Bottom up approach to communicate heritage: a project in Downtown Cairo
How would it be possible to link the everyday users of the historical city with the tangible values of the building heritage?
Downtown Cairo is the district developed under the Khedive Ismail at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The city plan was inspired by the streets and squares pattern introduced by Haussmann in Paris, and several European (and Egyptian) architects built palaces and apartment buildings using a rich stylistic vocabulary. Nowadays Downtown is the main lively heart of the city, hosting small shops, offices, houses, cafes and restaurants in a complex social, religious and functional equilibrium. A general lack of regulations regarding how to deal with the heritage and an old rental system are the main reasons for the neglect of the architecture and numerous demolitions of the old Ismaelia buildings. Some studies and projects started surveying and analysing the architecture and the intangible heritage (oral histories) of Downtown, but the main problem still remain the lack of interactions and communication between these scientific works and the inhabitants of the historical buildings:
The first step for the conservation is knowledge.
This project has the main purpose to start and encourage the communication between specialists and inhabitants in both directions, developing and supporting the awareness of everybody towards the architecture of Downtown. The coffee shop in Mohamed Mahmoud Street was selected to introduce small modification in the objects of daily use with a corporate design based on images of buildings and information about Downtown. It becomes the location for activities related to the architecture of the area. On the other hand, the project team is collecting the memories and stories of the inhabitants related to the places to document and to share the link between the tangible and the intangible heritage of Downtown.
The Downtown project is initiated by Vittoria Capresi and Barbara Pampe - Architecture and Urban Design Program GUC - and financed by the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD.
More info: www.baladilab.com
UPDATE November 22, 2012: The launch event on November 27th has been canceled.
UPDATE December 13, 2012: “Take a coffee with your heritage” launches TODAY!
Whose Monument: Participatory Design Project for Monument-Street Buffer Zones
A collaboration between the Ministry of Antiquities and the Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute. The project is a series of workshops, debates and meetings to discuss the relationship between the monument and the surrounding neighborhood, the entities responsible for it and those with a vested interest in it or even those inconvenienced by it. We discuss who owns it, who protects it and improves it and who puts it at risk. The objective is to provide a environment of communication of the different points of view of the three main stakeholders: residents, government and civil society.
In participatory design all stakeholders are involved in the decision making process in all its details and stages. This is to narrow the gap between the monument and the community and allow it to assume ownership of the monument and to protect it through use.
This general issue is discussed through a specific case-study; the monument-street buffer zone and in a specific area; al-Khalifa Street between the mosque of Ahmad ibn Tulun and the shrine of al-Sayyida Nafisa.
The project consists of five phases, to find out more details visit the project website.
This scene photographed above may not last much longer if the state does not act to protect it. The ministries of interior, tourism, environmental protection, antiquities must act immediately
The following is an open letter posted by Youssef Abagui of The Sycamore - Al Gemeza eco lodge retreat and self study center
The Minister of Tourism
Mr. Hisham Zaazou
Subject : Dahshur - A World Heritage site.
Dahshur is not only an important heritage site constituting three of the oldest pyramids - prior to the Giza pyramids - The Royal lake - an ancient water reservoir that has remained so far as a one of the last vestiges of Egypt’s agricultural ingenuity - and until recently a spawning ground for migratory birds. The antiquity of this area is one of the least officially explored sites and contains some of the crucial clues to Egypt’s past. All this is surrounded by superb palm grove countryside.
In the absence of security forces and lawlessness the area lately has seen drastic changes. Mass antiquity thefts of the plateau east of the Pyramids by local sponsored gangs and in broad daylight. The ease of usurping non guarded antiquities land; by digging wells and planting trees on what could potentially be of paramount importance hence left to oblivion.
In addition, the degradation of the countryside by local land prospectors is in agreement with local officials who have little or no foresight, except for individual profit at the cost of the ruination of pristine irreplaceable nature.
The lake too, that once filled in September - a paradise for bird watchers, has been left fowl for three years as part of a plot to ruin it, then buy it as land for an imaginary tourist project - thus ending a six thousand year old tradition of migratory birds that found it an ideal winter home.
This rapidly degrading situation brought about in the name of ‘tourism’, is associated by unchecked corruption of some of the local officials - the neglect of the police, or the turning of a blind eye to infringements, and not to go so far as aid.
