‘Oasis Souk for Agricultural Products’ (or OSAP in short) is a contemporary concept for turning an empty patch of desert into an agricultural hotspot. Created by Rawan Waleed Mohamed Abd-Ellatif, a final year student at the Faculty of Fine arts Architecture Department of Alexandria University, OSAP taps into ancient methods of desert agriculture and projects them into the future.
‘Oasis Souk for Agricultural Products’ is located in the oasis of El Farafra in the New Valley, located in the middle of the western desert of Egypt. El Farafra is known for its dates and olives and considered as an important agricultural node with one of the best harvests in Egypt.
As part of the ongoing visionary ‘New Valley Project’, agricultural areas in and around El Farafra are becoming more and more popular living and working areas. Due to the elevated overcrowding of current urban centres in Egypt, many incentives are beginning to emerge for Egyptian families to relocate to the New Valley. A fast transportation link to the Nile Valley is currently under construction, allowing for an even quicker and larger the immigration from the now crowded Governorates of Nile Valley. This exodus from urban to rural translates to increased numbers of dwellers in or near the Oasis then a short time ago. Although this is a relief for the crowded urban areas, it also creates new questions for the future of the rural oasis like El Farafra.
Inspired by Jan Gehl’s quote who said: “cultures and climates differ all over the world, but people are the same, they’ll gather in public if you give them a good place to do it”, Rawan Waleed Mohamed Abd-Ellatif wishes to address the growth of the oasis and create a project which can become an important centre for the growing community as it grows. OSAP does so by becoming a contemporary meeting point for rural desert dwellers through the use of agriculture (the main activity and economy of the traditional oasis) and merging it into a reimagined contemporary concept of the traditional ‘souk’ (or market).
In terms of vision, ‘Oasis Souk for Agricultural Products’ provides the need for central market specialized in agriculture products to service both locals, newcomers and passerby tourists. Moreover, it helps the community to easily exchange products between different villages, increasing the amount of the products and the agricultural economy of the region.
“The concept of OSAP emerges from the desert dweller spirit and vernacular architecture of oases”, explains Rawan. “The process of designing OSAP depended on how to create a local familiar building integrate within the existing urban fabric stylistically: combining the architectural environment of the oasis, considering new methods of construction, and finally to meet sustainability requirements.”
The design concept of this oasis souk is characterised by the use of a singular structural unite – in itself inspired from the vernacular architecture of the oasis – holding within it the souk’s paths and shops. “The design evolution of the planes depended on creating relationships between in and out”, says Rawan, “solids and voids create different squares surrounded by shops, each with its own activity and product to sell”.
The roofs change from one to another according to the function below. There are two types of ‘caps’ (as Rawan defines them): one for the commercial corridors, and the others for the inner squares, shops and storage rooms. Shops and squares appear as semi-shaded unites, which shops displaying open facades tailored to the prevailing wind directions to promote natural ventilation. Green-roofs provide cover for the corridors and shops. On the other hand, green-roof helps towards passive cooling and in reducing the high temperature of the desert. There are wind-catchers at the end of the corridors to further assist in colling through passive ventilation.
The end result is a design which is both public and private, inside and outside, commercial, social and entrepreneurial: a brilliant contemporary oasis souk allowing for the agricultural of these desert islands to not only survive but thrive in the future.