Urban Sketchers: Alexandria’s Architectural Heritage

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October 31, 2014
Alexandria, Egypt

The ‘Description of Alexandria’ is a cultural and artistic project carried out by a team of volunteer sketchers and documenters that seeks to record the remains of cosmopolitan Alexandria and its architectural heritage.

Artist and architect, Mohamad Gohar, founded the project more than 4 years ago with the aim of raising awareness about the threat posed to Alexandria’s cityscape by urban developers, as well as documenting the current and former architectural face of the city.

The appearance of this legendary city is rapidly changing and many of the older buildings are being demolished and replaced with sterile modern structures. Since the revolution of 2011, more than 27,000 new buildings were erected, most of them illegally. Much of the data about the city’s buildings is fragmented and outdated.

The sketchers cover as much as possible and include four main types of drawings: Facades, perspectives, details, and the memory of the place. They have compiled a book split into five volumes according to area. The book describes the architectural descriptions of the buildings as well as discussing their historical context.

The video shows the sketchers drawing a Venetian building on Alexandria’s corniche as well as an exhibition of Mohamad Gohar’s work in an art gallery.

Shot List:

0'' Villa Aghyon, destroyed in February, was the first to be build with concrete.
6'' Villa to be demolished
9'' closer look
12'' Villa where Lawrence Durrell wrote the Alexandria Quartet famous books
17'' Same Villa, different perspective
22'' A villa in bad conditions with a new building behind.
27'' Buildings under construction, the new face of Alexandria
31'' More buildings under construction
37'' Same
57'' Alexandria's downtown corniche
1'04'' A group of urban sketchers drawing on a friday morning by Alexandria's corniche
1'10'' A closer look
1'15'' Mohamed Gohar, the founder of the project 'Description of Alexandria"
1'20'' Gohar sitting and drawing
1'25'' Zoom on his hands
1'30'' The sketch
1'35'' The 'Venice' building, the one that the sketchers are drawing on this Friday morning
1'40'' Another perspective of the artists.
1'46'' Mohamed Gohar: "Alexandria is facing a great problem of loosing its buildings. This buildings contain history and since we don't have any updated data and information about buildings and urban plans in Alexandria, I believe that the Description of Alexandria will play a great role in recording this data for our next generation. In the Description of Alexandria we not only draw buildings, we also describe every element of this building and the surrounding of this building and also we describe how people live by this building and on this area.
2'38'' Gohar shows the finished version of his sketch
2'42'' He drew only a detail of the building.
2'47'' Gohar: "It's a life project, we can't finish. I wish I can draw all Alexandria and record it for history, but it's a very, very big project and need more time, more lives."
2'57'' A member of the group. Work in progress
3'03'' She draws vignettes of life around the buildings.
3'09'' A family having coffee.
3'13'' Sylvie Bargain, a French urban sketcher joined the group while visiting Alexandria
3'19'' Sylvie's drawing
3'23'' Sylvie goes colorful
3'30'' Almost finished
3'34'' Final sketch. She would later finish coloring.
3'39'' Sylvie Bargain: "It really is a touching project to preserve the heritage of the city like this. It is what pushed me to come from France and spend a week here discovering Alexandria thanks to this project by Mohamed Gohar"
3'53'' The whole group has just finished drawing.
3'58'' Mohamed Gohar minutes before the opening of the exhibition featuring his sketches.
4'04'' One of the sketches exhibited
4'09'' Another one, the already demolished Villa Roushdy.
4'14'' Exhibition opening
4'19'' Visitors observing a sketch
4'25'' Attendance was high
4'29'' More visitors.
4'36'' A woman looks two of the sketches
4'41'' A couple.
4'46'' Mohamed Gohar chats with one of the visitors
4'54'' Looking carefully
4'59'' More visitors
5'04'' A visitor wanted a picture with the artist
5'08'' Dominique Waag, French Consul in Alexandria speaking to the public
5'14'' Dominique Waag, Consul of France in Alexandria: "As you know the problem of heritage is something crucial for Alexandria because Alexandria is a city that has a 20th century heritage absolutely exceptional but that unfortunately has not been preserved in the right way until now and that i think we could say it's really in danger (threatened) today since a large number of buildings have already been destroyed and the ones who are still standing are for a great part damaged and many of the ones damaged have already been destroyed"
5'43'' Dominique Waag: "I think that this exhibition will help raise the awareness of the civil society in Alexandria, of the people of Alexandria, on the importance of this heritage and of the importance of this heritage for the future of the city"
5'55'' Description of Alexandria's draft version, First volume.