The situation has become drastic, as acres are being torn down actually, for two roads that are least needed; these will accelerate ecologic degradation. Local sand and stone quarries nearby are beneficiary - and they have increased profusely in the area too close to the monuments - causing a vast amount of trucks to pass and damage the ecosystem of such a special place. In fact it was the lack of large roads, and traffic, that had kept Dahshur beautiful and clean.
Roads have lead to obsolete gas stations in the midst of greenery that gradually ruin the land around them like a cancer - and giving a pretext to more of the thousands of tire shops and car mechanics - least needed in that area supposedly a World heritage site.
In the past decades - the state’s attempts to “over sophisticate” tourism sites has had contrary effects - the ruination of those very sites. The continuation of heavy handed tourism is no longer compatible with this day and age - especially that such examples are already set and hard to compete with. On the contrary - a more eco friendly tourism is paramount - a gentle approach - where Egypt’s image is that of a romantic journey in time - something few countries can offer, but certainly not one that has great roads or concrete hotels.
We the inhabitants of the area, see the urgency of an action to stop all works immediately, and to send an independent investigative team - that can see for itself the transgressions - and thus bring the issue to your close attention.
The prime assets we have as a nation are our ecology and our heritage, and to preserve those we need the full cooperation of all state ministries for that crucial purpose.
As a quarter of a century inhabitant of Dahshur - facing the lake - having passionately loved the place, and known it intimately - I can’t begin to tell you what we are on the verge of losing as a nation - ‘Magical mysterious Egypt’.
Surely no one should take that chance - therefore we the undersigned, will stand hand in hand with all local authorities as responsible citizens to preserve our heritage from extinction.
Youssef Abagui - 16th of October 2012.
Share this and spread till the authorities know we and the tourists watch nature not concrete.
عشوائية؟ لا يا بيه دي مجهودات ذاتية
الفيلم هو أول حلقة من سلسلة ترصد المشاكل والتحديات العمرانية التي يعيشها غالبية مواطنينا في مُدننا وقرانا حيث يواجهون أخطار انهيارات المباني أو التلوث أو الفيضانات، وحرمان من أساسيات المعيشة مثل المياه وأسطوانات البوتاجاز والكهرباء والمواصلات، وكيف أن سياسات الدولة أدت بطريقة مباشرة لهذا القصور. الغرض من السلسلة هو تحديد عدة مطالب يتم الضغط السياسي من أجلها لتحقيق مبدأ الحق في السكن.
فيلم “عشوائية؟ لا يا بيه دي مجهودات ذاتية” هو مقدمة هذه السلسلة حيث أنه يرصد تجارب سكان عدة مجتمعات في مصر وما يواجهونه من عقبات في حياتهم اليومية لغياب الحق في السكن وكيف لجأ بعضهم لمجهوداتهم الذاتية لتوفير حياة كريمة لأنفسهم.
سلسلة “الحق في السكن” مفتوحة للتداول بين الجميع والمبادرة تشجع عرض الأفلام في أي مكان سواء كان شارع أو محاضرة أو قناة تليفزيونية حيث ستتوفر الأفلام مع إطلاق الحملة على موقع المدونة وذلك مباشرة بعد العرض الأول.
المبادرة في سطور
تهدف مبادرة “الحق في السكن، مجتمعات عادلة ومستدامة” لربط قضايا العمران ومشاكله بالحق في السكن. فإن تم احترام هذا الحق الأساسي في الدستور والقوانين التابعة وذات صلة بالعمران، سيتم إيجاد حلول واقعية لغالبية السلبيات التي يتأثر منها المواطنين في مدننا وقرانا من خلال رسم سياسات عمرانية تعكس احتياجات المواطنين.
عن شركاء المبادرة
تضم المبادرة مدونة “وزارة الإسكان الظل”، التي تعمل على طرح ومناقشة قضايا العمران المصري وحركة “مصُرين” للصحافة الشعبية، كما أن يتم دعمها من “مؤسسة التعبير الرقمي العربي - أضِف”.
للتواصل ولمزيد من المعلومات
مدونة وزارة الإسكان الظل
“No sir these are self-built communities”.
