Posts tagged historic

Studio: An urban intervention in Cairo’s leather tannery district

Studio is a series of blog posts that will feature student work in an effort to stimulate public discussion about their proposals and the sites and issues pertaining to their projects. Please comment and join the conversation.

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Project Summary: This graduation project by a team of six students from Cairo University (2011) proposes an urban intervention in an area known as Ezbet el-Madabeg where historically the city’s leather tanneries have been located. The area lies behind the city’s historic aqueduct and is near the city’s main children’s cancer hospital in addition to social housing blocks and a few fatimid historic monuments. The proposal is presented as an alternative to the conventional planning approaches by the state in which impoverished residents are forcibly evicted in order to create a touristic complex. Instead the team proposes a series of interventions such as the rehabilitation of historic buildings and the building of needed facilities to serve the community as well as make it hospitable to visitors.

محور تنمية للأرتقاء بمنطقة عزبة المدابغ

يهدف هذا المشروع للخروج من دائرة ” نقل اهالى وعاملى المنطقة من اجل مشروع سياحى فاخر”, فهو “حل بديل” من خلال دراسة متعمقة لجذور المشكلة و التعرف على احتياجات الاهالى

المحور يتكون من نقاط جذب لشد الزائرين, واستغلال ذلك فى التواصل الأجتماعى (نتيجة الفصل المتعمد للأهالى و عمال المنطقة) و تنشيط السوق والصناعة الجلدية. تبدأ هذة النقاط من مستشفى 57357, ثم سور مجرى العيون, مرورا بالحديقة الأثرية وينتهى عند مدخل حديقة الفسطاط, ليكون خط وصل بين المناطق التاريخية و الأثرية المحيطة, املا ان تكون هذة المنطقة نواه للأرتقاء بمنطقة السور و المستوى الأجتماعى.


أهداف المشروع:

  اكتشاف الهوية الحقيقية للمكان و ابرازها من خلال التكوين المعمارى و العمرانى

طرح بدائل و حلول للتغلب على مشكلات الصحة, التلوث, و انتاجية صناعة الدباغة بالتعاون مع اخصائيين فى هذة المجالات, فتعد هذة المنطقة

     من اخطر بؤر التلوث المسببة للسرطان فى وسط القاهرة امام مستشفى سرطان الأطفال

تحقيق مبادئ الأستدامة فى النواحى الأجتماعية, والأقتصادية, والبيئية, لتصبح منطقة قائمة بذاتها
  ربط المنطقة بالعالم الخارجى, ليصبح سور مجرى العيون من جانب بوابة لأكتشاف تاريخ و تراث المنطقة, واطلال حديقة الفسطاط من الجانب الأخر

نشر التوعية اللازمة فى النواحى الأجتماعية, وخاصة عمالة الأطفال والوقاية من المخلفات

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image[site plan, above and design process, below]

تجسد ذاك من خلال تقسيم و توزيع الخدمات الى ثلاث أجزاء

الجزء الأول: سياحى/ترفيهى/تعليمى


حرم سور مجرى العيون: استغلال حرم السور فى النشاطات الترفيهية, مساحات مفتوحة خضراء لخدمة الأهالى و التقليص من التكدس العمرانى,  

                              مسرح مفتوح للمناسابات و العروض الفنية.
متحف التاريخ: استكشاف السور القديم و طريقة عملة, مقدمة عن الحديقة الأثرية, معروضات يعود تاريخها لعدد من العصور الأسلامية المختلفة.
السوق القديم: تم تقسيمة إلى جزئين, الأول لتنشيط سوق المنتجات الجلدية , الجزء الثانى مخصص للبزارات و تحف الفن الأسلامى.

الحديقة الأثرية: جولة مفتوحة فى اطلال المبانى الأثرية, الحمام القديم, ودار إمارة. جدير بالذكر,ان هذة البقعة الان نقطة لتجمع القمامة و مخلفات

                   المدابغ.

 

الجزء الثانى:ثقافى/صناعى/تعليمى

 

المدابغ: الأبقاء على 50% من المدابغ و تحويل بعض منها لمراكز حرفية مع زرع نقاط لمعالجة السموم و تنقية المياة المستخدمة فى منتصف

          المدابغ, للوصول للحد الأدنى فى القانون البيئى.

متحف الجلود: يشرح عملية الدباغة, صناعتها و الأساليب المستخدمة, نشأة المنطقة التى بدأت بأول مدبغة من العصر الفاطمى, و مراحل تطورها.
منطقة لعب الأطفال: هو تذكرة و تعويض لحقوق الطفل المهدرة بسبب العمالة المبكرة.
المدرسة الحرفية: تتخصص فى تعليم حرف الجلود, توفير دور عرض للأعمال الفنية, الأرتقاء بالمنتجات الجلدية للتقنين من التصدير الخام.
مدرسة الدباغة: تطوير عملية الصناعة من خلال الحرص على التدرب على أحدث التقنيات و الأساليب فى الدباغة, و الأهم نشر التوعية اللازمة للحد        

                   من هدر المياة, و تقليل نسب السموم و المخلفات من الصناعة.

الجزء الثالث:اجتماعى/سكنى

 

مركز التواصل الأجتماعى: لتلبية احتياجات السكان, و الحرص على التوعية بكافة المشكلات العائلية و الأجتماعية.

مركز الصحة: توعية السكان بكافة الأمراض, و اساليب الوقاية من مخلفات الصناعة.

