I have spent the last few weeks in Cairo, and now I am about to head off to another adventure in Addis Ababa and surrounds. before I go I will try to get a few things posted from my time in Egypt…and more is on the way sometime mid-May…
Heliopolis is a little on the early side of my subject: it was designed and built just before the twentieth century began. But the design of the commercial arcade was certainly something worth investigating.
On Baghdad Street, four story arcades line one side of the street, while the other contains shops and on the ground floor and holds upper stories with various bay window structures, more typical of the rest of the urban fabric of the district.
What is remarkable about the four story arcade buildings is the dual structural systems that govern the division of (in this case) shops in the building. The structure of the façade, outside the arcade, is symmetrical, and emphasizes the building as a block of the street. Classical motifs punctuate the columns and center + end are dealt with as anchors. But the structure of the building behind is not hierarchic: it is a simple post and beam system in which all beams are spaced equidistantly.
The dual system allows the commercial space behind the arcade to be divided and subdivided, or expanded, without overtaking the public zone of the street. What is more, the variation in the scale of the arcade spaces as they move up through the section of the building allows different types of activity and different materials to be inserted as the occupants shift.
The symmetric style may be a bit heavy handed, but it offers an interesting possibility for the creative use of competing structural systems in the design of a building that must withstand commercial and residential change while keeping a foot in the public and the private.