Philippa Clayre
Philippa Clayre 3 March 2016
Categories Innovation & Trends

Downtown Cairo’s Typographical Transformation Into A Digital Craft

Downtown Khedival Cairo has historically been a multicultural melting pot, because of this, most shop owners and vendors of the area wrote their signs in bilingual script, both Arabic and Latin (English/French/Italian). Others opted to write signs in Arabic only using one of its classical calligraphy styles.

Khedival Downtown Cairo, or Ismailite Cairo, known today as Downtown Cairo, is the city’s cultural hub, a commercial centre, and a heritage site. It is also a historical representation of many socio-political changes that took place in Egypt throughout its’ modern history. The area also became central to the economic development plans that aimed to shape the future of Egypt.

Downtown Cairo Typefaces is a project aimed at reviving Downtown Arabic script in the streets of Khedival Cairo, from street signs, shop signs, architectural facades of buildings, to advertisements and storefront signage along with accompanying labels and commercial printed matters.

The project also aims to encourage young designers to reconsider the importance of calligraphy and its aesthetics, and to promote the usage of Arabic type in recognition of its value as a culture reflection and its importance in the Egyptian streets and in the Arab region.

The project research focuses on archiving and analyzing the multiple usages of Arabic typography in the city and the shift of its usage from purely religious/sacred and official/governmental purposes to its transition into vernacular use in public spaces, taking a prominent place in everyday communication. The project highlights some of the Egyptian and Arab calligraphers who participated in this shift through different stages of time, and draws a link between related cultural, social and economic conditions that worked undoubtedly to make this change a fact. 

The design aspect of the project focuses on redesigning some of the ubiquitous letterings that were then converted into a type-face to be available online for free. Designers will then use the new typefaces to apply in designs to be displayed in the streets of Downtown Cairo. 

The project began with a few Downtown walking tours during which typographical examples were documented. The design team made a final selection, some scripts were classic and based on existing Arabic calligraphy styles, and some were based on modern primary and geometric shapes.

The challenge was to transform these examples into functioning digital typeface. 
Research was conducted on the evolution of Arabic calligraphy in Downtown Cairo and the contributions of the various prominent calligraphists in Egypt. The influence of social changes on Arabic calligraphy, and the transformation of the visual culture of Downtown Cairo through the different time periods was also researched. 

Each of the six fonts was inspired by an iconic neighborhood shop sign and named after elements of Downtown Cairo’s culture. The newly designed fonts have been transformed into scripts and made available to download for free here:

The project was for and in collaboration with Al Ismaelia for Real Estate Investment.

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