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6 Politically Motivated Cities Built From Scratch

Threatening to end Cairo’s 1,046 year dominance as the country’s capital, earlier this month the government of Egypt announced their intentions to create a new, yet-to-be-named capital city just east of New Cairo. The promise of the more than 270 square mile ‘new New Cairo’ has attracted headlines from around the world with its sheer scale; a $45 billion development of housing, shopping and landmarks designed to attract tourism from day one, including a theme park larger than Disneyland. And of course, the plans include the promise of homes - for at least 5 million residents in fact, with the vast number of schools, hospitals and religious and community buildings that a modern city requires - making the new capital of Egypt the largest planned city in history.

The idea of building a new capital city has appealed to governments across history; a way to wipe the slate clean, stimulate the economy and lay out your vision of the world in stone, concrete and parkland. Even old Cairo was founded as a purpose built capital, although admittedly urban planning has changed a little since then. It continues to change today; see the full list of different ways to build a totally new city after the break.

Image of the planned new capital of Egypt, masterplanned by SOM. Image © SOM Train station. Image © SOM Government District. Image © SOM Concept of Cairo's replacement by Skidmore, Owings and Merril. Image © SOM

SOM Masterplans Egypt's New Capital City

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) has released a conceptual masterplan for Egypt's new capital city following its unveiling at the Egyptian Economic Development Conference. The 700-square-kilometer "Capital Cairo" hopes stimulate Egypt's ailing economy and alleviate Cairo's rising population density, while adhering to the cultural and climatic conditions of its site.

All the details, after the break.

Train Station. Image © SOM Night View. Image © SOM Government District. Image © SOM Innovation District. Image © SOM

Egypt Unveils Plans for "New Cairo"

In an effort to combat the economic conditions that have plunged one-fourth of its population into poverty, Egypt's ambitious development plan for a massive new capital city is soon to be underway. Roughly the size of New Cairo, the privately-funded city hopes to become the new administrative center, as well as a bustling metropolis of shopping, housing, and tourist destinations to generate economic activity. Plans were solidified at a foreign investment conference where the official project details were unveiled on March 13 in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Read on after the break for more on the $45 billion plan.

Egypt Plans to Build a 200-Meter-Tall Pyramid Skyscraper

Egypt’s Minister of Housing Moustafa Madbouly has revealed plans to build the nation’s tallest tower in Cairo. The pyramid-like Zayed Crystal Spark tower will top out at 200-meters (656-feet) and occupy a 798,000-square-meter parcel in the city’s Sheikh Zayed district - a short distance from the historic pyramids of Giza.

AD Classics: Bibliotheca Alexandrina / Snøhetta

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina on Egypt’s Mediterranean Coast is a spectacular, state-of-the-art facility with an unresolved architectural identity. Commissioned in 1989 as a contemporary resurrection of the fabled Library at Alexandria once venerated throughout the ancient world, the present building was intended to serve as a city’s connection to history and heritage. But its stark modernity and technological innovations make it decidedly more forward-looking than historically referential, a cosmopolitan exploration of form and engineering perhaps longing for a stronger sense of regional belonging.

To some critics, the library has political overtones that obfuscate its architectural message, at worst acting as a monument to political posturing whose utility and conceptual integrity is only of secondary concern. And while critical scrutiny of the project necessitates its political and socio-historical contextualization, the building's architecture—the competition-winning design submitted by Norwegian firm Snøhetta—is worth appreciating and evaluating as an autonomous object and as a precedent for contemporary library design.

Courtesy of Snøhetta Programmatic fragmentation results in the creation of intimately scaled spaces for individual use. Image Courtesy of Snøhetta Elegant north-facing skylights block direct sunlight from entering the reading room. Image Courtesy of Snøhetta Courtesy of Snøhetta

Vincent Callebaut Designs Sustainable Mixed-Use Complex for Cairo

French firm Vincent Callebaut Architectures (VCA) has unveiled a new multi-use complex for Nasr City in Cairo. Designed to obtain LEED Gold Plus standing, the building features a solar roof, green terraces, sky villas, and a vertical system of gardens and solar heating tubes. Composed of 1000 apartment units, the Gate Residence is also designed to include a health club and spa, fitness center, business center, restaurants and cafe, retail, and medical center.

Aerial View. Image Courtesy of VCA Aerial View. Image Courtesy of VCA Perspective from Main Entrance. Image Courtesy of VCA Perspective from Nozha Street. Image Courtesy of VCA

Learning from Cairo: What Informal Settlements Can (and Should) Teach Us

The following essay, written by Magda Mostafa, is an excerpt from the book "Learning from Cairo: Global Perspectives and Future Visions," a collection of reflections from a three-day symposium of the same name. Here, Mostafa focuses on the need to accept informal communities as a reality, not an exception, and argues that conventional architecture practice and education must begin equipping architects to "address the potentials and problems of such parallel modes of existence in our built environment."

It would be a disservice if the debate spurred at the "Learning from Cairo" symposium were to remain confined to the hypothetical. It is our responsibility to extend it to both the professional realm as well as the academic. The purpose of this discussion is just that.