وحدات سكنية: اعادة استخدام مصانع العظم المهجورة كوحدات سكنية, بدلا من العشوائيات فى الحالة الغير امنة انشائيا.



خالص الشكر,

مشروع تخرج بقسم الهندسة المعمارية, هندسة القاهرة، سنة 2011

فريق عمل المشروع
أحمد محمد عبد اللطيف
أحمد شريف سلامة
إسلام أحمد حمزة
إسلام محمد سلومة
محمد سيد شرعان

يمن فيصلعبد المقصود

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Houses of France in Cairo

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The French diplomatic mission in Egypt has occupied two notable houses of exceptional architectural appeal. Both houses utilized fragments from Mamluk and Ottoman decorative elements, which came from various houses and structures around the city. The decorative fragments were reused in these new settings around which the new modern houses were built. Architectural historian Mercedes Voliat and photographer Blas Gimeno Ribelles have documented and analyzed these two houses and their decorative features in the recently published book Maisons de France au Caire. Le remploi de grands décors mamelouks et ottomans dans une architecture moderne. The book (French/Arabic) is published and is available for purchase at the Institut Francais d’Archeologie Orientale (IFAO) in Mounira.

The French embassy building in Giza was built in the 1930s when modernist architecture was widespread in Cairo particularly in newly developed areas and among the bourgeois class in general. Yet the interior of the embassy is dressed in antique Mamluk and Ottoman patterns reused from older structures. The main hall of the building is impressively ornamented with a montage of historic Cairene interior architectural details including stone inlays, wooden ceilings, inlaid wooden doors, and brass lighting fixtures. The modern 1930s building was designed to accommodate these precious decorative interiors, which came from an earlier modern house built in 1880-85 for Gaston de Saint-Maurice (1831-1905).

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The house of Gaston de Saint-Maurice was built on land gifted by Khedive Ismail located on what is today Sherif Street in downtown. The French government acquired the land/house soon after to establish its new embassy. The new house incorporated fragments of historic structures that were collected from Cairo. The urban transformation of the city throughout the 19th century meant that many older structures were demolished to make way for new ones. Sometimes state-planned projects such as the cutting of the avenue of Mohamed Ali through the historic fabric caused the demolition of hundreds of structures including houses and sometimes mosques. These demolitions led to a lucrative trade in building parts including entire wall panels, doors, and ceilings which were sold to collectors, aristocrats to decorate their new homes and sometimes shipped abroad for the homes of wealthy Orientalists. The use of historic fragments in new buildings was increasingly popular during the same time in France. The adaptive reuse of historic fragments became a new art as it required artisans to create new pieces that fill the gaps and correspond with the older pieces. This new art called for the study of ornamental motifs and gave rise to an increased art historical interest in oriental interior/decorative architecture.

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The building on Sherif Street was neo-Mamluk with various details belonging to various architectural styles from Islamic architecture. The building built in the 1880s was not unusual for that period when many notables and aristocrats built in an eclectic historicist style. The new building was inspired by a collection of architectural fragments and the interior decoration was composed of actual fragments belonging to different eras, different buildings and different styles.

As the area known today as downtown developed rapidly in the 1920s onwards from an urban fabric of mostly palaces and villas to tall modern apartment blocks the French Embassy acquired land in the then newly developing areas of Giza near the Nile and a new house was built in the 1930s. Again, in the new house fragments which formed the interior of the 1880s house were removed before that house was demolished and the interiors were reassembled in the new modern understated structure. The new building set in gardens consisted of a modern Moorish inspired design, rather than Cairene palatial architecture. The architecture was designed to host the interiors from the 1880s house. The main hall (pictured at the top of this post) is particularly impressive. Of course, since the Giza building was erected some of its parts had been redesigned or redecorated with various elements including art deco. However, the main halls with the reused Ottoman and Mamluk decor remain the main features of that building.

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The book is divided into five chapters with a particularly important conclusion that sheds light on the forgotten art of reusing old architectural fragments, a practice that had existed in Cairo for centuries. The book concludes with a question about such practices as seen in these two houses: is such reuse of building materials impertinent or is it a way of salvaging heritage?

Of course such a question has no easy or universal answer but the author makes the case that in these particular houses the reuse of decorative elements from demolished Cairene houses reinvents and in ways protects heritage that could have been lost. Of course such practices continue today in much more destructive ways as intact historic buildings (examples: Villa Casdagli, Villa Ispenian) get vandalized in order to feed the clandestine market for antique building parts the clients of which are mostly outside of Cairo and Egypt. The recent destruction of several villas is evidence that the market for building parts to be reused in new buildings for the wealthy elsewhere is a lucrative endeavor. Of course these recent developments are significantly different from the context in which these two French houses in Cairo were built.

Destruction Alert: historic gate demolished with official approval

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This week a gate that belonged to a large residential complex, which was already demolished, was bulldozed with the permission of authorities. The demolition has caused outrage and protest by concerned citizens. The gate appears to date from sometime between the mid-18th century to the early 19th century and was located on Bab al Wazir Street in the heart of historic Cairo’s Darb el Ahmar district. The building was once the home of Egypt’s grand Mufti (1921-1928). The demolition comes at a time when the heart of historic Cairo has been continuously under assault losing entire historic houses (typically three stories) which have been replaced by taller, higher density modern apartment blocks as tall as 8-10 stories. Domestic architecture, no matter how old, is rarely registered as monument, which means that the primary elements of historic districts such as Darb el Ahmar are extremely vulnerable in the face of real estate speculation, typically within the informal economy sector which involves paying large sums by the developers to the authorities in order to turn a blind eye to their building frenzy.

