Massive construction with natural stone: in the “Stone Flow“ project, students from France and Egypt planned and built an entrance portal

Project Stone Flow.

The work can be seen at the French University of Egypt (UFE) in Cairo

Solid construction with natural stone is currently a major topic worldwide. A decorative entrance portal has now been planned and built for the French University of Egypt (UFE) in Cairo as part of the French-Egyptian research project “Stone Flow!“.

It is conceivable that the construction could also be used for villas or official buildings. The solid entrance exudes self-confidence and durability and uses a sustainable material.

The building blocks or ashlar were cut and assembled on-site over the course of seven days. Twenty-two students of architecture, design, and civil engineering were involved.

One of the aims of the project was to enrich engineering work on the computer with traditional craftsmanship and vice versa.

Project Stone Flow.

Two renowned institutions in France and Egypt were involved: in Paris, the GSA Research Laboratory of the Paris-Malaquais Architecture school, Paris Sciences et Lettres University (PSL) and in Cairo, the Stone and Earth Laboratory at the private French University of Egypt (UFE). Two of the paricipants had previously worked as stonemasons.

The special architectural feature of the portal is its roof. It is designed as a flat sphere and is doubly curved – namely from left to right and rising from back to front.

Project Stone Flow.

It consists of building blocks whose shape is cut to fit each other so that they hold each other in place. There is neither mortar nor screw connections. It was modeled on the building principle found in the writings of Joseph Abeille (1673-1756). Abeille worked as an architect and played an important role in the construction of the canal system through France.

Scaffolding is needed for the installation, but this is superfluous once the last stone has been placed.

A prerequisite for the stability of the construction is that the stones are cut with great precision. As manual work was used here rather than CNC machines, a number of design simplifications were necessary.

The building blocks are tetrahedrons.

Project Stone Flow.

The area of the portal roof is 1.80 x 1.80 cm. 63 individual bricks with a thickness of 12 cm were used. They are made of Tura limestone, which is also known as Torrah.

When selecting the material, it was important, among other things, that the stone could withstand the forces resulting from the weight and not crack.

The area of the portal roof is 1.80 x 1.80 cm. 63 individual bricks with a thickness of 12 cm were used. They are made of Tura limestone, which is also known as Torrah.

When selecting the material, it was important, among other things, that the stone could withstand the forces resulting from the weight and not crack.

The load-bearing outer walls of the portal are based on examples of Islamic architecture in Cairo. Individual building blocks were left unhewn, resulting in a lively interplay of light and shadow.

Project Stone Flow.

Tura limestone has been quarried south of Cairo since the time of the pharaohs. It was and is popular because of its white color and fine structure. It was already being mined underground in the Old Kingdom around 4000 years ago.

This text is based on information kindly sent to us by ENSA students and assistant professors Aly Abdelmagid, Ahmed Abouelkheir, Anahita Mirani, Bastide Philippe, Paul Vergonjeanne, and Roberta Zarcone.

École nationale supérieure d’architecture (ENSA) Paris-Malaquais

Université Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL)

Université Française d’Égypte

Photos: Project Stone Flow

The project team: (f.l.t.r) Marceau Lheureux, Roberta Zarcone, Aly Abdelmagid, Ahmed Abouelkheir, Philiippe Bastide. Not on the photo Anahita Mirani and Paul Vergonjeanne.

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(20.05.2024, USA: 05.20.2024)