The Art Of Egypt


Karim El Hayawan on Architecture, Interior Design & Photography

If you’ve been lucky enough to experience Karim El Hayawan’s talent as an Architect/Interior Designer, then you’ve truly hit a designer jackpot! With a keen eye and a substantial understanding of space, El Hayawan’s services are a much-coveted privilege in Egypt and abroad. To get a glimpse of his discerning taste, remarkable sense of aestheticism, and profound passion for art and architecture, all you have to do is look at his Instagram page. Luckily, we not only feature his work on the cover this month, we also had a chance to chit-chat with the artist.

CEM: Which came first, interior design or photography?

KH: Architecture was the start point, what I originally studied. I believe architecture develops a mindset and fuels all arts. In a way every human relates, engages and is influenced by where they live or work. Spatial experience, light, shades and shadows and even materials.

Interior design was derived in a way as an attempt to avoid the architectural mayhem in modern day Egypt. Opting for a more introvert element where a clean and less restricting canvas exists.

Photography always complemented both. Let alone that the love of geometry, shapes and composition was common in all three.

How did the photography come on board?

Photography came on board while I was studying architecture, Islamic architecture fascinated me always. Essays on iconic mosques involved photography and that’s when I felt an immense urge to capture such timeless beauty with a personal perspective.

It felt both challenging and satisfying.

Has photography honed your designer’s eye and perceptions, and if so, how?

Yes, most definitely. Starting from random street palettes, to salvaged street furniture, to how people engage with their spaces. Coming close to a spectrum of social levels, backgrounds and lifestyles. Photography gets you the closest to places you wouldn’t find elsewhere.

What is your favorite location in Egypt to photograph?

Islamic Cairo. Behind the main walls of this enchanting area, being the largest Islamic outdoor museum. It is full of life. The alleys, monuments, the spontaneous urban network, people, stalls, the souks and workshops. All exist behind its doors.

How often do you go on walks to photograph Cairo?

I have a religiously fixed ritual of going on a few hours walk every Saturday morning, unplanned destination. Keeping a discipline to it always works and it’s something that I anticipate every week. Both, friends and random people sharing the same passion for Cairo and photography join me at times. Including travelers that would like to see the other side of Cairo.

Best places you would recommend our readers to visit in Cairo especially to photograph?

The list is endless… I would recommend getting lost in Islamic Cairo’s alleys… People there are quite friendly and less hostile around cameras. The area offers architecture, workshops and an array of activities… Especially the other side of Moez Street onwards… All the way up to El Darb El Ahmar and Bab El Wazeer… And those with enough stamina can reach all the way up to Sultan Hassan Mosque as the climax of that walk.

What camera do you most enjoy working with, and why?

It’s more of the lens, for me it would be a 50mm f/1.4 ideal for street photography. Currently I’m using a Canon 70d body.

Have you managed to photograph some of Cairo’s iconic buildings from the past?

Yes. Trespassing in itself is part of the process… Saied Halim Palace, built in 1897 to state one. As well as numerous downtown buildings. Climbing up minarets. Ancient warehouses and workshops. Iconic buildings are almost around every corner of downtown and old Cairo.

You were recently featured in CNN; tell us a little bit about this?

It was very interesting and rewarding to share what hidden Cairo has to offer with an international audience. I believe we need more light shed on such forgotten gems scattered all over the big city. Even though it’s mostly abandoned and in bad condition, yet it never fails to charm. The kind of charm only heritage and culture can behold.

What would be your perfect Friday in Cairo?

Time with the family (and I mean that even though it sounds cliché), and rest. (If that exists) – As well as anticipate my Saturday walk of course.

The best souvenir you’ve brought home?

Each souvenir has its meaning, I always collect something that reflects the country I visit. Italy inspires me a lot.

The best gift you’ve recently given?

Neymar’s football shoe for my eldest daughter, and a handmade pottery salad bowl for my wife, from Fayoum.

How would you describe yourself in 5 words or less?

Obsessive, restless and curious.


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