Mohamed Abdelaziz, the official responsible for the development of historic Cairo project at the antiquities ministry, deflected the news by arguing that the gate was of no historic significance and that the demolition was completely legal. This incident raises several persistent questions which have not been confronted regarding Cairo’s urban development particularly in historic areas.

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[The destroyed gate which was already vandalized by election posters for Islamist candidates including the current president. Photo by Ahmed Hamed via Aswatmasriya.com]

The most pressing question is WHO in Egypt today determines what counts as heritage/patrimony and who decides on the categories? There are multiple governmental bodies responsible for different and often overlapping kinds of heritage often governed by outdated rigid categories which often have orientalist or colonial origin. For example, the vast and vague category of “Islamic Architecture”: What is and what is not “Islamic” architecture? This gate was determined undeserving of protection because it was not “registered as an Islamic monument.” In fact the decorative motifs seen in this gate can be found in many residential structures from that period and they often go undocumented and dismissed because they do not easily fit into 19th century categories of Mamluk, Ottoman, Fatimid, etc. There are house gates with floral motifs, others with faces carved above the portal and others with letters or family symbols. Such diversity and architectural individuality do not interest the official institution of antiquities (governed by dated art historical categories imposed from elsewhere), because these houses are/were part of the everyday and often belonged to families with no notable members. Spaces of the everyday, even if centuries old and well-built and expressing innovative building craft, are not part of the record.

But even buildings which were listed have not benefited from their listing and are often neglected, undeveloped, and un-restored. With few exceptions such as the Aga Khan project for Darb el Ahmar, there has been no comprehensive urban development plan for historic areas that take economy into account. Listed buildings, under current laws, are economic burdens on their owners who are highly restricted from benefiting financially from their valuable property by perhaps acquiring permits for renovations or adapting them to new uses. Thus, even listed buildings are often intentionally damaged by their owners in order to qualify for a demolition permit and often architects and engineers working for the state bureaucracy assist owners in destroying their own properties for a fee, knowing that once the property is freed of its heritage building it can be developed with profitable real estate. It is shameful that over a decade into the twenty-first century a country like Egypt and a city like Cairo, which had and continues to have a high density of historic structures waiting to be adapted and incorporated into an urban economy, there is yet to emerge a sufficient system to deal with this heritage properly. Lack of imagination and corruption in peacetime are causing damage to Cairo’s urban heritage at a rate that could only be matched by a natural disaster or war. Indeed images of damaged listed buildings such as Villa Casdagli (oddly registered as an Islamic Monument), resemble war damage. State institutions responsible for that listed building have not moved to respond to that damage not least to erect a fence around the property five months after its destruction.

It is important to note that major buildings which were listed were demolished with official permission in recent months. Last month Cinema Rialto, one of Alexandria’s landmark cinemas disappeared over night.

Thus, listing is not the primary issue regarding the demolition of the Darb el Ahmar gate, since listed buildings face a similarly uncertain fate.

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[The emerging skyline of the once historic Darb el Ahmar district as seen from Azhar Park]

The other issue presented by this latest catastrophe is the persistent question of adaptive reuse: Why were the wall and gate not incorporated into a new structure? such practices have a long history in Cairo as ancient as the city itself. Buildings and parts of buildings have been continuously incorporated into new structures for centuries. Across historic Cairo an observant eye will pick out fragments of ancient buildings incorporated into subsequent structures creating a sense of layering and richness which makes the historic city so exciting. However, for such practices to take place today two elements are fundamental: (1) an overall vision and policy that encourages the adaptive reuse of buildings or architectural fragments, and (2) the necessary technique and design practice needed to consult the construction of new buildings containing existing fragments. What is needed is a serious exploration of the possibilities that lie between total annihilation approach and the “open air museum” approach to historic urban areas.

The demolitions of this gate and of many other historic structures across the country are often “legal.” Legality here merely connotes that developers acquired the needed permissions in exchange for a hefty “gift” to local officials, municipal engineers and police officers.

Finally, to conclude, the unnecessary demolition of this gate is an occasion to shame some of the incompetent institutions responsible for Cairo’s urban environment: Shame on the so-called National Organization for Urban Harmony. Shame on the Governorate of Cairo. Shame on the Ministry of Antiquities. Shame on the Ministry of Culture. Shame on the Awqaf Ministry. Shame on the Ministry of Housing. All the above institutions have a track record of failure and mediocrity dominated by corruption and cronyism. All these bureaucracies have together failed to emerge with a vision for the protection and development of Egypt’s historic urban centers in ways that save heritage, allow for social continuity (no evictions) and economic prosperity.

Landmark: Tiring Department Store

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Visible slightly to the north from the narrow overpass that links Opera Square to Azhar Street is a corner building with four kneeling Atlas statues lifting a glass globe. This was the Tiring Department Store, one of Cairo’s many houses of early twentieth century shopping and consumption of modern goods.

The store was founded in 1910 by Victor Tiring, an Austrian merchant born in Istanbul who specialized in Turkish tailoring. The Tiring family had built its first store in Vienna in 1882. The building was designed by Oscar Horowitz, a Czech architect who studied in Vienna and who designed similar shopping destinations within the Austro-Hungarian sphere. The Tiring Store in Cairo was completed in 1912 and when it opened it was the city’s premier shopping destination for imported luxury goods. With the events of World War I, the British occupation in Egypt had deemed all Austrians and Hungarians as enemies and forced their departure from Egypt. The Tiring department store was only in business for few years and its business was interrupted due to pressure from the colonial administration which forced it into liquidation by 1920.

