Cimatheque is an alternative film center dedicated to celebrating the diversity, beauty and power of film from the region and beyond. Cimatheque is located in Downtown Cairo, in an important historical building with pronounced Art Deco features. In 2012, CLUSTER was approached to convert a few apartments in the building on three floors into a film center, including a screening room, mediatheque, labs and archives and a workshop space including facilities and administration rooms. The main challenge was remodeling compartmentalized spaces within such a historic building into a creative initiative, while respecting the context and surrounding neighbors, and accommodating strict technical requirements; including acoustics, insulation, HVAC, civil defense, electrical wiring, flexible projection room, custom-designed chairs, etc. The client challenged CLUSTER to develop a creative space with state-of-the-art screening and projection rooms, including alternating analogue and digital projection possibilities, and a sound-proof level unmatched in any other screening room in Egypt.
The design approach was based on developing a standard box-in-a-box floating room with a complex wall section comprising five layers of wood and insulation materials. A modulated framework of parallel bays of wooden grills was devised to accommodate the lighting, HVAC and acoustic requirements; one that would offer a subtle aesthetic quality not to overpower the historical character of the building. Having incorporated the technical requirements, aesthetic choices regarding natural woods, colors and lighting systems were carefully made to introduce a gradual transition from the noisy and visually crowded city center to a serene and contemplative experience inside the screening room.
The partnership between Cimatheque and CLUSTER teams offered an opportunity to build on the knowledge and expertise of each institution, and increase one another’s standards and expectations. In addition to its technical and aesthetic qualities, the project was thus an example of collaboration between two emerging creative initiatives within a vibrant, yet frustrated civil society in Egypt. Faced with multiple challenges on a daily basis–politically, organizationally and financially—the project aimed at high standards within a professional context frequently lacking the necessary precedents, materials and details to implement such a complex, albeit small project. The screening room was inaugurated in the summer of 2015.