Ancient Concept, Modern Context

by Mamdouh Hamza, P.E., Prof. of Soil Mechanics, Chairman, Founder; Suez Canal Univ. in Egypt; Hamza Assoc. in Cairo,
Mashhour Ghoneim, P.E., Assoc. Prof. of Struct. Engrg., Sr. Assoc.; Cairo Univ. in Egypt, Hamza Assoc.,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 2001, Vol. 71, Issue 3, Pg. 38-45,85

Document Type: Feature article


For several centuries, Bibliotheca Alexandrina was the cultural center of the Western world. It was built by the heirs of Alexander the Great some 2,400 years ago and burned, some say by Julius Caesar. With an aim to revive the world's most famous ancient library and to preserve 8 million books, the New Bibliotheca Alexandrina has been constructed in Alexandria, Egypt. The library is 10 stories high and is contained in a 160 m diameter cylindrical envelope with an ovular shape. Four of the 10 stories are underground and below the water table. The geometry of the building is generated by the functional arrangement of book shelves and reading desks into identical structural bays measuring 14.4 by 9.6 m (see figure 2). The 16-degree slope of the roof enables these bays to rise in a series of nearly 4.2 m high stories. The inspiration for this unusual, tilting shape comes from the architectural firm Snohetta in Oslo, Norway. The library building is supported on piled raft (pile-supported?), which is a reinforced concrete plate. Its location near the Mediterranean Sea meant that the groundwater level is 11 m above the basement slab level, so a diaphragm wall, believed to be the largest ever attempted, was constructed with a total depth of up to 35 m. Adjacent to the library building, a planetarium and a science museum were constructed and supported on a plain raft without the need for piles. Construction of the piles started in May 1995 and the library was occupied in December 2000.

Subject Headings: Public buildings | Piles | Bays | Reinforced concrete | Developing countries | Building envelope | Water table | Geometrics | Norway | Europe | Mediterranean Sea

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