The American University in Cairo’s Desert Development Center (DDC) and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, part of the Aga Khan Development Network, created a cooperative partnership to grow plants for Al Azhar Park in Cairo. The collaboration began when the foundation approached the DDC to grow plants at its South Tahrir agricultural research facility.
“Working with the trust we learned a lot of techniques we could apply here on the new campus,” said DDC Director Rick Tutwiler. As a result, Al Azhar became a model for the New Cairo Campus. The landscape for both the campus and the park was designed by architect Maher Stino of Sites International, who was adept at finding plants that had appealing colors and aromas while being mindful of the limitations that the climate imposed.
The realities of seasonal high temperatures, low humidity, scant rainfall and desert winds imposed severe conditions on the park’s plants and trees. To combat that, the Aga Khan Foundation focused on growing ornamental plants such as bushes, shrubs and trees that could be sustained in even the harshest of environments. Originally, the DDC incubated more than 50 acres of such plants, and currently houses a remaining 10 to 12 acres to be used for future park expansion.
The park, which opened to the public in 2005, included the excavation and restoration of the 12th century Ayyubid wall, the creation of three large fresh water reservoirs, and the implementation of an extensive social service program that includes healthcare and micro-credit facilities.
DDC is currently in negotiations with the Egyptian Ministry of Housing, Utilities, and Urban Development to build two new parks-one in Sadat City and another one in New Cairo–each of which would be twice the size of Al Azhar Park. “We wouldn’t have been able to do the new campus and certainly not these other parks if we didn’t have the relationship with the Aga Khan people or the prior experience of working on such a large project,” added Tutwiler.
The Desert Development Center is a non-profit, applied research institution established by AUC in 1979 that focuses on the ecological, social, and economic sustainability of communities in Egypt's arid lands through agricultural and socioeconomic research, training programs, and community service. It conducts its programs at two research stations located in South Tahrir in Beheira Governorate and Sadat City in Minufiya Governorate.
The American University in Cairo (AUC) was founded 90 years ago and is major contributor to the social, political and cultural life of the Arab Region. It is a vital bridge between East and West, linking Egypt and the region to the world through scholarly research, partnerships with academic and research institutions, and study abroad programs. An independent, nonprofit, apolitical, non-sectarian and equal opportunity institution, AUC is fully accredited in Egypt and the United States.
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