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Eulogy — Khaled Asfour

Early Departure | Perpetual Legacy

Ashraf M. Salama, PhD.
Professor of Architecture,
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom 

Professor Khaled Asfour with children of a vernacular settlement in El Qasr, ad-Dakhla Oasis, Western Desert, Egypt, 2006 -- Photography: Mohab Abo Taleb.

On Sunday 14th March 2021, I woke up to a very heavy and shocking social media notification: Professor Khaled Asfour passed away (1). Just three weeks ahead of his 61st birthday marks an early departure for an intellectual, an influential pedagogue and an exceptional critic. A huge void in architectural education in Egypt and an emptiness in the architectural community in the wider Middle East are undoubtedly created.

A full professor of architecture and criticism at Misr International University (MIU), Cairo, Egypt, Khaled left a legacy of body of writings, distinctive approaches to teaching and learning, passionate commitment to mentoring and support, and most importantly, countless cohorts of architects in Egypt (1998-2020) and earlier in Saudi Arabia (1991/92-1998). Under his teachings, graduates have acquired critical abilities to become agents of development of architectural knowledge, stewards of reliable and honest criticism in architecture, and guardians of environmentally and socially responsive design approaches.

It is with great sadness that I write this eulogy for Khaled Asfour, a great friend for twenty-five years and a work colleague for four years; it is hard to process his passing. There is no intention to consider this tribute to Khaled Asfour as a coverage or analysis of all his works. Rather, it offers glimpses of our interactions and presents short reflections on a selection of his works.

Knowing Khaled Asfour

Upon his graduation from the Department of Architecture, Cairo University, Egypt in 1983, Khaled attended a few courses in the American University of Cairo in 1984/85. In Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), United States, he received his Master degree (S.M.Arch.S.) in 1987 where he was also part of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture (AKPIA). Khaled received his PhD in 1991, while he was just completing his 31 years of age. 

I have known of Khaled and his work many years before we met. In 1989, I was reading an article (published in 1986), written by the Aga Khan Professor at MIT, Ronald Lewcock, on the work of the students of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the MIT, where Khaled’s work was identified as one of the examples of students work (2). Since then, I have followed his critical essays published in Mimar and Muqarnas classical architectural journals. Subsequent to this was an acquaintance, then a two-decades friendship.  

My first interaction with Khaled took place in 1997 when I was the Head of Department of Architecture at Misr International University (MIU). He paid a visit to MIU’s old campus in Maadi district, Cairo, to know more about the quality and performance of private universities in Egypt; the beginning of a trend of presidential decrees to establish private universities under the supervision of the government. At our meeting, he expressed his interest in joining us. At the time, he was part of the College of Architecture and Planning at King Faisal University during its golden era, which he joined in 1991/92 following an invitation from Professor Jamel Akbar, the prominent distinguished scholar. Khaled was not sure if he was to join us immediately in a full-time capacity. We agreed that he joins in 1998 to teach a theory of architecture and criticism class. 

A Distinguished Pedagogue

In his first encounter with the third-year architecture students at MIU in 1998, he attracted the entire cohort, including those who were less motivated, with his teaching and engaging style and the way in which he critiques architecture and analyses building performance functionally, spatially, and aesthetically.  I recall many students coming to me in group sessions and on several occasions, saying “we need professors like Dr. Khaled, we enjoy his class very much”. 

In the following year, 1999, with the move of the university to its permanent premises along Cairo-Ismailia desert road, he joined the department on a full-time basis. Since then, and until only last week, Khaled has been a key pillar at the department, assuming various roles and responsibilities. He was thereafter assigned as Vice Dean for Graduate Studies and Scientific Research in addition to Advisor to the Vice President. This was coupled with his design studio teaching, overseeing the senior graduation projects, and teaching his theory and criticism and landscape design classes. His excellent style of captivating students’ interests and of experimenting with new approaches to address design problems through physical modelling were notable and were commended by many colleagues. Khaled was a fully committed pedagogue and a genuine scholar who managed to skilfully avoid academic politics and to get the work done and done well. He mentored and motivated a significant number of teaching assistants who are now well-established academics in Egypt and beyond. His personality enabled everyone to see him as a reference point for a wise opinion or a specific guidance or advice. 

What I am uttering here might not be giving him due justice. Conceivably, his recent fellow academics and students can voice a lot more about his qualities as an educator. Khaled Asfour is distinguished with personal qualities and collegial attitude that are rare to find in higher education, and certainly in the corporate-model academia. 

