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Ramses Wissa Wassef (November 9, 1911 in Cairo, Egypt - 1974), was a famous Egyptian architect and designer, and a professor of art and architecture at the College of Fine Arts in Cairo.[1] Ramses was also a potter and weaver who taught many disadvantaged Egyptian children to weave tapestries.

Ramses Wissa Wassef's father was a lawyer, a leader of Egypt's nationalist movement and an art patron who persuaded the Egyptian Parliament to develop the arts in Egypt. After finishing high school, Ramses wanted to become a sculptor but changed his mind at his father’s advice and began to study architecture in France at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Paris. His thesis project "A Potter's House in Old Cairo" received the first prize in 1935. He had a passion for beauty in form and said "One cannot separate beauty from utility, the form from the material, the work from its function, man from his creative art "[2]

Ramses Wissa Wassef's family donated all his original architecture drawings to the Rare Books and Special Collections Library at the American University in Cairo.


Architecture and Design

At the beginning of his career in 1935 Ramses was struck by the beauty of the medieval towns and the old quarters of Cairo. His vision was filled with the harmony and picturesque beauty of villages with the simplicity of certain old houses, its narrow lanes which were shaded most of the day. Ramses saw sharp contrast to the coldness of most modern buildings. Why, he would ask himself, was it possible for craftsmen in the past to succeed where present-day architects failed.

Ramses once wrote:

The ancient craftsmen had managed to derive from their traditional heritage an infinite variety of expression and created effects distinguished by local character.

Ramses did not undertake massive projects, such as the housing blocks and complexes, which are profitable by virtue of their uniformity. This Ramses found, was not genuine to his nature or his interests. Ramses' main concern was the way in which conditions of the individual in a mechanical civilization gradually could be humanized. Helped by his classical architecture training and his studies of the history of art and architecture Ramses gradually conceived elements of an architectural style bearing the stamp of his own strong personality and responding to the challenge of the times without breaking away from the past. Impressed as he was by the beauty of the Nubian houses in the villages around Aswan, which still preserved the domes and vaults, inherited form the earliest Pharaonic dynasties, he resolved to maintain their presence in his own architectural work for reasons of aesthetics, climate and economics.

Ramses incorporated the skills of a number of traditional craftsmen such as stonecutters, traditional carpenters, glass blowers and potters who had inherited the techniques and traditions of the Egyptian vernacular heritage. The combinations of these varied elements found shape in a number of his universally admired architectural achievements such as:

Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center and Art Education

Wissa Wassef attempted to prove that art is innate in everyone and it can flourish in spite of the deadening influence of mass production [3] that he believe killed creativity. He set out to prove that children can all grow up to artists if they are encouraged to work in art and live surrounded by other artists. He founded the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center in 1951 near the Pyramids to teach young Egyptian villagers how to create art and tapestries. He believed that All children are endowed with a creative power which includes an astonishing variety of potentialities. This power is necessary for the child to build up his own existence. [4]

The Art Center gave Ramses the opportunity to design and implement his architectural ideas in total freedom. It was also an opportunity for Ramses to teach local builders the art of building domes and vaults which has been traditionally being executed by builders from Aswan, in Upper Egypt. It is thanks to these local brick layers, that a new generation of dome & vault builders continues this wonderful building tradition. When the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center, won the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1983, the awarding committee eloquently summed up the project as follows:

For the beauty of its execution, the high value of its objectives, as well as the power of its influence as an example. For its role as a center of art and of life, as represented by its location, its endurance, its continuity, and its promise. The project is perfectly adapted to its environment, enhancing the role of earth as a building material and demonstrating innovation in the organization of volumes and its subtle use of light. The Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center, a social as well as a sculpture and spiritual dimension, as it has proved. A place supportive as well as poetic or supportive because it is poetic, Where the young tapestry weavers of the community have been free to develop an artistic hand craft, producing tapestries of great excellence and renown.

Wissa Wassef taught the children to express themselves by weaving tapestries. Weaving these tapestries at the Center was a lively and creative process for the children because no preliminary drawings were used. By the end of the 1960s Wissa Wassef's Art Center was well known in many countries and was a favourite stop for tourists in Egypt.

Wissa Wassef loved pottery and was an accoplished potter. Part of the Art Center was and still is dedicated to teaching pottery. The Art Center's pottery is well known among the world's potters.

