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.