The five-story building was designed with open floors and an airy feel fit for modern shopping and it would eventually become the desired property by other department store owners but complications due to ownership led to it being abandoned. Shortly after the demise of the short-lived Tiring, the building became home to squatters, primarily small-business and workshops who set up shop in its vast floors. It has been used since by a variety of people for a variety of activities, there was a bar, a mosque, full-time residents, clothing workshops and a cafe occupying the building at one time.

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This is the story of many buildings, perhaps hundreds in Cairo and other cities. At first it may appear that the main obstacle confronting any effort to save Tiring building is related to ownership. However, another building not far away, fronting Opera Square and the remaining parcel of Azbakeya Garden is the former Continental Hotel which is also occupied by small workshops informally, yet it is owned by the state. Other buildings around downtown and the surrounding districts have been undergoing a process for decades aimed at intentionally removing links to original owners. Those were the properties of owners who fled the country, were forced out either by the British or subsequent regimes, or properties where heirs immigrated and entrusted the property to a lawyer or anyone who later illegally sold it to themselves and obscured links to the original owners. This has led to legal disputes and often buildings have been “frozen” with no one to claim them as their own and thus they fall for squatters or idle eternally. What I am trying to argue, the Tiring Building brings attention to the legal dimension complicating the potential regeneration, maintenance and reuse of such properties. And this calls for a legal framework and carefully drafted policy.

The Tiring Building was built a century ago, yet it was used by its original owner for its intended use for less than a decade. Despite this, it has become part of the urban heritage of Cairo and its iconic Atlases and glass globe have become a landmark referenced in works of art, literature and seen in film. The building, and others like it, is part of Cairo’s cityscape and it presents us with a challenge of dealing with its complicated history, ownership issues, accommodate/legalize its current users, maintain its architectural heritage, make it economically sustainable and make it accessible to the public.

The building should also be seen in its urban and social context. It sits at a unique location linking old and new Cairo and near Attaba Square where other key buildings such as the fire department and the original post office stand. Near by is the Attaba vegetable market, one of downtown’s central markets, and surrounding streets are bustling with commercial activity. There is massive potential in this area to organize, develop, accommodate current commercial activities while diversifying the uses and users by inserting new ones. However, the scale of needed development in Cairo’s central districts needs new strategies that move beyond the approach of focusing on individual buildings and seeking the needed funds to restore them without considering their relationship to context and their potential new uses. Many of the historic buildings which have been restored by the state following this approach have sat empty for years or have been transformed into “cultural centers” where no real activity takes place.

The Tiring Building is desperately screaming for attention for the entire district to be revitalized in cooperation with its current users. However, with the current governance structure which does not align with community structures in the city there will be no revitalization. Communities in Cairo are full of buildings around which the various districts can develop, whether the Sakakini Palace in Sakakini or the Tiring Building in Attaba, those buildings can act as the starting point in a community-driven, government-led approach that integrates buildings of historic significance with the communities that live in and around them in ways that protect the architectural heritage, stimulate economic development and provide new opportunities. Such efforts need sound policy and such policy needs to build on a political structure that empowers communities rather than treat them as mere squatters to be removed.

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Crossing Azhar Street: a stair to nowhere and a fence

Sometimes it is difficult not to think that officials (state or city government) intentionally make the practice of everyday life for Egyptians more burdensome. Case in point is the current state of Azhar Street, specifically as it dissects Cairo’s historic Muizz Street. I say dissect rather than intersect because today Azhar Street severs the restored touristified north section of Muizz Street from the richly commercial, mostly used by Egyptians, yet to be repaved southern half. Crossing Azhar street is a dramatic experiences. To the south Muizz street is lined with monuments, historic fabric and an active market of textiles leading south to Bab Zuwyla. To the north, the street is also lined with monuments, and some historic fabric in addition to the maze of the touristy Khan el Khalili. The northern section has been repaved and underwent massive transformation that entailed the removal of many of the street’s original markets and stakeholders and replacing them with shisha shops and tourist-oriented products (instead of the onion, garlic and lemon markets which used to be at the north end of the street, for example). While the southern stretch lacks any police presence it feels safer, and the northern stretch has visible police presence yet that didn’t protect Sultan Barquq Complex from theft last week. Until today the most striking difference between the north half and the southern half is the social aspects of each. The southern half still feels like a neighborhood while the northern feels like an open air museum.

Despite the drastic difference pedestrians, locals and tourists, were able to cross Azhar Street via a pedestrian bridge which allowed for some kind of continuity between the two halves of the historic street. However in recent months the municipality erected a spiked metal fence in the middle of Azhar Street separating the eastward and westward directions. The green fence with golden spikes made crossing the street only possible via the pedestrian bridge. Sometime in the past two months the pedestrian bridge was removed. Apparently the necessary structure was removed due to an electrical explosion from a fuse box below the north end of the bridge which jeopardized its safety. However the bridge hasn’t been replaced since. This means that crossing the always crowded Azhar Street to link the northern southern halves of historic Cairo and Muizz Street is nearly a mission impossible. Not only is there a fence blocking the way on street level, the bridge is now gone with only the stairs remaining on either side of Azhar Street leading to nowhere.

