The news that the American University of Cairo (AUC) would be the first from North Africa or the Middle East to participate in a US Department of Energy-sponsored Solar Decathlon competition was a source of great pride for all design and environment enthusiasts in our region. Green Prophet and other news outlets even launched an international plea to support the innovative SLIDES design as the revolution had curtailed their fundraising progress.
Despite numerous obstacles, including high temperatures during the holy month of Ramadan, unavailability of materials, and general inexperience with a project of this nature, the team managed to build a small prefab home that they recently shipped to Madrid. But the new design called Arkan is nothing at all like the original concept we loved so much.
They asked to remain anonymous for three reasons: they spoke to us without consulting the rest of the team, it is still very uncomfortable to speak out in Egypt, where transparency is still far from the norm, and they are still affiliated with AUC.
Our source explained that during the construction process of SLIDES, the original team felt that the contractors brought in to help them were taking over and that many of the important design elements were being compromised in the process.
“It is regular procedure to have a contractor help since the students are too inexperienced to do everything, but most of the work is done by the students,” according to the student.
“We started talking to the contractor but we felt that there was something that they left out that compromised the standards to which we were supposed to adhere. We’re supposed to produce something innovative, something new, and very high-tech, but we were feeling that this was being compromised in order to get something done so we could complete the project on time.”
The group’s original core also felt that their advisor, Dr. Lamyaa El-Gabryy, supported cutting corners in order to get the project completed in time.
“We are a team, but we had some difficulties in communication. Because usually the architects are the ones that lead and keep the standards because they have a vision… it might not necessarily be turned out, which is why we need professionals, but you can’t compromise everything just to get something done.”
“The design that we had on paper wasn’t going to be built. We’re not going to do this structural system or this one. Why? Because it’s easier.”
“We told her [Dr. Lamyaa] that it wasn’t going to work like that, that we were upset with the performance of the contractor.”
As a result of their discontent, several members of the original team pulled out around April or May, taking their SLIDES design with them. They have since entered the Solar Decathlon in China and are in need of both administrative and financial support.
Green Prophet contacted Dr. Lamyaa several times in the last few months to track AUC’s progress, since Green Prophet will be reporting live from Madrid, but we were never informed that a new crew had been recruited or that a new design had been submitted to officials at SDE 2012.
Arkan refers to pillars in classic Arabic and corners in the Egyptian dialect. Renders depict a luxurious solar-powered prefab that juxtaposes modern technology and traditional design, and the design brief calls for wood and glass, but the completed images posted on the team’s Facebook page show a rudimentary steel-framed structure that will be topped with photovoltaic panels.
In our last communication with Dr. Lamyaa, which occurred just days before we spoke to our source, she said she was very proud of the team for slogging through despite high temperatures and empty stomachs (during Ramadan) but she said nothing about the new design. We haven’t been able to reach her for comment since.
But we’ll dig deeper next week, live from Madrid, so stay tuned for updates!
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