01 Nov 2019
Cairo, Egypt
Sustainable Construction

In 2012, Insaf Ben Othmane had a novel idea for promoting sustainable architecture in urban communities. What if she started an international design co-operative for young experts to pool their ideas on making cities more liveable? Ben Othmane’s brainchild, Ecumene Studio, attracted UNHCR funding within just two years. Since then, the Ecumene Studio team has contributed to public playgrounds, healthcare centers, eco-friendly accommodation, and more in Egypt and Tunisia.

Ecumene Studio’s designers develop each project by meeting with local stakeholders, where they emphasize the importance of sustainable design. “The environment is always a priority in our participatory workshops,” said co-founder Omar Wanas. Building materials are sourced from local areas, reducing the project’s carbon footprint. Ecumene Studio favours designs that are “softscape,” incorporating trees and other plants to enhance the local surroundings. This collaborative approach also allows Ecumene Studio’s specialists to spread their knowledge of eco-friendly construction, sharing less wasteful ideas for urban planning into the future.

Children and refugees receive special focus from Ecumene Studio, which always aims to raise living standards in vulnerable communities. In 2015, designers upgraded a public healthcare center, kindergarten, and local NGO facility in El Obour City, Egypt. The initiative deliberately built public spaces for Syrian immigrants — and especially children — to share with their Egyptian neighbors.

On other projects, Ecumene Studio has joined cutting-edge innovators in driving the future of sustainable design. For example, the team assisted Dr Marwa Debaieh with the design and construction of a Trombe wall for an ecolodge in Saint Catherine, Egypt. This technique allows buildings to accumulate solar heat passively, reducing the need for heaters and air-conditioners.

Ecumene Studio’s philosophy of sustainability also embraces historical building principles. Over the past two years, Ben Othmane and her team have facilitated conferences in Tunis, where young locals collaborate on making the city’s ancient medina into a more inclusive space. Back in Egypt, Ecumene Studio has run workshops in the oasis town of Siwa to discuss preservation of the area’s architectural heritage.

Inevitably, staying organized is an ongoing challenge for international cooperatives like Ecumene Studio. “We need an efficient cooperative structure to run projects in many countries without [compromising] the quality and effectiveness of our work,” said Wanas. 

And although Ecumene Studio aims to be financially self-sustaining after five years, for now the board continues searching for grants and other contributions to fund new projects. 

Yet Ecumene Studio is already achieving self-sufficiency in one crucial respect: knowledge transfer. On every project, the team shows local stakeholders how to design, build and maintain their new structures. This approach ensures that sustainable attitudes to construction continue within target communities — long after Ecumene Studio’s team have embarked on their next design adventure. 


Learn more about Ecumene Studio through the website, this portfolio and Facebook.

Photos courtesy of Ecumene Studio

David works as a researcher and freelance writer in Beirut. He was formerly based in Cairo.David Wood
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