How can architectural academia respond to this shifting climate? A climate where the majority of the built environment is conceived and implemented outside of the construct of conventional practice? Where the majority of the architectural product in our city exists without architects? How can we further propagate a singular top-down mode of practice in our teaching when it’s malfunctioning at best and corrupt or absent at its worst? When this conventional mode is only viable in neatly packaged projects with clear financing, educated clients and formal frameworks? How can we continue to teach our students, the architects of the future generation, to only be equipped to operate within a small portion of the built environment- ignoring the massive built environment and user groups often represented on maps as solid black “informal areas”. 

This phenomena can no longer be blacked-out, and it is time for academia to begin educating its architects-to-be at least to be minimally aware, if not proficiently trained, to address the potentials and problems of such parallel modes of existence in our built environment.

'Hydropolis' Competition Entry / Margaux Leycuras, Marion Ottmann, Anne-Hina Mallette

Courtesy of Margaux Leycuras, Marion Ottmann, Anne-Hina Mallette
Courtesy of Margaux Leycuras, Marion Ottmann, Anne-Hina Mallette

Designed by architecture students, Margaux Leycuras, Marion Ottmann, and Anne-Hina Mallette, from the architecture school of Nantes, they recently won a prize in a competition organized by the Foundation Jacques Rougerie. Their ‘Hydropolis’ proposal answers to this competition, in the category rising waters, by a project located in the Nile Valley which aims to exploit the phenomenon of rising waters instead of suffering the consequences. More images and the students’ description after the break.

Data Driven City / Mekano Studio

Courtesy of Mekano Studio
Courtesy of Mekano Studio

The new city, designed by Mekano Studio, will be a smart data city, a city driven with data, a city that can help each person to choose and decide, a City respects the human mind and gives him the option to take part in his own life as it must have to be. The data city is a city that administrates everything with a real time data, in order to evaluate and respect the time factor as well and to increase the productivity with a well organized community. More images and architects’ description after the break.

Wadi El Gemal Visitors Center / MADA Architects

  • Architects: MADA Architects
  • Location: Marsa Alam, Qesm Marsa Alam, Red Sea Governate, Egypt
  • Architects: Egyptian Earth Construction Association
  • Project Team: Ramses Nosshi, Khaled El Hammamy, Gawad Hashish, Hany Attala, Ne’ama Allah Hisham, Rasha Abd el Salam
  • Area: 250.0 sqm
  • Photographs: Courtesy of nour rifai & ramses nosshi

Courtesy of  nour rifai & ramses nosshi Courtesy of  nour rifai & ramses nosshi Courtesy of  nour rifai & ramses nosshi Courtesy of  nour rifai & ramses nosshi

Ataba & Opera Squares Competition Proposal / ZELLNERPLUS, OLIN, PACER, MR+E, and Nelson Nygaard

southwest aerial view
southwest aerial view

Intended as a catalyst and model for the ongoing redevelopment of Cairo, Egypt, ZELLNERPLUS, OLIN, PACER, MR+E, and Nelson Nygaard proposed a scheme that seeks to bridge the gap between the medieval, or Islamic, and the axial, or European Cairene cities. They would do so through the evacuation of the competition zone of its current disconnected fabrics. In their place, they proposed a green urban archipelago made up of a new connective tissue that will weld together the competition site’s disparate functions, flows and neighboring fabrics. More images and architects’ description after the break.

Egyptian Pavilion for the Venice Biennale

Courtesy of INVERT Studios
Courtesy of INVERT Studios

Architects Ahmed Mito, Kamel Loqman, Hisham Alaa and artists Ayman Lotfy, Ahmed Refat, Niveen Farghaly, and Amer Abdelhakemrecently took part of the prestigious La Biennale di Venezia where they presented their work for the Egyptian Pavilion. Images and the architects description after the break.

eVolo 2010 Skyscraper Competition proposal / Hunia Tarek Tomoum

Egyptian architect Hunia Tarek Tomoum shared with us her proposal for the eVolo 2010 Skyscraper Competition. Her proposal is a three-dimensional structural mesh of variable size tetrahedrons where two different grids overlap to allow diverse programs and circulations. The building consists of a series of large pockets or community hubs with public amenities such as restaurants, theatres, parks, and plazas connected to diagonal units with offices, residences, and hotels.

The circulation network of vertical cores and diagonal elevators connects the community hubs with the private units. The tetrahedron skyscraper is planned as a see through mesh that will interact with the city and enrich the urban fabric – a visual pedestrian continuity is achieve by lifting the structure and creating open areas at ground level.

More images after the break.

Underwater museum for Egypt / Jacques Rougerie

Architect Jacques Rougerie -an expert when it comes to space and underwater structures- has designed the soon-to-be first underwater museum. It will be located off the coast of Egypt, near the new Library of Alexandria, where Cleopatra once had a palace on an island in one of the largest human-made bays in the world back in the day, submerged by earthquakes in the 4th century.

The ruins were discovered years ago, and include several sphinxes, statues, roman and greek shipwrecks and pieces believed to be from the Pharos of Alexandria lighthouse (one of the seven ancient wonders of the world).

This ruins haven’t been moved, since it would be a tremendous effort that could damage the ruins in the process. Also,  it follows the 2001 UNESCO convention for the preservation of underwater heritage.

With that in mind, the museum is designed as both inland and submarine. The building will have four tall structures shaped like the sails of fellucas, the traditional sailboats used in the Nile. From the inland building, underwater fiberglass tunnels will take visitors to structures where they can view antiquities still lying on the seabed.