An Exceptional Critic

Khaled was very much appreciated for his exceptional critical writings by the architectural community in Egypt and the Arab World. He managed to capture big ideas and discuss small- and large-scale projects with profound abilities to put his work into a pithy form.  Khaled wrote vividly for the London-based Architectural Review, one of the most important global architectural magazines (if not the most important). His work included writings on how advancing towards democracy in Egypt can materialise opportunities for environmentally responsive architecture. In the same journal, he also noted his views of the Grand Museum competition, and his testimony on the whole education system. 

Giftedly, Khaled wrote articles in his early academic career that were published by important journals in the area of history and theory of arts and architecture in the Middle East and the wider Islamic world. His three articles published in Mimar (3) debated a contemporary private villa project utilising the lenses of Hassan Fathy’s fundamentals, reflected on Aga Khan Award winning project of Abdel Halim Ibrahim’s project, Cultural Park for Children in Cairo, and developed excellent narratives on the reconstruction of Beirut in the early days of redevelopment efforts to bring the city back to its flourishing times of the 1960s and early 1970s. 

His pioneering article published in Muqarnas, entitled “The Domestication of Knowledge: Cairo at the Turn of the Century(4) represents an outstanding contribution; he captured an important concept: “domestication of architectural knowledge”. He argued that Egypt has witnessed a preoccupation with the utilisation of Western science for the benefit of local culture and that this was a central concern from the late 19th century. Throughout this article, he analysed the Hilimiya district—at the periphery of old Cairo—on both its planning and architectural measures. He developed an authentic argument that characterises the Egyptian experience in adopting villa-style architecture and neighbourhood planning concepts, as a process of domesticating knowledge. Today—thirty years later, this can be seen as an outstanding perspective and is very relevant to the current provocative discourses on cosmopolitanism and the development of decolonised architectural knowledge.  

Because of Khaled’s exceptional critical abilities, he was part of the onsite review teams of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. In 1998, he reviewed three projects nominated for the Award located in Dammam (Villa Anbar) and Riyadh (Tuwaiq Palace – Cultural Centre, and King Fahd Expressway), Saudi Arabia.  He was invited to be the editor responsible for entries, from the Arab world, that were submitted to Dizionario della’ architettura del XX secolo (Turin) and to a world book on Architecture and Identity (TU Berlin). Khaled sat on international juries in the American University of Sharjah, University of Bahrain, Liechtenstein University, Arriyadh Development Authority, and Hassan Fathy Award of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. 

After attracting global readers, and during the period between 1998 and 2002, Khaled’s writings started to magnetise the local architectural community in Egypt. He guest-edited a few issues of Medina Magazine - a unique and ambitious endeavour in Egypt and the wider Middle East and published over 6 articles in its various issues. His articles placed emphasis on Green Architecture, Golf Courses, and Green Technologies (5), and the growing trend of developing environmentally sustainable facilities for tourism. While Medina has not lasted long, it had a great impact on the collective psyche of the regional architectural community. 

There is no doubt that Khaled Asfour’s articles and essays are remarkable and represent outstanding undertakings to generate a well-considered local architectural discourse. His articles were succinct and effective, while conveying important messages related to tradition, modernity, and identity as they relate to the production and reproduction of architecture. 

A Quality Researcher

In addition to his conference publications, keynote speeches, panel discussions, and magazine articles, Khaled published four research papers in Archnet-IJAR: International Journal of Architectural Research between 2007 and 2020. The papers are different in nature from his critical analysis-based theoretical or historical essays in terms of argument and approach. “Polemics in Arab Architecture -- Theory versus Practice(6) for example, is a strive to find an articulate compromise through case analyses. Khaled debated the widening gulf between academia and professional practice; between academics promoting traditional architecture in a “traditional” way and professionals who are more pragmatists giving society what it aspires for “modern architecture.”  

Following the same line of inquiry, in his article entitled “New Architecture with Old Ideas: An Egyptian Acculturation(7), he developed a convincing argument on the notion of “a travelling icon”, a postulation that icons, meanings, and symbols travel, reach the host culture, and in most cases keep their form while losing much of their original content. Khaled emphasised that travelling icons do sustain their power to propagate among specific segments of society. I would just support this by adding—while acquiring new meanings in a new context. 

Representing a dramatic shift from his earlier works, Khaled swapped for a journey on healing architecture where he made expeditions into cases from Egypt and Switzerland. In his last research paper, entitled “Healing Architecture: A Spatial Experience Praxis” (8), he examined architecture that produces spatial experiences with which children are able to interact, giving them a great sense of positive energy that transforms into actual healing. In essence, he established the case for architecture’s ability to heal. 

Pursuing conventional standardised research was not a typical cup of tea for Khaled. Unquestionably, however, the quality of a disciplined researcher who follows standard conventions of research writing manifested in his research writings. However, marrying research findings with his own intuition and reflections is an added important layer of this quality and is palpable in these four articles. They demonstrate further significant skills in translating hard facts into spatial experiences and images. 

