Michael Graves' Architecture Of Egypt
The renowned American architect Michael Graves (b.1934) was invited by Samih Sawiris, the owner of Al-Gouna village in Hurghada, Egypt, to build a hotel within the complex. Sawiris admired the work of Graves, especially his uncompromising post-modern approach and extensive experience in hotel architecture. He regarded Graves “as an architect who would not sell out design ideas for the sake of hotel functionality”. However, Graves was commissioned to build the 282-room Miramar Hotel which is managed by ITT Sheraton.
Graves admired the traditional-style of the existing hotels of the Al-Gouna village, but Sawiris wanted him to produce a new hotel which expresses a post modern version of the work of the late architect Hassan Fathy. Although Graves has always been interested in the work of Fathy with its traditional architectural vocabulary, he incorporated his abstract elements and emphasised his own post-modern touches, which played significant role in the development of his design.
in fact, Graves’s hotel represents an example of the neo-vernacular and illustrates his interest in ‘figurative architecture’. The hotel is made up of clusters of villas situated on islands, which are connected by wooden bridges. Abstract elements such as domes, vaults, balcony palisades, terrace handrails and wooden lattice-work are used in many different functions around the units. Variations of dome shapes include the hemisphere, a bell-shape and the doughnut-shape with opening covered by a projecting cylinder above. There is also a pedestrian arcade that runs the whole length of the main entrance-road of the village, which is reminiscent of that of Fathy’s New Gourna village. Unlike the traditional architecture of Egypt with its natural earth colour, Graves gave the village dynamism with his usual use of vivid colours including blue, red, brown and dusted-brown.
The concept of Graves’s post-modern architecture contradicted Fathy’s traditional views of design, which relied upon the use of past forms and styles in an attempt to achieve excellence. Although the fluency of Graves’s abstract language reveals his remarkable ability in merging post-modern ideals with thoughts of peasant art and architecture developed by Fathy, he copied the surface effects of Fathy’s style without much grasp of its generating principles or cultural symbols. For example, Graves did not adhere to the design principles of the qa‘ah (reception area) in planning the guest-units. The units also lacked the natural ventilation system which should have combined a malqaf (windcatcher) and openings in the dome to let the hot air out but were provided with air-condition units instead. The disadvantage of Graves’s post modern approach is that he did not reproduce the core qualities behind his forms which, although fascinating to the eye, could be seen as a tired pastiche.
1. Eleanor Curtis, A Star is Born. Egypt Today, v. 18, no. 9, September 1997, p. 78.