With typical Egyptian resilience the fence now has an opening which was created by removing some of the metal bars. Still, pedestrians must run across a busy road and try to fit through the opening and run across the road again. Crossing the road, any road let alone one of Cairo’s most historic and important roads, should never be this difficult and inhumane. Are these obstacles put in place to intentionally humiliate Egyptians? In a time of budget cuts are extra fences placed at illogical locations serving any purpose? Does the safety of Cairo’s residents ever cross the minds of those in charge of the massive institutions with the budgets and manpower to actually enact improvements? Are they not aware of this invention known as the “traffic light” which could have made for a humane and orderly crosswalk at this key junction?

The present situation at this crossing in Azhar Street and Muizz Street is one repeated in different forms across the city. Not only is the municipality not doing any effort to improve the urban environment, it is actively making matters worse. Which raises a fundamental question: Are municipal officials that asinine or are they intentionally malicious? In either case their conduct is inexcusable and this snafu alone is good reason for someone to get fired and for the entire system of city government to be seriously challenged.

Save Bulaq General Hospital!

Difficult to photograph as it is surrounded by trees, Bulaq General Hospital was built in 1936 as a robust red brick streamline modernist three-story structure near the Nile in Bulaq. The hospital is among a series of what could be called “historic hospitals” that were built by the state in the first part of the twentieth century which have been decaying for decades and neglected by the state. Some of these hospitals have also been targeted by corrupt officials who have permitted the destruction of such hospitals and are selling the properties to real estate development (no health official should be able to so easily sell state property for use by private investment!). The most recent of those incidents was the Coptic Hospital in Alexandria.

Bulaq General Hospital was part of a hospital building program that took place during the reign of Foad and Farouk when the health ministry, which was also tasked with supervising urban development to ensure healthy living conditions, built hospitals throughout the city to service its inhabitants. Bulaq’s hospital was to serve Bulaq and Gezira (Zamalek). Today the building is nearly abandoned. The collapse of the state’s health services and the dominance of private and charitable medical providers coupled with the hollowing out of Bulaq (mass evictions and relocations have been occurring here since the 1970s to make way for international hotels of tourist developments) have led to the institutional collapse of Bulaq Hospital. The building, however, appears to be in near perfect condition, judging by its exterior. It is certain that the functions of the hospital are in desperate need for overhaul. This building must be saved for its architectural and historical value but also because Cairo needs more, not less, hospitals and medical facilities.

The building is located in the now prized location within the government’s (read business elite) plan to entirely redevelop Bulaq as a tourist and business hub. Directly across the street from Bulaq General Hospital is the construction site of the mammoth St. Regis Hotel. North of the hospital is another state-owned “public service” facility (كلية الاقتصاد المنزلى) that appears to share the hospital’s fate. Directly east of the hospital are two historic and registered sites (from among 15 registered historic sites in Bulaq): the sixteenth century Sinan Mosque (1571) and Tikiya Rifaiya (1774).

In July 2010, Al Ahram reported the plans to demolish the hospital to make way for real estate development:

كان المستشفي يعد من أفضل المستشفيات علي مستوي الجمهورية, وكان يسمي مستشفي المجموعة لتميزه بمجموعة من التخصصات الطبية, لكن الوضع الحالي أصبح يثير الجدل في عدد من المحافل المعنية ويثير كثيرا من الشائعات حول الخطط الموضوعة للاستفادة من موقع المستشفي المميز.. لأهداف استثمارية بحتة!!
في البداية يقول عبدالباقي أحمد عبدالباقي ـ من أهالي بولاق ابوالعلا ـ إن الفقير يستطيع أن يتحمل آلام الجوع لكنه لا يقدر علي أن يتحمل آلام المرض, لذا فإن تدهور حال مستشفي بولاق أدي إلي تدهور الحالة الصحية لكثير من مرضي المنطقة خاصة أنه كان يقدم الخدمة العلاجية, ويوفر الدواء بالمجان للآلاف لكنه يفتقر الآن لأبسط أنواع العلاج حتي أنابيب الأوكسجين وعبوات الجلوكوز منذ عدة أشهر وأصبح شعار لا يوجد هو الشعار الذي ترفعه أقسام المستشفي بداية من الطواريء إلي غرف العمليات والتحاليل والأشعات غير المتوفرة!

According to the report, there has been intentional negligence at the hospital since 2002 in what appeared to local residents as preparing the stage for dismantling it and taking it off Cairo’s list of hospitals. The institutional collapse of the hospital has had dire effect on the health of local residents. One resident is quoted as saying “It is easier to deal with hunger than to deal with the pain of disease and illness.”

The report also confirms the Health Ministry’s plans to sell the hospital property to a developer. The sale, it appears, has no preconditions for replacing the existing hospital with a new one to serve the area. Hospital staff amounted to 200 doctors and 150 nurses in addition to other staff, all of whom (until the publishing of the Ahram article) had no other job assignments if Bulaq Hospital becomes nonoperational.

ولأن العلاج حق دستوري للمواطن ـ يتابع ـ فنحن نناشد وزارة الصحة ـ رفقا بالغلابة والفقراء من أهالي بولاق ابوالعلا تطوير وترميم المستشفي بشكل فوري.

