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Tombs With a View

July 15, 2001|Eric Pape

In his own era, architect Tarek Naga has found clients somewhat scarce. While he has a resume of collaborative projects and has taught at leading architecture schools, the avant-garde designs on view in his Venice studio have not won him much solo work.

But that was before Naga took on the ancient world. The Egyptian Ministry of Culture has appointed the 48-year-old Cairo native the architect and master planner on the Pyramids Plateau Preservation and Development Project, a redesign of the area surrounding the triangular tombs at Giza. Naga plans to replace all visible modern structures with a subterranean complex--museums, a visitor center, a presidential guest house, camel and horse stables, and more--beneath the plateau.

It's a twist for an experimentalist whose futuristic concepts include housing projects that look like giant insects, a pier that resembles a woodpile, and a "breathing" opera house. A proponent of "telepathic architecture," Naga has also envisioned a project to connect artists' studios in Malibu and Egypt with sensors and Web links. We spoke in his office on Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

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How did you land this gig?

I did an Egyptian pyramid at the Venice Biennale [the international art and architecture exhibition]. It was a life-size installation explaining Egypt's culture throughout the centuries. The minister of culture asked me to take on [the plateau project] after seeing my pyramid.

Aren't you a bit new wave for the pharoahs?

The ancient history and the future of Egypt are coming together. [The Ministry of Culture] had the courage to say, "We need someone who can handle those kinds of issues."

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Building underground seems understated for you.

You cannot compete with the pyramids. You have to respect the sanctity of the site. It will attempt to be non-architecture that takes on the language of the desert. The new structures will all be made with indigenous materials.

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How does "telepathic" architecture work?

You could expand one wall in a studio in Malibu, and the other wall, across the world, would also move. Or you open a window and the Internet would send a message to open a window on the Sinai Peninsula. A glass wall could become a monitor. Ten or 20 years from now, things will no longer be made of archaic drywall. It is a stupid way of building.

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Will the pyramids be telepathically linked to other sites?

Not at this point. A part--the site museum, the solar boats museum or the visitor center--could be, but it would have to be to something of a similar scale, like the Parthenon or the Great Wall of China or the Acropolis in Greece.

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Do people ever tell you that you sound New Age?

No, not really.

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