Baron Palace Documentation Project


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The Baron Palace with its Indian-style is an architectural eccentric eye-catcher in the panorama of Heliopolis and Cairo. It was built in 1910 from the Belgian Businessman Baron Edouard Empain as his private residence in the newly founded city of Heliopolis.

Today the palace is empty and since several years is completely closed.

This quite mystical building was the perfect setting and subject of the international workshop held in December 2010, which involved architecture students from Vienna, Cairo and Assiut. The idea was to start the analysis from a town planning level, to understand the historical city of Heliopolis and the role of the palace today. The second step was a detailed survey and building archaeology of the palace: using both modern 3D and low-tech hand measuring techniques, students analysed the building to understand its architecture, its construction technics and the materials used.

In mixed teams, Austrian and Egyptian students worked about Heliopolis and the Palace directly on the ground.

The results of the workshop are now online. Besides presenting the outcomes of the work, the web site would like to be an open platform, to collect scientific information but also myths and personal histories around the Palace and Heliopolis.

Enjoy, and feel free to collaborate!

In December 2010 circa fifty students from Cairo, Assiut and Vienna participated to the workshop on city analysis and building archaeology, focussed on the Baron Palace and its urban surrounding.

The workshop was composed by three main subjects:

Heliopolis City Analysis

This first step was finalized to give the students an overview of the surroundings of the building, at an urban scale. They were request to analyse the core of Heliopolis on different levels, such as historical, architectural, concerning the presence of public gardens and green, the material used, but also the functions present in the area around the palace and the use of public spaces. Different methods were requested to study different subject, the challenge was to find out the right form to register and process data.

The post-processing phase took place in Vienna during the semester, and was concluded in February 2011. The results presented are the product of long discussions and work together, what you can find here is just a small part of the produced material.

Baron Palace Documentation: Building Survey

It is focused on the measurement and graphical documentation of the structure as a firm basis for a subsequent historical research. The outputs of the work are floorplans, vertical sections and prospects in a given scale (1:100, 1:50, details). By measuring, the students start observing constructional and formal aspects of the architecture with the goal of critically comparing the buildings‘ actual status with all kinds of historical sources as e.g. construction plans, descriptions of the building site, general information about the technical or historical background of the object or secondary research output. Since many years the department of History of Architecture and Building Archaeology of the Vienna University of Technology is specialised in building survey using innovative technologies, and the 3D scanner acquired a fundamental role in both our research programmes but also didactical exercises. During the course in Cairo, students were able to learn about how to use the 3D scanner, and to work with the appropriate software.

Baron Palace Analysis: Building Archaeology

Students were asked to approach the building from the technical point of view. Target of the analysis was to understand the construction-techniques used, how different materials have been employed and which technical devices were developed for the palace. Our main questions focussed on the prefabrication and standardisation of the decorations elements used, to understand the role of casted concrete in the building process. But, it is really concrete what we see from the outside?
Project Team:

Department of History of Architecture and Building Archaeology of the Vienna University

Marina Döring-Williams Head of the Department
Vittoria Capresi Responsible of the Workshop; City Analysis, Historical Materials and Technologies
Gerold Eßer Building Survey, Laserscanning
Irmengard Mayer Laserscanning, Photogrammetry
Ulrike Herbig Film Documentation
Michael Vasku Tutor
Sabine Seidl Tutor (Laserscanning)
Julia Ess Tutor (City Analysis)
Thomas Schmidt Tutor (Survey)

Cairo University, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Architecture

Shaimaa Ashour Tutor and Supervisor
Doha Magdy Tutor and Supervisor
Nahla Nabil Tutor and Supervisor

Cairo University, Faculty of Archaeology, Department of Islamic Archaeology

Ralph Bodenstein Supervisor

Assiut University, Civil Engineering Department

Ahmed Abdelhafiz Head of the Surveying Section