Together in Local and International Conferences

Locally, while there were many academic gatherings where he was a great backing and a key player, I refer here to one significant occasion in which Khaled was a great support and shining star. He delivered an exceptional talk as part of a symposium and exhibition I curated in 1999 under the supervision of the Late Professor Yehia El-Zeiny on Egyptian Architecture of the 1990s. This was one-of-a-kind event sponsored by the Architecture Committee of the Supreme Council for Culture under the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.  Khaled’s talk offered striking views on the state of architecture in Egypt and was published as an article in Medina Magazine under the title of “Is it Green or Bleak? This year's Egyptian Contemporary Architecture Exhibition (9). 

As a reputable speaker, Khaled received a substantial number of invitations, especially within the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) and Southern Europe. From 1999 to 2019, and despite living in different parts of the world, we travelled together to a number of cities in response to invitations from host organisations and academic institutions. In many cases, it was a mere coincidence. Referring to the idiom “if you really want to get to know a person, travel together”, Khaled was a great company, an excellent tour guide, and a passionate photographer. Our first international travel was in November 1999 to Beirut as part of the American University in Beirut and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture Regional Seminar “Architecture Re-Introduced: New Projects in Societies in Change (10); he starred in one of the prestigious panels discussing Arab Architecture. 

Between the first and the last travel encounters, we met in and contributed to various conferences and academic gatherings including Naples, Italy in 2000 and 2014. These were based on invitations organised by common friends, Professor Adelina Picone and Professor Donatella Mazzoleni at the University of Naples Federico II.  In Bari, based on an invitation from our common friend Professor Attilio Petruccioli, the then Dean of the School of Architecture at Bari Polytechnique University we enjoyed an excellent conference and quality conversations. In these conferences, Khaled delivered excellent balanced talks on housing traditions, (11) and on techniques for problem-based learning for design studios (12) 

When they heard the sad news, Mazzoleni reacted: “I remember the gentle colleague Khaled in the common commitment to build bridges between our sister cultures to allow our architecture students to develop a Mediterranean vision of building and living. This cross-cultural legacy remains in the generations that have followed us as contributors to building a better world of brotherhood and peace. Rest in peace, Amen”. Picone said: “A very sad news indeed, I am shocked. We shared ideas, many initiatives, experiences...a very lucid critical thinking of architecture. Rest in peace”. 

More recently, Khaled and I met in Kuwait in December 2016, as part of our participation in IASTE-2016 “Legitimating Tradition” of the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments (IASTE), led by the illustrious scholar Professor Nezar AlSayyad. Hosted by the College of Architecture at Kuwait University, Khaled delivered a presentation entitled: “Legitimizing Traditions: A Recipe for Vibrant Architecture(13), which expanded his earlier arguments and utilised new case studies. For his commitments back home, he has not stayed for the entire conference period. Nevertheless, we managed to have an extended time over breakfast, discussing architectural and urban traditions, with promises for a subsequent meeting in Cairo. 

Our last meeting was in early June 2019 in Barcelona, during the 17th International Conference of the Arquitectonics Network – Mind-Land-Society at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, following an invitation by Professor Josep Muntanola. Khaled presented a talk entitled “Healing Children through Spatial-Experience Architecture” (14). One day, we decided to leave the conference sessions just to talk -- and we kept talking from noon to midnight with lunch, dinner, and coffee in between. It was an excellent opportunity to discuss architecture, architectural education, socio-political conditions in Egypt, and life.  Talking about travel and pondering about it! Not only was it spending time with a friend, but also an exceptionally illuminating genus of time. 

Not an Early Departure but a Perpetual Legacy

Khaled was loved by his students, mentees, colleagues, and friends. This is strikingly evident in social media and special online social groups organised by his former and current students and colleagues, once the sad and shocking news spread. On a professional level, a group of academic colleagues and eminent scholars and friends are now collating his work to organise an event and a publication of his works which will also include reflections and discussions of his writings (15).  I remind all these friends and colleagues – including myself, to remember all the great moments that you were able to have with Khaled before he passed away.  

Khaled enjoyed unique personal qualities and abilities that, above everything, involved devotion and dedication, blending teaching and scholarship, support and mentorship, firmness and friendship. These qualities are what made him “Khaled Asfour”.  The passing of Professor Khaled Asfour is an early departure but should not be seen as such; it is an enduring legacy of a distinguished pedagogue, an exceptional critic, and a quality researcher. The meaning of “Khaled” denotes an adjective in the Arabic language that means eternal, everlasting, immortal. Khaled Asfour’s ideas, works, and human influences will live for many decades to come. 

