Author: 
Lisa Kaaki | Special to Review
Publication Date: 
Thu, 2006-11-30 03:00

SHE is young, talented and since she graduated with honors, top of her class, Egyptian born, Shahira Hamed Fahmy has not wasted any time. She has not only won the Architectural Competition for Young Architects organized by Biblioteca Alexandrina and the Alexandria and Mediterranean Research Center but she has also established her private architectural office in Cairo which specializes in architecture, landscape, and interior and furniture design.

Shahira strongly feels that any architectural project should have a comprehensive outlook. This holistic vision brings to her work a powerful unity which characterizes her style: "Through my work, I am trying to create my own language" she says.

Her own language is highly influenced by her relationship with nature. She is part of an increasing number of architects around the world who are showing an intense and deep concern for nature in general. Forests are disappearing; coasts, cluttered with holiday resorts, are no longer playing their ancestral role of natural barrier between the sea and the mainland; mountains are turned into concrete jungles; habitats are being destroyed; species are being wiped out and pollution, an evil with no boundaries, is threatening the whole planet. "This raises questions about understanding and learning from nature. Is it the 'processes' of nature or the 'form' of nature that needs to be looked at, and manifested in the manmade environment? And in what context should we build?" asks Shahira.

Passionate about her work, she is possessed of an enthralling vision of nature. Her personal quest to understand nature transgresses ecological perspectives and leads her to create new forms of architecture. "The world needs to transform its present forms of technology, sociology, agriculture and economy in order to meet life's adaptability, creativity and diversity" she concludes.

An architect at heart, Shahira admits that architectural trends govern interior designs. The holistic approach she brings to her work has got her involved in other areas such as decoration and furniture design. She has in fact won the first prize for furniture design, in the Design Excellence Award organized by Medina Architecture Magazine judged by the famous Ingo Maurer who is renowned for his extraordinary lighting fixtures.

In one of her latest works, she has, true to her style, not only restructured an apartment but also furnished it. The result is a well-crafted space where light, color scheme and custom-made furniture create an awesome sense of peace and unity. Shahira attaches a particular importance to light: "I like to work with light: It helps to see space. With indirect lighting, you can follow the shadows and visualize space."

The interiors she has designed all highlight her attachment to tradition, a tradition which she is keen to reinterpret. She singles out the essence of a particular form and redesigns it. Her aim is to go beyond an existing form and create a new design in harmony with its modern surroundings. Although she prefers local materials, she does not compromise on quality and only uses ultra-modern facilities in bathrooms and kitchens.

Shahira acknowledges that being a woman is an advantage in a profession still largely dominated by men. The house remains a woman's domain. But she expresses her desire not to specialize exclusively in private homes. She acknowledges the influence of Abdel Halim Ibrahim and Rasem Badran, a Jordanian architect, who designed the Qasr Al-Hukm in Riyadh. Badran is known for his efforts to develop a contemporary Islamic architecture. She also admires the now famous Zaha Hadeed, who. until a few years ago, was mostly known for her extraordinary architectural designs which for the most part were never built.

Shahira Fahmy overwhelms by the intense passion she feels for her work. Unlike her male colleagues, she brings an air of freshness to a male-dominated profession. Her attention to details, especially where living spaces are concerned, highlights her expertise. Her originality, however, lies in her creative vision. Constantly striving for new architectural forms derived from her heritage, the natural environment and the ardent desire to invent her own architectural language, Shahira comes up with designs characterized by a natural pristine unity. She is striving to conceive architectural forms which can exist in all times: Forms which are free of time and even free of spatial constraints.

Forget 'Borat': Fashion Looks From the 'Stans

Teresa Wiltz | The Washington Post

BORAT had nothing to do with it. It was just a coincidence, the timing of Thursday night's Central Asian fashion design show, featuring the latest couture from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The embassy-sponsored event in Washington was totally unrelated to the box-office bonanza of that mustachioed faux Kazakh who mistook Romania for Kazakhstan and has been causing a bit of an image problem for the good people of Eurasia with Sacha Baron Cohen's mockumentary, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."

Borat's big-screen antics may have drawn a few extra specators to the Meridian International Center, but if they came looking for woman-driven ox carts rumbling down the catwalk or to be served glasses of fermented horse urine, they'd be bound to leave dissatisfied. This was a fashion show conducted in earnest, featuring the luxe stylings of Saida Azhikhan of Kazakhstan, Baktybek Tulparov of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan's Lola Babayeva, a show intended to showcase, and to show off.

Still, Borat was by no means ignored. Central Asian Cultural Exchange President David Carlson said at the start of the show, "I'd like to give a little thanks to Borat for giving us some publicity. If you're expecting any ugly women from Central Asia, you will be disappointed."

Which is to say, of course, the models - Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Mongols and a sprinkling of Americans - were lovely to the eye, resembling not a whit Borat's late-and-unlamented behemoth of a wife (or her American replacement). And the clothes ...

This was a night that truly did make benefit the non-Borat-alicious nation of Kazakhstan. And the other 'Stans. A night to "promote international understanding through fashion."

To look at the mink-trimmed cocktail shifts, the tall, tubular hats and the chinchilla-trimmed jacket paired with au courant skinny jeans was to take a peek into the sartorial sensibilities of little-known nations halfway 'round the globe, nations once tied up with the fate of the Soviet Union and eager to reassert individual identities.

Designer Azhikhan, her blond hair providing striking contrast to her Central Asian features, seemed eager to present an alternative view of the Kazakh woman.

Did she see the movie?

"Yes," she said, shaking her head and smiling. "I saw."

And did she laugh?

"Yes. Very funny. But some situations... I felt a little bit sad. Everything, it's not true. ...The faces are not exactly Asian faces. ...We're beautiful women in Kazakhstan. We like expensive clothes. We have high buildings! We have Bentleys! I have a home that cost $3 million."

Judging by Azhikhan's designs, Kazakhstan is a land where the women are rich, modest - this is, after all, a largely Muslim nation - and shivering from the cold. Think Doctor Zhivago transplanted into the cellphone excesses of the 21st century: Rich jewel shades, earthy prints and pelts. Fur - chinchilla, mink and faux - cropped up in everything, trimming funnel necks on great, charcoal velvet coats, slung around the hips of a paisley-esque maxi-skirt, punctuating jackets shot though with shimmers of Swarovski crystals.

Kyrgyzstan's Tulparov seemed preoccupied with then and now, serving up clothes that skittered between references to Kyrgyz children's clothing from the 18th and 19th centuries (lots of angelic smock dresses) and 21st-century club gear (lots of metallic thigh-grazing minis).

Designer Babayeva presented a view of the Uzbek woman as one who knows her place: Rooted in tradition, wearing turbans and long, printed tunics and blazers trimmed with embroidery and gorgeous metal-plate necklaces. Then again, she seemed, too, to be paying homage to MC Hammer from back in his glory days, what with her preponderance of genie pants tricked out with floor-grazing crotches. Not a good look, in any language.

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