The last meeting of the Cairo Architectural Heritage Group (an initiative of Professor Nasser Rabbat) was ten years ago. I had the privilege to meet a talented group of architects, urban planners and heritage aficionados who are, today, Egypt’s leaders in these fields. One dynamic member was Shaimaa Samir Kamel Ashour. Shaimaa’s enthusiasm and dedication to Egyptian cultural heritage was hard to miss and her warm, friendly nature was contiguously positive. Shaimaa was one of the young Egyptians that showed intense interest to take action to preserve cultural heritage. To this day Shaimaa—architectural engineeer, author, lecturer, blogger, photographer, traveller, organizer of heritage events, conferences and city walks— continues her upward trajectory of contributions to the community in which she lives and works. This interview is to spotlight her commitment and dedication for her career and her country, Egypt.
“I like to narrate stories about architecture and places whether through teaching, writing, photography or public lectures. Through stories we explain how things are, why they are, and our role and purpose,” says Shaimaa one Friday over coffee at Maadi’s newest wellness centre, Osana. Her day job as an assistant professor at The Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transportation (AASTMT) in Cairo gives her the opportunity to teach and mentor students plus she heads the Cultural Committee in the Department of Architectural Engineering & Environmental Design where she organizes the highly successful guest lecture program, Beyond Lecture Halls.
Beyond university walls, Shaimaa continues to narrate stories about architecture. “I’m an architect with multi-disciplinary interests ranging from Egyptian modern architecture to cultural heritage, architectural advertisement and urban history,” says Shaimaa. Most recently she and Alia Nassar, began walking tours for foodies called The Taste of Heritage .
Shaimaa also maintains “The io Weekly” since 2012 as a hub to connect individuals by sharing news about the city, environment, architecture, heritage, and platform of upcoming events and exhibitions. She holds a seat on the Committee for Architecture at the Supreme Council of Culture, which gave her the opportunity work for the national competition to represent Egypt at the 15thInternational Exhibition for Architecture, Venice Biennale. Recent publications include sustainable conservation strategy to the Eastern Necropolis in Cairo, the changing housing policies and Sixth of October City, and citywalks as tool to narrate the history of Cairo. Last year, she published her book, An Overview of Pioneer Egyptian Architects During the Liberal Era (1919-1952). And let me not forget to mention her TV series,“A journey with books” program with broadcaster Dr.Khaled Azzab, about modern Egyptian architecture. (can be viewed at the end of this interview.)
As we munched on biscuits, I asked Shaimaa about her long list of accomplishments. She confided that sometimes she feels that nothing is happening and sometime feels like a moth on a wire mesh window.
So what motivates Shaimaa to keep fighting for the issues she cares about? “Persistence and passion,” she says. “I always believe there is a way. I never lose hope and try hundreds of times because someone might change or something might change.” She explains that during the moments of personal doubt or fear, she realizes that those feelings are natural so they do not become barriers on the path of achievement.
Of course, family is the most important part of Shaimaa’s daily life and she credits her mother and father as the two people whom she admires most and who have given her the freedom and encouraged her curiosity, career, travel and knowledge.
As I looked back over my notes, I counted five points mentioned that describe Shaimaa’s satisfaction with her career and life choices :
– Making a difference.
– Inspiring people.
– Writing about people who inspire.
– Listening to others tell their story.
– Making other lives better with her work.