Between the second half of the nineteenth century and 1936, Italian architectural participation in the development of Egypt was notable. The Egyptian government organized an important number of international design competitions reaching their climax in 1925. In this context of developing Egypt, The Diana Palace was designed in 1930 by two Italian architects: Nello Sinigallia and Ricardo Smith. Nello Sinigallia was a graduate of the Royal Academy of Parma at the end of the nineteenth century. He moved to London and then to Egypt and realised buildings in an eclectic architectural language in Cairo and Alexandria. Ricardo Smith was also trained in Italy and designed various buildings in Art Deco and Modern style.
The result of this collaboration is a modern and original movie theatre with geometrical volumes. The facade presents a main trapezoid “avant-corps” flanked by a polygonal structure built-out and bevelled with vertical engaged Deco pillars. The architects incorporate Neo-Pharaonic decoration such as “palmette” on building’s sides section.
Diana Cinema was restored in 1991. On historical photos from 1930s owned by Mercedes Volait, (architect, historian and CNRS researcher), the original project presents the same volumetric structure with angular tripartite “avant-corps” corresponding to the main entrance, supported by two central pillars and triplicate columns. The design integrates a horizontal curved element with the inscription “Diana Palace” and above, three semicircular blind arcades. Two wing buildings have rectangular volumes with decorative wrought iron windows, both rectangular and semicircular.
The original entrance hall consists of central box office opening onto a winding double flight of stairs with geometrized stylised wrought-iron adornments. The interior decor was elaborated with high-grade materials such as marble and stone. In Cairo, this type of materials is exceptionally used for large programmes such as cinemas or monumental constructions and not for residential architecture where the traditional art of stucco predominates. The upper floor is opens on a hexagonal space with decorated ceiling pierced by stars. The screening room presents a circular central dome. Ricardo Smith and Nello Sinigallia designed an Art Deco movie theatre as total art. In 1930, Diana Palace was perfect balance between simplicity and clarity in design and provided a unique decorative ensemble.
After the modifications made in 1991, Diana conserved its interior layout but original decoration has disappeared and the roof has been raised.
Author: Lobna Montasser
Iolitta, Otello. "Italian Participation in Design Competitions in Egypt.” In Environmental Design: Journal of the Islamic Environmental Design Research Centre 1-2, edited by Attilio Petruccioli, 40-45. Rome: Dell’oca Editore, 1997-1999. Accessed June 16, 2016, doi: http://archnet.org/publications/3299
Mercedes Volait, personal archives