REVITALIZATION AND UPGRADING OF THE CENTRAL ZONE OF KHEDIVE’S CAIRO – INTERNATIONAL RESTRICTED COMPETITION
The competition’s program for the revitalisation of downtown Cairo sought to reaffirm its ecumenical and patrimonial values in the present time. To do so, the need for a new centrality, closely followed by strategies for the creation of a new, more human scale, became clear.
Taking into account the clear cultural differences in the use of public space, compared with the West (even if there is a certain degree of fascination for western behaviour and daily urban life), what immediately drew our attention was the almost complete absence of any significant public space or even urban voids of any size worth mentioning.
The town’s great urban void is the Nile itself, the empty area that is its riverbed, its river course and its shoreline. It makes a profound impression on our senses when we approach this large area where everything changes – the light, the level of air pollution, the temperature, the breeze, and the vastness of the view. This void is still thought of in this way by the locals, who seek it out, mostly in the summer, as an out-of-the-ordinary space, of coolness, of evening breezes, improvising on the shores and the bridges, resting and contemplation areas. Cairo’s public spaces are mostly the setting for domestic, family, or personal activity, acting as extensions for life inside the home – eating, sleeping, watching television, playing music, listening to music, dancing, praying or spaces for trading. Public space is more a space where a lot of domestic activities coincide than a truly collective space; this great emphasis on a collective spatial appropriation is a result of its receptiveness to domesticity.
The way in which the car has dominated the city’s outside spaces is notorious, and no less impressive than other appropriations. Every void is defined by the crushing weight of rules and shapes adapted to circulation of traffic. In the struggle between pedestrian and car, the latter has destroyed one after another every open space with enough charisma to become an iconic representation of the town. In the absence of such spaces weddings are photographed on the Nile bridges, in front of hotels, and in the Zoological Gardens.
There was a clear need to unite efforts to redefine the balance between spaces for the circulation of traffic and that of pedestrians, a task that would inevitably lead to restructuring the road layout, formulating new street profiles and new circulation schemes. All of this has varying degrees of complexity, and needed distinct time frames to allow the city to grow accustomed to new ways of living.
It would be our responsibility as a participating team to find solutions that encouraged these new ways of life, new formulas of public space better adapted to the city’s contemporary needs yet showing deep respect for the ancient history of the site.