The film is the first of a series of shorts that document the problems and challenges that the majority of Egyptians face in their built environment. These include hazards such as collapsing buildings, pollution and floods, as well as deprivation from basic infrastructure such as water, energy and public transport. The series also links these problems with the state’s policies that are directly or indirectly linked to the built environment, stating a set of demands to pressure policy change that falls in line with the right to housing.
“Ashwaeyat? la ya beih, dih maghoudat dthateyya”, is merely the introduction to the series as it sets out to document the day to day experiences of a range of different communities in the absence of the right to housing and how most of them have been forced to resort to self-reliance to provide adequate shelter and build a functioning community.
The Right to Housing series is open source and we encourage the distribution and showing of the films be it on the street, in a lecture hall or on tv. The first film will be made available on youtube for download and commenting just after the launch and the rest of the films will follow.
The initiative in brief
The Right to Housing, a Socially Just and Sustainable Built Environment aims to link the challenges of our built environment with the Right to Housing. If the Right to Housing were to become a constitutional right and associated laws, appropriate and sustainable solutions to these challenges would be pursued in the form of drastic change in built environment related policy that would reflect the actual needs of our communities.
The initiative is divided into a number of phases, the main three are:
Phase One: General documentation through film and interviews of a range of challenges faced by communities in their built environment. These films will be shown in places that provoke dialogue either between communities and themselves or between communities and built environment professionals and policy makers.
Phase Two: More detailed mapping of a set number of built environment challenges and sorting them into categories, proposing a set of generalized solutions. The outcome would be presented in the form of a booklet and a series of seminars.
Phase Three: Accurate mapping of the most pertinent category and the proposal of a set of solutions.
Phase One of the initiative includes Shadow Ministry of Housing, a blog that critiques built environment policy and Mosireen, a citizen-journalism collective, and is supported by the Arab Digital Expression Foundation, ADEF.
Public space and the sharing of information (videos and images) have been key to Egypt’s uprising. Cinema Tahrir brings independent citizen journalism to the square with projections of videos and documentaries. During the month-long sit-in that commenced on July 8th last summer, Cinema Tahrir attracted hundreds of viewers nightly to watch videos that maybe available online but aren’t accessible to all Egyptians, most of whom still get their information from state television, radio and newspapers. When the military cracked down on the sit-in and ended it Cinema Tahrir too was gone. In anticipation for next Friday’s protest and sit-in Cinema Tahrir returned to the square with new material curated by the Mosireen collaborative. Below is an excerpt from an article on Al Masry Al Youm about the project:
“One of the hallmarks of this revolution is that it has been filmed by its people,” Abdalla told Al-Masry Al-Youm, during a break from his activities in the square.
“Part of the whole initiative is a feeling of possession. There is a big difference between watching TV and seeing something that has been filmed by someone just like you.”
This sense of possession was clear at a recent screening at Tahrir Cinema. Throughout the screening, came moments of personal recognition, when one audience member would whisper to a neighbor or yell to the whole crowd, “I was there.”
Watching the films, the crowd responded in turns with laughter, cheers, and gasps of anger. The atmosphere was one of a group, remembering and reliving a shared experience.
“It brings us back to the memory of the revolution,” said audience member Osama Ahmed. “Now I have the same feeling I had on 28 January.”
Read full article on Al Masry Al Youm, here.
The following excerpt is from a seminal 1958 essay by Jane Jacobs republished by Fortune in honor of the 50th anniversary of Jane Jacobs’ influential book The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
If the downtown of tomorrow looks like most of the redevelopment projects being planned for it today, it will end up a monumental bore. But downtown could be made lively and exciting — and it’s not too hard to find out how.
By Jane Jacobs
This year is going to be a critical one for the future of the city. All over the country civic leaders and planners are preparing a series of redevelopment projects that will set the character of the center of our cities for generations to come. Great tracts, many blocks wide, are being razed; only a few cities have their new downtown projects already under construction; but almost every big city is getting ready to build, and the plans will soon be set.
