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Chase for the prize

Alexandria Library

Early in 1989 young Austrian architect Christoph Kapeller heard about the international competition to design a new library for Alexandria. He was then working in California, having recently completed a masters degree.

He contacted his Norwegian friend Kjetil Thorsen with whom he had entered several competitions, although the pair had never won anything.

Nevertheless they decided to chase the library prize.

Kapeller and Thorsen recruited three friends and the group worked on their competition entry in their spare time.

A model they made to portray the energy of the design was the turning point because it helped explain their ideas to the international jury.

The fact that their concept focused upon cultural values rather than solely geometric gestures, creating a scheme with a 'unique, timeless atmosphere', reportedly gave the Snohetta team an extra edge.

'We knew we had a good design, ' says Kapeller. 'So we thought we would get into the top 10. But we did not expect to win because from there it is very subjective and competitions like this are not usually fair.'

The design team's cynicism was confounded when they won.

'It is very unusual, ' Kapeller says. 'They chose a totally unknown and young group (at 31 Thorsen was the oldest) to do the biggest cultural project in the country.

'That was a very courageous decision by the Egyptian government and a big compliment.

'We then had to align with a suitable consulting firm in order to realise the huge task of producing the 4000 drawings and five volumes of specification and conditions of contract, ' Kapeller says.

'Even the most experienced architect would have had difficulties. When we came here we did not have any allies. We were lucky to have Dr Hamza as our partner and engineer.

He is leading the quality issues.

For ten years we have been stubborn and maintained our stance on quality. The results are there to see.'

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