Today, the Art Center is thriving and even after its founder died in 1974; the Center is still famous for its experiment in creativity and its lively tapestries. In 2006 the Art Center organized an Exhibition at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London to commemorate its 50 year journey in creativity. [5]

The book, "Egyptian Landscapes" celebrates the Center's 50 years of experiments in creativity. It includes photographs of the center's buildings throughout the years. It has photographs of the early tapestries, and shows how the work developed and the experiment in creativity and education is continuing.

Professor of Art and Architecture

Ramses taught Architecture and Art at the Dapartment of Architecture, College of Fine Arts, Cairo, which he also chaired. Teaching made Ramses think about the conditions required for training an artist; he decided the creative effort was the most important.

Children, he observed, were generously endowed with this creative faculty and that is why he started working with young village children in his art center. After teaching the rudiments of weaving, he deliberately set out to isolate them from any sophisticated external influence. Encouraged by early results, he extended the experiment to other materials:

  • knotted carpets, fine cotton weaving on horizontal looms, batik
  • stoneware ceramics
  • stained glass windows, using the oriental technique of colored glass and plaster
  • building with traditional materials (adobe bricks and rammed,earth walls)

The results as in the case of tapestry weaving exceeded the most optimistic forecasts.

Wissa Wassef loved glass and was well known for his experiments with glass and stained glass designs. Hewon a presitigous award in Egypt for his stained glass window design for the National Peoples Assembley Building. Ramses Wissa Wassef's life was entirely devoted to art, which he regarded as the best means of communication between human beings. His pioneering teaching method was an act of love and faith in the potential of the child. He proved that nothing was impossible if one’s intelligence stemmed from the heart and if one’s artistic sensibility were genuine enough.


  • Egyptian National Award For The Arts - 1961, for his stained-glass window designs for The Egyptian National Assembly building, Cairo
  • The Aga-Khan Architectural Award - 1983, for his achievements and particularly for the art center at Harrania, Giza

Quotations by Ramses Wissa Wassef

I had this vague conviction that every human being was born an artist, but that his gift could be brought out only if artistic creation were encouraged by the practicing of a craft, from the early childhood.

It would be very hard to neutralize the various influences- not just the gadgets, magazines, films and so on, that encroach on so much of a child’s emotional life, but above all the educational system of today, which is caught up in a set of all-powerful routines and has become a cog in the mass production machine, it pushes children towards a mindless universal conformism, a monster that paralyses judgment and sensitivity. Only a few exceptionally hardy individuals escape being damaged by it.

Nowadays an artist cannot survive unless he gets his name in the papers, and he is ready to do anything to ensure this. Fame means money and the serious artist is a victim of this sorry situation.

An artist’s work is no longer of much use in modern society. Exhibitions in art galleries are visited by people as social events, like race meetings or cocktail parties. Basically, art is dying in the twentieth century because it has been torn as under from daily life. It has become part of the trade in rare, expensive luxuries, or else it is cast aside. It undergoes all day to day caprices of fashion and gains attention by being provocative or sensational, or even by making use of drugs. And then the works that have won fame, or notoriety, are put into museums to be admired.

The word handcraft has taken on a pejorative sense and is almost considered the opposite of art. The craftsman is capable only of copying or if he tries really hard to show his skill, he overdoes it, over-elaborates and imitates.


  1. ^, Wissa Wassef Arts Center Bio
  2. ^ The Ramses Wissa Wassef Arts Center [1]
  3. ^ Ramses Wissa Wassef
  4. ^ Welcome to the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art School
  5. ^ report1
  • MIMAR 35: Architecture in Development by Taylor, Brian Brace, 1990
  • Architecture in Continuity by Cantacuzino, Sherban, 1985
  • MIMAR 5: Architecture in Development by Noweir, Sawsan, 1985
  • Egyptian Landscapes Fifty Years of Tapestry Weaving at the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre, Cairo, Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center, 2006

See also

External links

  • [2] 50th Anniversary Celebration (2007) Interview with Lady Hilary Weir, Barbara Heller trustees of Ramses Wissa Wassef Trust in London and Suzan Wissa Wassef and Architect Ikram Nosshi who run the Art Center in Cairo
  • [3], a site dedicated to the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center
  • [4], Egyptian Landscapes: Fifty Years of Tapestry Weaving at the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre, Cairo
  • [5], ArchNet, a digital library that features works by and about Ramses Wissa Wassef
  • [6] a site about Wassef's Harrania Tapestry Workshop
  • [7] Aga Khan Development Nework


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