What will the projects look like? They will be spacious, parklike, and uncrowded. They will feature long green vistas. They will be stable and symmetrical and orderly. They will be clean, impressive, and monumental. They will have all the attributes of a well-kept, dignified cemetery. And each project will look very much like the next one: the Golden Gateway office and apartment center planned for San Francisco; the Civic Center for New Orleans; the Lower Hill auditorium and apartment project for Pittsburgh; the Convention Center for Cleveland; the Quality Hill offices and apartments for Kansas City; the downtown scheme for Little Rock; the Capitol Hill project for Nashville. From city to city the architects’ sketches conjure up the same dreary scene; here is no hint of individuality or whim or surprise, no hint that here is a city with a tradition and flavor all its own.
These projects will not revitalize downtown; they will deaden it. For they work at cross-purposes to the city. They banish the street. They banish its function. They banish its variety. There is one notable exception, the Gruen plan for Fort Worth; ironically, the main point of it has been missed by the many cities that plan to imitate it. Almost without exception the projects have one standard solution for every need: commerce, medicine, culture, government—whatever the activity, they take a part of the city’s life, abstract it from the hustle and bustle of downtown, and set it, like a self-sufficient island, in majestic isolation.
There are, certainly, ample reasons for redoing downtown—falling retail sales, tax bases in jeopardy, stagnant real-estate values, impossible traffic and parking conditions, failing mass transit, encirclement by slums. But with no intent to minimize these serious matters, it is more to the point to consider what makes a city center magnetic, what can inject the gaiety, the wonder, the cheerful hurly-burly that make people want to come into the city and to linger there. For magnetism is the crux of the problem. All downtown’s values are its byproducts. To create in it an atmosphere of urbanity and exuberance is not a frivolous aim.
We are becoming too solemn about downtown. The architects, planners—and businessmen—are seized with dreams of order, and they have become fascinated with scale models and bird’s-eye views. This is a vicarious way to deal with reality, and it is, unhappily, symptomatic of a design philosophy now dominant: buildings come first, for the goal is to remake the city to fit an abstract concept of what, logically, it should be. But whose logic? The logic of the projects is the logic egocentric children, playing with pretty blocks and shouting “See what I made!”—a viewpoint much cultivated in our schools of architecture and design. And citizens who should know better are so fascinated by the sheer process of rebuilding that the end results are secondary to them.
With such an approach, the end results will be about as helpful to the city as the dated relics of the City Beautiful movement, which in the early years of this century was going to rejuvenate the city by making it parklike, spacious, and monumental. For the underlying intricacy, and the life that makes downtown worth fixing at all, can never be fostered synthetically. No one can find what will work for our cities by looking at the boulevards of Paris, as the City Beautiful people did; and they can’t find it by looking at suburban garden cities, manipulating scale models, or inventing dream cities.
You’ve got to get out and walk. Walk, and you will see that many of the assumptions on which the projects depend are visibly wrong. You will see, for example; that a worthy and well-kept institutional center does not necessarily upgrade its surroundings. (Look at the blight-engulfed urban universities, or the petered-out environs of such ambitious landmarks as the civic auditorium in St. Louis and the downtown mall in Cleveland.) You will see that suburban amenity is not what people seek downtown. (Look at Pittsburghers by the thousands climbing forty-two steps to enter the very urban Mellon Square, but balking at crossing the street into the ersatz suburb of Gateway Center.)
You will see that it is not the nature of downtown to decentralize. Notice how astonishingly small a place it is; how abruptly it gives way, outside the small, high-powered core, to underused area. Its tendency is not to fly apart but to become denser, more compact. Nor is this tendency some leftover from the past; the number of people working within the cores has been on the increase, and given the long-term growth in white-collar work it will continue so. The tendency to become denser is a fundamental quality of downtown and it persists for good and sensible reasons.
If you get out and walk, you see all sorts of other clues. Why is the hub of downtown such a mixture of things? Why do office workers on New York’s handsome Park Avenue turn off to Lexington or Madison Avenue at the first corner they reach? Why is a good steak house usually in an old building? Why are short blocks apt to be busier than long ones?
It is the premise of this article that the best way to plan for downtown is to see how people use it today; to look for its strengths and to exploit and reinforce them. There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. This does not mean accepting the present; downtown does need an overhaul, it is dirty, it is congested. But there are things that are right about it too, and by simple old-fashioned observation we can see what they are. We can see what people like.
Read the full essay, here.