Notes and Bibliography

(1) The first social media post I have seen was an announcement by Prof. Galal Abada on Sunday, 14th March 2021 at 8.23am. 

(2) Lewcock, Ronald. 1986. The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In: Ahmet Evin (ed.), Architectural Education in the Islamic World. Singapore: Concept Media/Aga Khan Award for Architecture, pp. 162-166. 

(3) See: Asfour, Khaled. 1990. Abdel Halim's Cairo Garden: An Attempt to Defrost History. In: Mimar 36: Architecture in Development, Hasan-Uddin Khan (ed.). London: Concept Media Ltd., pp. 72-77; Asfour, Khaled. 1991. Bitter Lakes Villa, Egypt: A Dialogue with Hassan Fathy. In: Mimar 39: Architecture in Development, Hasan-Uddin Khan (ed.). London: Concept Media Ltd., pp. 54-59; Asfour, Khaled. 1991. The Reconstruction of Beirut: A Dialogue Across Borders. In: Mimar 40: Architecture in Development, Hasan-Uddin Khan (ed.). London: Concept Media Ltd., pp. 18-19. 

(4)  Asfour, Khaled. 1993. The Domestication of Knowledge: Cairo at the Turn of the Century. In: Muqarnas X: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture. Margaret B. Sevcenko (ed.). Leiden: E.J. Brill. 

(5) See Khaled Asfour’s articles as part of Medina Magazine Collection on Archnet. Available: [accessed: 16 March 2021]. 

(6) Asfour, Khaled. 2007. Polemics in Arab Architecture: Theory Versus Practice. In: ArchNet-IJAR: International Journal of Architectural Research, Ashraf M. Salama (ed.), vol. 1 no1, pp. 53-69. Available: [accessed: 17 March 2021]. 

(7) Asfour, Khaled. 2011. New Architecture with Old Ideas: An Egyptian Acculturation. In: ArchNet-IJAR: International Journal of Architectural Research, Ashraf M. Salama (ed.), vol. 5 no1, pp. 37-54. Available: [accessed: 17 March 2021]. 

(8) Asfour, Khaled. 2020. Healing Architecture: A Spatial Experience Praxis. In: ArchNet-IJAR: International Journal of Architectural Research, Ashraf M. Salama (ed.), vol. 5 no1, pp. 133-147. Available: -- published first online 10 September 2019 [accessed: 17 March 2021]. 

(9)  Asfour, Khaled. 2001. Is it Green or Bleak? This year's Egyptian Contemporary Architecture Exhibition. In: Medina Issue Nineteen: Architecture, Interiors & Fine Arts. British Virgin Islands: Medina Magazine. (August - September 2001), pp. 42-47. Available: [accessed: 17 March 2021]. 

(10) Abed, Jamal. (ed.) 2004. Architecture Re-introduced: New Projects in Societies in Change. Geneva: The Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Available: [accessed: 16 March 2021]. 

(11) Asfour, Khaled. 2014. Tradition Disguised Inside Modern Egyptian Dwelling. In: Adelina Picone (ed.), Culture mediterranee dell’abitare: Mediterranean Housing Cultures (Inhabiting the Future; Vol. 7), pp. 56-63. 

(12) Asfour, Khaled. 2010. Developing Techniques in Problem Based Learning for Design Studios. In: Proceedings of the International Conference: Architectural Design Between Teaching and Research, Claudio D’Amato (ed.). Bari: School of Architecture, Polytechnique University of Bari, pp. 1495-1500. 

(13) Asfour, Khaled. 2016. Legitimizing Traditions: A Recipe for Vibrant Architecture. In: Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review 28  no. 1 (2016): 17. Available: [accessed: 16 March 2021]. 

(14) See Asfour, Khaled. Healing Children through Spatial-Experience Architecture. Available:  [accessed: 16 March 2021]. 

(15) Acknowledgements: The core group—currently working on preparing for the event and publication of Prof. Asfour’s work is coordinated by Prof. Galal Abada and includes Prof. Hisham Gabr, Prof. Heba Safey Eldeen, Prof. Ahmed Yousry, Dr. Arch. Rasem Badran, Prof. Mashary Alnaim, Dr. Remah Gharib, Dr. Hassan Elmouelhi, and Prof. Ashraf Salama. At this stage, more than twenty additional prominent academics from Egypt have expressed interest to contribute to this effort. I would like to thank Arch. Mohab Abo Taleb for providing Khaled’s photo in El Qasr, ad-Dakhla Oasis, Western Desert, Egypt, 2006. As close friends, and also work colleagues, to Khaled Asfour, thanks are due to Heba Safey Eldeen for verifying information about recent roles and for proof-reading support and to Hisham Gabr for his encouragement to write this tribute at a difficult time for all of us. 


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