Thursday, March 14, 2019

Beyond Cairo's Painted Buildings

Much of the informal housing around the identified by an aesthetic that is often seen as unsightly and uncontrolled, as it is one of constant change and pure utility in many cases.  And yet, in the eyes of many, particularly those who hold power, these neighborhoods often represent areas that need to be "controlled". Some recent efforts in Cairo highlight the differences in two approaches.  One approach highlighted is in this article from the New York Times, where President Sisi is wanting all buildings along the way to the pyramids to be painted, so they will look better from the main road, with the expectation that buildings owners would pay for it.  

When I drove along the road to the pyramids many years ago, I was astounded by the scale and pace of the farmland being converted into housing, much of it unregulated in Giza.  And yet, in the midst of it, people have already been using paint to stake their claim and identify their spaces in these new buildings.



The other approach highlighted is an expansive mural painted on buildings in Manshiet Nasser, a neighborhood in Cairo, where residents collect and process much of city's garbage.  They actually use their houses to store and process the garbage. And while the mural is certainly a very superficial aesthetic improvement (and only works when viewed from one particular spot-see below), this article highlights the fact that the relationships that the artists developed during the process of painting may have been more significant than the resulting piece of art.  And in many ways, this highlights the very nature of the informal settlements- that they are constantly in the process of change and never a finished product.

I had the fortune of visiting this extraordinary neighborhood in 2008 and was able to take a photo from the same spot from which the mural was to be viewed. I love being able to see how transformations have taken place over time. With that said, I was a little surprised that these buildings had not grown more during the 10 year span.  But maybe I shouldn't be, given the discrimination and tragedies that have struck this neighborhood during that time.

Picture I took from same spot in 2008
Most cities depend on facilities and machines to process waste.  Yet, in this neighborhood, most of it is done by and hand and with the help of animals, and many structures are used exclusively to store trash.  There is an even a non-profit that recycles all of the paper and turns it into new paper products (letterhead, bags, etc.), providing an additional income stream for the community.  It felt like an oasis in the middle of an urban jungle unlike any other I have seen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Check out this fascinating video, highlighting Bolivia's "Indigenous Bourgeoisie", which is growing signficanlty with Evo Morales continued tenure are President and a growing economy.  It highlights the city of El Alto and the Andean Style architecture, which has a unique aesthetic, but uses the house in to generate and create income to help fuel the new buying power of a historically powerless population.
El Alto was also the focus of my study in 2009 where I highlighted these very issues. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Kambimoto: Three Years Later

In the summer of 2011, I was able to return to Nairobi, as a team member of Mathare Valley slum-upgrading program.  I stopped by the Kambimoto upgrading project that I had documented in the summer of 2008, and found that it has continued to grow, adapt, and change.
The Kambimoto project was a result of many years of diligent work by Pamoja Trust working with a small slum in the Mathare Valley, north of Nairobi.  The resulting housing was incremental, where each family started with a basic one bedroom, one-story space that could eventually be expanded vertically up to three stories.  In 2008, the project was still under construction, although many units had been completed and families had moved in.  In 2011, the entire project was still under development due to lack of funds, but many individual units had been expanded and the overall space had been transformed significantly.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Incremental Upgrading in India
An interesting project surfaced on Dezeen that highlighted an incremental upgrading strategy in Pune, India, which was to be designed to be implemented in other places as well.  While the images provide a provocative and compelling new vision of the community, they are basically reorganizing and formalizing what the people and the communities are already doing.  It does beg the question if we give ourselves (architects) too much credit for coming up with something new and game changing. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

New Incremental Urbanism

Driving down US-19 from Bryson City to Cherokee, NC, there exists a campground that is unique even for Western North Carolina.  While it is not uncommon to see RV's with permanent roofs built over them, this particular campground in the small community of Ella was extraordinary because so many of the structures, as well as the community itself, had become permanent.

Most campgrounds of this sort provide summer havens for people from the deep south.  In the summer, they can bring their homes up to the cooler mountains, and then in winter, they can take them back where it is warmer.  However, many people now live in this community permanently, as they have found a way to exand their living space while not having to pay the high costs of land and materials typicaly in many houses in Western North Carolina.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Design and Social Change in Hale County, Alabama

20k house
Last year, I took a trip to Hale County, Alabama.  My goal was to connect with Pam Dorr, the director of HERO (Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization).  We arrived one spring day just in time for lunch, and she suggested we get some catfish at the local gas station, Mustang Oil. Soon, the four of us has ballooned into 10 people.  We ran into the local judge, and some long term and short term locals soon joined us, including a filmmaker from Maine, and a psychiatrist from California who has set up a live-in farm as an alternative to an institution.  Heading into the gas station, it seemed like catfish and oil would make strange bedfellows.  But, I was quick to discover it was a good one, and that Hale County was full of such unlikely combinations.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cairo. Revolutionary Change?

Looking down at Tahrir Square (Source:
It has been extraordinary to watch the events in Egypt unfold in the last few days. In some ways, it is absolutely shocking to see the extent to which ordinary citizens have shed their fear of the government. Yet, on the other hand, it is amazing that it has taken this long. Having navigated the complete chaos of the city, visited and met citizens living in deep poverty and unimaginable living conditions, and finally watching new cities for the wealthy develop on the outskirts of Cairo, it became clear to me how broken Egyptian society had become.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

WNC Additions: Mary

Mary is currently living by herself, as she and her husband are getting a divorce. Originally, in 1984, they had a three bedroom manufactured/mobile home, but got a larger one still with three bedrooms. During this time, they had two daughters. They added a pool/workout room that now serves as a play space for the grandchildren. Unfortunately, it does not have a heat source and stays closed off in the winter. During this time, they also put a new roof on because they old one leaked. They expanded their porch and began to re-side the entire house. As Mary said, “We wanted to make it into a house.” Two years ago, they remodeled the kitchen. There were plans to remodel the rest of it, but those are on hold because of the pending divorce.

Manufactured Home Alterations

Additions include porches, new roofs, new siding, garages, and additional rooms.

I have found a number of trends in terms of how people have changed their mobile/manufactured homes. Most people find that they are built cheaply and need to make repairs or remodel, or people just want/need more space. (most of the homes I have been looking at are single-wide, just because it is an easy module to compare).

Mobile/Manufactured Homes

Manufactured home park in Boone, NC.

I spent some time exploring mobile homes in Western North Carolina. Having served as the most effective and extensive affordable housing option in the United States for the past 50 years, I was curious to learn a little more about the uses of mobile homes here, especially since many of them have been adapted and changed. Many people (especially architects) think that manufactured housing is the only way to effectively address the affordable housing crisis in the US. Unfortunately, the past is littered with brilliant architectural minds failing miserably in using mass production to produce well designed, high quality, and affordable homes. (read the excellent book: The Prefabricated Home by Colin Davies).