The Health Ministry signed a LE40 million contract with a construction company in 2003 to begin “renovation” and in 2004 the company destroyed an annex building which was built in 1995 and included 18 kidney dialysis units. Medical equipment was removed from the hospital buildings to begin the “renovation.” Nothing has come from the LE40 million contract since then. The government issued a demolition permit sometime after which was halted as local representatives and the community reacted against the demolition. Although the community was able to halt the demolition, the ministry has abandoned the hospital and has not included it in its annual “investment” budgets. The hospital is the main medical facility for the poor areas of Imbaba, Bulaq, Sahel, and Rod al-Farag.

يؤكد محمد حمدان ـ عضو مجلس محلي حي بولاق ـ لن نرضي إلا بتطوير وترميم المستشفي وإذا كان هناك مخطط آخر لاستثمار الأرض وبيعها لأحد المستثمرين كما يـشاع فسوف نقوم بالاعتصام داخل المستشفي.
إن هناك العديد من التساؤلات التي تطرح نفسها علي الساحة أولها كيف وصل المستشفي إلي هذه الحالة المتدهورة في ظل وجود هيكل إداري وطبي وأجهزة رقابية من وزارة الصحة؟ من المسئول عن قرار الهدم وعدم البناء مرة أخري؟ ولماذا لا يتم صرف المخصصات التي تم رصدها لتطوير المستشفي؟

Al-Ahram, a state paper, was not allowed access to photograph the inside of the hospital nor allowed to review the government’s or ministry’s proposal for the site.

This beautiful 1936 building is testament to a government that aimed to improve the lives and health of its citizens in a way that contrasts with today’s government response to the health and wellbeing of Egyptians, especially the poor. The building, so far, has survived, even though it has been hollowed. But Bulaq Hospital must be saved to fulfill  its intended function. While the six star St. Regis hotel rises across the street, Bulaq General Hospital sits empty and ignored. Millions of dollars are poured into an exclusive facility that will cater to birds of passage. Not a penny from this or other investments benefit the community, not even towards fixing the hospital across the street.

 [building detail: a stair]

[A side view of the hospital with the World Trade Center in the background]

[old sign on hospital fence: Planned Parenthood unit]

‘To Revive Authenticity’ on Sharia al-Muizz

By Frederick Deknatel

The Sabil-Kuttab of ‘Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda is at the fork on Sharia al-Muizz just north of the monumental Mamluk funerary complexes of Qalawun and Barquq. It was built four centuries after those landmarks, in 1744, by an amir “noted for his high style of living and his liberal patronage of the arts,” in the words Caroline Williams, Cairo’s longtime architectural historian. It’s an epitaph that, I imagine, Farouk Hosny, the ex-Minister of Culture and Mubarak’s longest serving confidante, would like to own someday.

Hosny positioned himself at the head of the pyramid of ministries and bureaucracies that administered the Historic Cairo Restoration Project, the more than a decade long refurbishment of al-Muizz that was launched by presidential decree in 1998. The ministry of housing and the Cairo governorate were major partners in the project, but Hosny made sure he and his ministry had the most power over planning and especially purses. Numbers are vague, as with most things bureaucratic in Egypt. But the Historic Cairo project’s budget has been described at over LE 850 million, with al-Muizz getting the majority of that share for the restoration of historic buildings (as well as the stylistically bland beautification of Muizz’s modern, concrete ones), the leveling and repaving of the street, and the installation of the LED lights that now illuminate Fatimid Cairo’s historic avenue at night.

After January 25th the police enforcement of Muizz as a pedestrian zone, with heavily regulated car traffic, ended – police had other things to do. A walk down Muizz in the daytime now requires dodging busy car traffic, and risking having your foot run-over by a car wedging its way down the street, between the narrow sidewalk and a crowd outside a fish stand. When this happened to me last August, my foot was surprisingly fine – and the driver smiled sheepishly and threw up his hands in soft apology. A walk down Muizz in the evening is closer to Hosny’s vision, since the buildings glow every night in LED radiance, including a strange stream of purple outside the entrance to the madrasa of Barquq.

Early on in the Muizz restoration, Williams and other international architects and historians criticized the Egyptian government and its culture ministry for the project’s view of heritage tourism as “the ultimate panacea for the Islamic monuments in Cairo.” Williams spoke for many critics when she slammed the Muizz project: it wasn’t preservation but a scheme, she wrote, “of turning medieval Cairo into a sanitized tourist district featuring inauthentic but atmospheric monuments deprived of their living character.”

The ministry and the Supreme Council of Antiquities hosted a conference in 2002 to stem such bad press. The heavy text produced and published for the conference, called simply Historic Cairo, outlined the Muizz project monument by monument, since a lack of documentation was a unifying critique. But the language used by Hosny in his haughty introduction betrayed the government’s long-held view that Egyptians must be separated from their urban and architectural heritage. “It has been crucial to redress the afflictions that have debilitated Cairo as a result of the vicissitudes of its long history and the infringements of successive generations of inhabitants,” Hosny wrote. “Such transgressions have been due to the pressing need to gain a livelihood, impelling individuals to encroach upon the unparalleled monuments that history has entrusted us with.” 

