2014 Inception Award | Vioula Said

Coptic Ruins Reincarnated by Vioula Said

A Drawing led design research that examines the activation of lost space through the visual representation and interpretation of interiority. 


The motivation for this thesis evolved from the lack of traditional architectural integrity in the contemporary design of Coptic orthodox Churches (COC) displaced from Egypt. This was inspired from my most recent visit to Egypt in 2010. Visiting Some of the churches I had gone to as a child in Egypt brought back so many spiritually evoking memories and sensations. I became aware that there was a lack of evoking the scared or the spiritual when it came to the contemporary attempt at replicating these churches, however in following traditional standards and architectural laws of church design, these displaced churches were on par.

The ongoing loss of so many of these beautiful and alluring traditional spaces in battle of the Egyptian nation, and the countless COC’s being built every year on Western grounds motivated this search for a memory based contemporary ‘reconstruction’ of the traumatised Coptic orthodox church.


The detrimental current state in Egypt is due to an ongoing battle between religious denominations and sects. The past decade has seen a vast number of Egypt’s COC’s, targeted, attacked and burned down as a result of acts of terrorism. With the country’s unfolding problems being pushed to the margins, and the deteriorating human rights situation, there appears no hope for the Egyptian nation to restore itself, least of all these church’s re-establishing themselves on their soil grounds.


This research aims to develop an interior dialogue that remembers these lost spaces that is beyond the conventional and monumental museums, and memorials.


The work examines the tangible and intangible aspects of conservation and the re-establishing of space and culture. It initially tests the tangible and conventional aspects of conservation and heritage design approaches, and applies these theories to the fundamentals of COC design. With reflection on this first section of the design led research, it quickly became apparent that this work had similar faults in its minimalistic and default design outcomes that was not authentic to the traditional Coptic space.

Due to this the focus of the thesis shifted to the less tangible aspects of heritage. It no longer privileged materiality or the physical trace as the only source of heritage but examined the notions of intangible heritage in a more contemporary approach and challenged the effectiveness of interior architecture in communicating an understanding of past events. It investigated the role of memory as an intangible aspect of heritage and its relationship to architecture, specific to the Coptic Orthodox Church, through a less physical and more experiential lens. Exploring the notions concerned with the intertwining of real and imagined memory, Personal and collective memory, memory and architecture, and drawing and memory.

Drawing Procesess

Intuitive (ink), analytical (pencil) and space making drawing (Photoshop) methods are utilised to produce a series of design outcomes. They become a body of imagery on the recollection of my personal memory of spaces within the COC. A series of drawings are created for three different spaces, The Entrance, Altar, and Sanctuary. The different drawing styles are then amalgamated to produce a final memory piece.

The thesis lends itself to these ideas of memory and allows the development of personal spatial recall and intuitive thinking to produce spatial outcomes that allow visitors to deeply engage with the curated images of layered memories. It is an experience of the contemporary reconstruction of space and invites participants to create their own memories. It concludes as a paper archive memorial, a conceptual testimonial to the experience of the COC.