4 min read
Dar Al-Handasah New Premises: Triangles, Three Concepts, and the Thirdspace

@2015 by Radwa Omar

From the first look at Dar Al-Handasah's new premises, the building's form is a grand triangle with three expansive façades. The main entrance atrium is a towering triangle, six floors high. The primary staircase is a large triangle intersecting sharply with the triangular atrium. The external entrance features an extended triangle with numerous fragmented triangles forming a welcoming water fountain. The building's service core is a concealed triangle. Any statues or artwork related to the building are composed of abstracted triangles. The flowerboxes consist of groups of triangles, and every pattern on the floor or façade is either a triangle or inspired by a triangular shape. Entering the building feels like stepping into a parallel world full of triangles. The question arises: Why?

A parallel world full of triangles

Three concepts will be discussed in relation to the building's form. The first concept explores the designer's vision, emphasizing a green approach to design. The second concept examines the users' experience and their unique interactions with the space. The third concept focuses on the technical dialogue between the architects (users) and the other architects (designers), offering professional interpretations of every space and detail. 

The first concept: Perkins and Will, one of the world's most renowned American architectural firms, was chosen to design the new premises of Dar Al-Handasah in Cairo. Their design philosophy highlights modern lines, a unique form, and a green approach. As described by Perkins and Will: "The project is targeting LEED-NC Gold. To maintain such a large floor plate while maximizing daylight penetration and views, the team folded the building upon itself and designed a large glass atrium that draws in natural light from both the interior and exterior perimeter walls. The monumental stair is surrounded by a six-story water wall that removes condensation from the air and cools the space through evaporation. The warm climate of Cairo creates the challenge of reducing overall energy demands. The unique triangular shape of the building minimizes direct eastern and western exposure, which present the largest energy and comfort challenges." (Perkins + Will, 2011) This sounds promising, but how realistic is it? 

The second concept: “There is no way to perform architecture in a book; words and drawings can only produce paper space, not the experience of real space. By definition, paper space is imaginary: it is an image." (Tschumi 2010). Tschumi emphasizes that the experience of real space (user interaction) is more important than the conceptual space (designer's vision). The second concept in this section seeks to track users' actual experiences. To earn more points in the LEED rating system, the designer opted to reduce heat gain/loss by creating a completely sealed glass exterior with no provision for fresh natural air. This means the building relies entirely on air conditioning, leading to significant power consumption. Additionally, the designer selected solutions to reduce water consumption, such as native trees, extensive hardscape areas, mulch, and gravel. However, outside the LEED criteria, a vast area of water-intensive grass exists under the same ownership. This raises the question: How do companies perceive the rating system? Is it a genuine sustainable approach or merely a commercial objective? Inside the triangular structure, many offices lack access to natural light or external views, resulting in poor-quality spaces compared to those adjacent to the three external facades, which enjoy ample daylight and expansive views. 

"For Tschumi, space is ‘created’ by the events occurring within it; architectural space is defined by the activities happening inside, in front of, or around it, in any spatial relation.” (Savić 2011). This concept of Tschumi’s is illustrated by the main stair, a wide staircase situated in the heart of the building, directly connected to the main atrium and linking all main entrances across floors. The stair, which offers picturesque views of the atrium, serves as multi-level terraces and is often used for personal phone calls, conversations, and social interactions. 

The vertical circulation core (stairs and elevators), cafeteria, prayer area, outdoor space, coffee machine, and parking floors all function as vibrant gathering areas fostering social interactions among users from various trades. This contrasts with the grand open workspace, which negatively impacts personal privacy. The vast number of people and computer screens create an environment reminiscent of an industrial factory, churning out architectural products.

The third concept: " The uniqueness of this new headquarters lies in the fact that it was designed by architects for an architectural firm, with the intention for architects to occupy it once again. This sets it apart from the typical scenario where architects design buildings for non-architect users. The dialogue between architects is evident in the distinctive triangular shape of the building, which conveys an important message through various elements such as material selection, external views, facade treatments, and floor plan design, akin to intricacies observed in CAD details or freehand sketches. This silent dialogue represents a unique interplay between conceptualization and manifestation, involving coding and decoding processes. 

For employees of Dar Al-Handasah, the old premises in Mohandeseen hold a trove of memories and experiences, prompting comparisons with the new building. These comparisons span various aspects, from the intimate scale of individual desks versus the expansive open workspace, to the bustling urban life of downtown Mohandeseen versus the more suburban atmosphere of the new location, and the parking scarcity in Mohandeseen compared to the provision of three private parking floors in the new premises. According to Edward Soja, the concept of Thirdspace refers to spaces that are both real and imagined simultaneously. The ongoing comparisons between the old and new spaces create a form of Thirdspace for Dar Al-Handasah employees, where many aspects of the new premises exist in both reality and imagination simultaneously. 

Finally, the examination of Dar Al-Handasah New Premises reveals a distinction between the conceptual space represented on paper and the actual experience of inhabiting the space. This disparity underscores the multifaceted nature of space utilization, characterized by its dynamism and adaptability. Moreover, there exist multiple layers of interpretation for a building, particularly evident in the tacit dialogue between the architects (designers) and the architects (users). Consequently, occupants of a building may find themselves immersed in spaces that blend reality with imagination simultaneously.


 Perkins + Will. 2011. http://perkinswill.com/work/dar-smart-village-headquarters.html (accessed 1 2016). 

Savić, Selena. event and movement in architecture. 2011. http://emperors.kucjica.org/event-and-movement-in-architecture/ (accessed January 2016). 

Soja, Edward. Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places 1st Edition. Blackwell Publishers; 1 edition, 1996. 

Tschumi, Bernand. Event-Cities 4. MIT Press, 2010.