In other words, everyday Egyptians, particularly those working in workshops in Gamaliya, are a threat to Islamic monuments and their tourist potential, rather the living inhabitants, even the custodians, of an historic city. Public involvement was the last thing on the mind of the planners of the Muizz project. As a philosophy for preservation, and indeed urban and economic development, this idea of separating people from space and architecture, and relocating them altogether, spread throughout the Mubarak regime. The ministry of housing and its subsidiary General Office of Physical Planning, the force behind the fantasy of Cairo 2050, practiced urban planning as a tool for regime preservation and profit. Their “wide-range strategic plan for Greater Cairo” hinged on how to maximize the speculative potential of the desert cities and clear the informal, urban fabric near the Nile to make way for high-rises and elite real estate, while turning all of historic Cairo, from Gamaliya all the way south to Sultan Hassan and Ibn Tulun, into “The Open Museum, Fatimid Cairo.” Muizz was the model for historic Cairo in this authoritarian vision. The oldest quarters of the city – where workshops and craftsmen, some traditional, some not, cluster among medieval mosques, tombs, and forgotten palaces – would become an “open-air museum” home to streets “free from traffic and haggling,” as the New York Times wrote of Muizz after its reopening.

“To revitalise this street is to revive authenticity,” Hosny wrote proudly in the introduction to another book on the Muizz refurbishment, a glossy, hardcover text published recently by the ministry of culture, called simply The Great Street. But what was the regime’s idea of authenticity? Hosting the minister of culture’s galas and elite parties in the restored complex of Qalawun? Adapting every restored wikala into another “cultural center” that mostly sits empty?

The storefronts on the most northern stretch of Muizz, outside the mosque of al-Hakim and Bab al-Futuh, were cleared of their bustling onion and lemon markets, replaced with rows of shisha shops. To this an architect working in Muizz told me, “The entire street is a shisha market! The entire medieval Cairo of our times is a shisha market!”

Read more from Frederick Deknatel on his blog, Hidden Cities.

This article will be available in Arabic in a forthcoming Cairobserver print publication.

Update February 10: A water pipe burst on the evening of Feb 10 causing severe flooding in the historic street. Water pipes were replaced as part of the renovation project described above. The problem was later resolved.

Destruction Alert: Ibn Tulun Aqueduct in Basateen

By Yahia Shawkat

The Ibn Tulun Aqueduct is a rare public works structure that dates back 1100 years to the Tulunid Empire. The mudbrick and stone structure that uses to run south-north for about 4km from a desrt spring to the Tulunid settlement has largely been demolished as Cairo has expanded over the last century.

What has survived till the recent incident has been parts of the southern-most sector of the aqueduct of about 870m long where only 540m of that portion remain preserved, while the rest is merely below-ground remains. There is also the water-wheel tower in the community of Beir Om Al Sultan in Basateen.

Efforts by the local council to preserve what remains of the aqueduct have focused on the southern part of that sector where a “public garden” had been planted enclosed within a  fence. The northern part of the sector lies in a main traffic artery where commuters traverse the aqueduct through a gap of about 20m between the north part and the south part.

The north part has lay under debris and garbage for most of the last ten years where occasional clean-ups by the local council have exposed parts of the ancient structure but somehow the heavy machinery has left it intact until the most recent of these cleanups in December 2011.

 About 30m of the aqueduct were removed during that clean up by the front loaders and sent to the landfill along with the garbage. That amounts to roughly 6% of the preserved portion that is still above ground. It is not apparent whether this removal by the workers was deliberate – to free up the traffic artery – or misguided as only those familiar with the area understood what the debris covered, and at that point none of the structure was visible in that particular section except for three arches as shown in the photographs.

It is very regrettable that such an incident has been allowed to happen by ALL authorities involved in the responsibility of protecting that monument. I hope that these authorities will take sustainable actions to preserve what is left of this rare monument rather than merely reacting to the destruction. If it would be the latter, then they should not bother to do anything.

Read Environmental Voices: Of biohazards, 1100 year old monuments and participatory planning for more about the aqueduct.

For an archive of early 20th century photographs of the aqueduct, click here.

Read more from Yahia Shawkat on his blog, Shadow Ministry of Housing.

What’s going on with heritage management?

Excerpt from Al-Ahram Weekly:

Netherlands/Flemish Institute in Cairo (NVIC) and the American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE) convened a one-day Heritage Management Workshop on 22 November to review the current situation in Egypt and discuss a way forward. In her opening address Kim Duistermaat, director of the Netherlands Institute, which hosted the event, said:  “Archaeology is no longer purely an academic discipline. Research and site protection are two sides of the same coin. Archaeology is a study of the past; site management relates to the present.”

The participants had this to say:

"Any project to save an historical or archaeological area is doomed to failure unless it takes into account that the monuments themselves form but an infinitesimal part of the social fabric of an area."

"To revitalise and successfully conserve an area depends on understanding the forces that created it in the first place, the pattern of streets or waterways, domestic architecture, as well as commercial and manufacturing activities."

"The further training of professionals is essential and so is community involvement." "Something has to be done about the structure of politics and regulations."

"The grassroots of society have to be taken into consideration because they are every bit as concerned about the country’s heritage as the policy-making segment of the community."

"Education is vital."

"Get more young students involved."

"It is not possible to develop and implement long-term plans for conservation and to subsequently maintain sites, without qualified employees, and an educated populace."

Read full report, here.

The community of Al-Darb Al-Ahmar is one of the oldest in Cairo and so are it’s houses. This film follows the work of local architects as they try to redesign the old houses to cope with growing families. By Oliver Wilkins.

Below is an excerpt from an article titled “Community approach to rehabilitation of historic district” on Al Masry Al Youm:

“People wanted to be involved in the process, in order to feel that it is theirs,” recalls Dr. Shehayeb’s assistant Suzan Shabry. Significantly, the part of the residents’ contribution to households’ improvements increased from 8 percent for the first building to 50 percent in buildings rehabilitated in 2009.

