When revolution meets design studio: Initiating academic debate on “a new urban order” in Cairo

The few months after January 2011 in Egypt were marked by a sense of euphoria among architects and planners (academics and practitioners alike). Both took cues from the revolutionary process and envisioned new modes of pedagogy and professional practice.

The Architectural Department at Cairo University led an initiative to develop the graduation projects of the class of 2011 into a contribution to the ongoing restructuring of the city and public space. These projects were supposed to be citizen-initiated and inclusive, setting the groundwork for emerging social and political orders.

A team of 16 students, 3 faculty members, and 3 assistants embarked on an experimental design process. This process emphasized the relevance of the “local” and invited each student to propose a critical urban intervention in his or her neighbourhood, where he or she lives, studies, or works. The goal of the project was to explore the potential of local-based initiatives for developing and legitimizing citizens’ space within the city. Through specific interventions, engaging current political, and social transformations, the class aimed to develop critical design approaches to the role of space and space making in such transformative processes.

Can space contribute to better social practices? Or is it merely a neutral container where alternative uses and activities take place? Conversely, how can architects and planners negotiate the socio-spatial dialectic? And finally, what is the future position of architects and planners within such a fluid socio-political transformation, whereby the roles of state institutions, local communities, and other stakeholders are being redefined and reconstituted?

With one eye on the Tahrir experiment and another on other “Tahrirs” in each and every neighbourhood, these were some of the questions raised at the eve of an unprecedented social upheaval and urban revolt. Three years later, at the time of publication, with much disillusionment, fluctuating hopes, and increasing frustration, the same questions remained relevant and timely.

This paper documents the work of 16 students, each in his or her particular site and programmatic framework. The geographic areas cover locations in Cairo, Giza, Qalyubiya, Damietta and Sinai. Topics addressed involve conditions in the historic core and outlying fringes; planned districts and informal neighbourhoods; and housing, agriculture, craft and industrial activities. Projects also addressed issues such as gentrification, urban economy, cultural identity, gender equality, housing rights, accessibility, and alternative modes of mobility, as well as political control and freedom of expression.

Access paper online.

Image: proposal by Hanaa Gad.

Details

Publication Type Journal Article
Publisher Egypt / Arab World, Third Series
Year 2014
Author(s) N. Elhady & O. Nagati
Other Numbers 11
ISSN 978-2-905838-84-1
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