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The engineer

Alexandria Library

'I hate joints, ' says Dr Mamdouh Hamza, the man behind the elegant and innovative engineering for the new library. 'They look awful. They are often badly constructed and can leak.'

Although the library building has floors with very large spans and walls with a perimeter of 570m, expansion/contraction joints were avoided to minimise the risk of leakage from ground water or rain water.

Hamza says the absence of movement joints anywhere in the building is the most significant part of the design.

It has meant conducting a sophisticated thermal analysis of the whole building as one unit under the effect of uniform and non-uniform changes of temperature.

His insistence on designing without joints did not please everybody.

'It became a big issue because of the temperature, ' he says. 'It prevented some international companies from bidding. They thought it would not be safe.'

Hamza is no stranger to Britain.

He obtained a PhD in geotechnical engineering from Imperial College, London, in 1975 and went on to work with a number of leading international consultants, and Sir William Halcrow, Binnie & Partners & Golder Associates of UK. 'I learned the ropes in the proper way, ' he says.

At the end of 1979 he returned to Egypt to set up his own company, Hamza Associates, with a staff of three. His first job was to design a £10M railway embankment and later came Ismailiya Teaching Hospital and the Esna Barrage, a very large scheme on the River Nile. Hamza went on to work on Cairo Wastewater and power station projects.

Recent assignments include the Nile City Development in Cairo, the Nile Plaza Four Seasons hotel and the Golden Pyramids hotel commercial and entertainment complex in Heliopolis.

'In England I was an expert, a one man show, but here I run more than 380 people, ' he says. Despite this he keeps a firm hand on the engineering reins. 'I will never be 100% manager; that would be the end of any professional company. I would say about 30% of my time is management and 70% technical.'

Current projects include the two largest ports under construction in the world, at El Sukhna and East Port Said Container Port on the Suez Canal. In both cases innovative design work produced significant savings for the client.

Alexandria Library is not the consultant's biggest job. That distinction goes to the £281M New Valley pumping station in southern Egypt, the largest pumping station in the world. Hamza feels that the innovative design, initiated by Hamza and developed in partnership with Lahmeyer International, was very economical and a significant factor in the award of the design and supervision contract to the consortium.

'Historically, culturally and in terms of public buildings the library is the most important, although in terms of engineering all my projects are equally important, ' Hamza remarks.

He now has 35 senior personnel working with him, all qualified to PhD level. Nevertheless he insists on keeping his hand in through personally working on new designs. 'We are like surgeons - if we take our hands off the work we lose our skill.'

With a strong portfolio of work in Egypt, Hamza is now looking to develop his business in other countries. He has worked in Kuwait, is already working on a dam in Jordan with Lahmeyer, and is looking at other potential projects in Algeria, Turkey and Yemen. He recently set up a website, www. hamza. org.

In his limited spare time he has developed a 70 acre olive plantation on reclaimed land in the desert which now produces a very acceptable extra virgin olive oil. As always, Hamza had studied the subject in depth before laying his plans. In a similar way he is researching the best plants to grow in the New Valley in Upper Egypt when the pumping station comes into use in 2002.

He is also writing a paper on the construction of the Suez Canal at the request of the chairman of the International Society of Soil Mechanics for presentation at the next international conference schedules for Istanbul this year.

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