The Agha Khan’s integrated project for ADAA encompasses several complementary programs, each focusing on a specific aspect - namely housing rehabilitation, infrastructure, employment, social services, and micro-credit - under the coordination of Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Community Development Company (CDC).

Read full article, here.

Tanbali Hammam, Bab el-She3riya

Al-Tanbali is one of the few hammam structures in Cairo that maintains most of its original structural and architectural features; that is, it did not suffer irreversible damage - it is also claimed to be one of the most elaborate architecturally of the existing hammams in Cairo. This state of affairs may be due to the fact that it had been in continuous use until 2002 when it was purchased by the Egyptian Antiquity Department, registered as »monument« and closed. Hammam al-Tanbali has, thus, been selected as an example of »tangible heritage« since its spatial organisation, heating system and many of its architectural features and decorative elements could be restored as part of a broader development scheme where alternative scenarios for the use or adaptive re-use may be introduced.

Watch how locals from the neighborhood feel about hammams, here.

read more here.

مشروع بحثى ممول من الاتحاد الأوروبى تحت اشراف المجلس الأعلى للآثار. للمزيد من المعلومات اضغط هنا

There is already a monument

 “Architecture is the expression of every society’s very being.… [But] only the ideal being of society, the one that issues orders and interdiction with authority, is expressed in architectural compositions in the strict sense of the word…. Thus great monuments rise up like levees, opposing the logic of majesty and authority to any confusion: Church and State in the form of cathedrals and palaces speak to the multitudes, or silence them. It is obvious that monuments inspire social good behavior in societies and often even real fear. The storing of the Bastille is symbolic of this state of affairs: it is hard to explain this mass movement other than through the people’s animosity (animus) against monuments that are its real masters.”—   George Bataille


The increased presence of military personnel during the years of WWII intensified the awareness of the occupation which was not welcomed. Cairo was ready for revolution. Ismailiyya Square was the stage of the killing of thirty Egyptians who demonstrated at the steps of Kasr al-Nil Barracks, still occupied by British troops. The building and the square gained an increasingly negative image during this period and were seen as symbols of corruption, occupation, and injustice. When British troops left the Barracks in 1947, the King personally ordered the demolition of this grand building which was originally built to house the Egyptian army. the nervous king must have seen the destruction of the building as a message to the population that he too was anti-occupation. In reality, the building itself had nothing to do with the occupation and destroying it did nothing to change Egypt’s political situation or the role of the British in the country. but the visibility of buildings make them associated with the political powers who occupy them and therefore the stones somehow become politicized.

Imagine Tahrir Square if the barracks building was still there, of course its function would have evolved over time and most probably it could have been transformed into a municipality building or even a hotel with the two central gardens overlooking the Nile. It would have been amazing to be able to stand in Tahrir, look at the old barracks building and be able to trace the changing history that it has experienced from Egyptian Army, to British, to Independence then whatever functions it may have had. Adaptive reuse circa 1947 Cairo would have been a great argument to make rather than simply raze a building and with it erasing history. if people in power would always have their way to destroy buildings that occupied or housed or were used by opposing/colonial or disliked political symbols then our cities would never evolve and the memories and histories that are loaded onto buildings would be reduced to a few old pictures and anecdotes that survive those acts of revenge on architecture.


Now also in Tahrir Square another building is being targeted by the same destructive logic. The torched former headquarters of the National Democratic Party slightly north of the site of the former barracks awaits an order to raze it to the ground. As if all Egypt’s problems have been already solved this building has been recieving a fare share of discussion regarding its fate. all opinions agree that it must be torn down and the question is what should be done with its location. some have suggested a garden for the Egyptian Museum, others suggested offices for human rights organizations.

The building opened in 1958 along with the Hilton and the Arab League, all three buildings forming Nasser’s new Nile skyline. Initially the building housed the Cairo Municipality, later its function changed to house the Socialist Party and later yet it housed offices for various political organizations such as the Women’s Union before finally becoming the headquarters of the NDP. the buidling itself is a typical concrete 1950s slab with a regular facade and balanced proportions. it is part of Egypt’s history and part of the evolution of Tahrir Square.

Now, my guess is that the fire that broke out in the building on January 28 did not structurally damage the concrete monolith. However the fire did leave some very visible scars on the facade. while amatures and architects scramble to come up with a monument to place in Tahrir, the torched NDP building stands as the most visiually powerful monument to the revolution. Here was the symbol of the country’s untouchable ruling elite torched on the “day of anger.” so why the rush to tear down this most powerful visiual reminder of the people’s will and their ability to bring down a corrupt elite?

I think it is time to break the cycle of taking out our anger on buildings. There is no need to constantly “cleanse” the cityscape of “unsightly” reminders of aspects of our past some powerful politicians may not want to keep around. I think the best way to come to terms with what just happened to Egypt and its momentous revolution by keeping the torched NDP building as a reminder to us Egyptians of what people power has done but also as a reminder to politicians that they too could be swept away by the people.

How to keep the building is another question: I am not suggesting we leave this massive building in such a prime location vacant like Beirut’s Holiday INN. I can imagine the shell of the building remaining with the interiors renovated to house whatever institutions the city decides, perhaps human rights organizations as it has been suggested. but the skin of the building should continue to show proudly the marks left by the flames that toppled one of the most powerful and oppressive regimes in modern Middle Eastern history.

Related article, here.