was clear that the Science Building would not be part of our ongoing facility master plan for that campus,” said MacDougall.
Since AUC transferred the bulk of its academic activity to the New Cairo campus, AUC Tahrir Square has been used for lectures, concerts and continuing education classes, while providing a huge collection of English-language books through the AUC Bookstore. Now, the University is taking steps to further establish the downtown campus as a cultural center for the surrounding community. MacDougall explained that the demolition of the Science Building, expected to take up to six months, would open up the campus to visitors. “It will double the amount of green space on campus and afford us the opportunity to change pathways with respect to access onto the campus,” he said. “We are imagining how we can optimize the use of the halls and what other types of cultural events we could hold as we reprogram all of that space.”
While the building was state-of-the-art at the time it was constructed, the equipment is now dated and there are no students to fill its classrooms. “The building was viewed as surplus, not functional from the perspective of anything we would want to do,” explained MacDougall. “As part of our long-term strategic plan, we will create a community council for the Tahrir Square campus to work with the people around campus to ensure that we are providing a healthy, friendly environment with links to the community.”
Construction on the Science Building began in 1961 in response to the growing science program at AUC and the need for updated laboratories and classrooms. At the time, the building represented a commitment to academics and a desire to bring facilities up to international standards. The completion of the Science Building in 1966 coincided with the hosting of the first Cairo Solid State Conference, an international scientific event that introduced AUC students and professors to academics from all over the world.
Although there was criticism of the design of the Science Building, it was innovative in its time for its use of architecture and materials to accommodate the natural climate of Egypt. The direction and intensity of sunlight was taken into consideration to utilize natural lighting and create an appropriate heating and cooling effect. The large concrete slabs that protruded from below the windows deflected sunlight so the rooms would not be in the direct glare of the sun. Furthermore, it was oriented in a way that would naturally warm the building during the winter months.
Many in the AUC community have fond memories of their time in a building that has become part of the landscape of the downtown campus for decades. The AUC Memories website has several reflections of members of the community.