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

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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, ,

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

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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.

Father and Son Skyscraper / IAMZ Studio

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The concept for the Father and Son skyscraper, designed by IAMZ Studio, is divided into three main elements including the shape, style and urban design along with green areas implemented into the design. The main reason for the skyscraper typology is to decrease the crowding in the capital . More images and architects’ description after the break.

Wadi El Gemal Visitors Center / MADA Architects

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Architects: Egyptian Earth Construction Association
Location: Marsa Alam,
Project Team: Ramses Nosshi, Khaled El Hammamy, Gawad Hashish, Hany Attala, Ne’ama Allah Hisham, Rasha Abd el Salam
Project Area: 250 sqm
Photographs: Courtesy of Nour Rifai & Ramses Nosshi

Blast from the Analog Past! Physicist Identifies First Protractor

Egyptian artifact identified as world's first known . www.newscientiest.com

And now a controversial look back… way back.

Physicist Amelia Sparavigna recently identified an artifact in a Turin museum as the world’s first known protractor. Sparavigna argues that the artifact’s ornate decoration, which resembles a compass rose with 16 evenly spaced petals surrounded by a zigzag with 36 corners, was used in combination with a plumb line to measure the slope angle of an object beneath it.

The Greek Debt Crisis and Historical Landmarks

Photo by Eurokinissi - https://picasaweb.google.com/cpg.kke

Any trip to Athens, would not be complete without a visit to the Acropolis, the purest remaining form of what the Greeks thought architecture should be. And yet, if you stopped by a few weeks ago, you might have been surprised to find large banners proclaiming support for a communist trade union adorning the Acropolis hill. These banners are the most visible and literal signs of the Greek crisis affecting the historic landmarks in the country, but they are not the ones doing the most damage. That honor goes to the drop in tourism that Greece has experienced since the beginning of the global recession and runs through the country’s fiscal problems to the present. More on how the crisis is affecting historical landmarks after the break.

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

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.

Seeds of Life / Mekano Studio

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Mekano Studio has recently received an honorable mention in the eVolo 2011 skyscraper competition for their entry, Seeds of Life. Read more about the project in addition to additional images and project story boards after the break.

Sednaoui Al Khazendar / Contrast Designs

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Contrast Designs presents their development for the competition of the rehabilitation of “Sednaoui Al Khazendar,” a building in the midst of two historic periods of ’s history. It stands as a relic of Egypt’s history, below which the bustle of everyday life, of car traffic and street vendors, fills the space.

More on Contrast Designs competition entry after the break.

Egyptian Pavilion for the Venice Biennale

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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.

S1 Villa / Paul Kaloustian

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Beirut-based Paul Kaloustian Architect shared with us his project S1 Villa, located in , Egypt. More images and architect’s description after the break.

eVolo 2010 Skyscraper Competition proposal / Hunia Tarek Tomoum

Egyptian architect 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.

Showroom and Leisure Center / Manuelle Gautrand Architecture

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French architects Manuelle Gautrand Architecture shared with us their new showroom and leisure center design for , . The concrete structure consists of connecting circles and spherical cavities that create a flexible interior allowing users to seamlessly flow through different showrooms. “Most of the time, the cars are exhibited like art-pieces on those turning platforms. The entire project is imagined around this monumental way of showing cars,” explained the architects.

More about the showroom and more images after the break.

Zaha Hadid announces new project for Cairo

Zaha Hadid announced her latest design, the Towers, for the expanding district of , Egypt.  Within the 525,000sqm towers, Hadid’s design provides office and retail spaces, a five-star business hotel with serviced apartments, and sunken landscaped gardens and plaza called the Delta.

Further project description 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 , 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.