Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cairo. Quest for Space

Above the Ground

Based on the ingenuity and criticalness by which Cairenes have taken to finding space in which to live, one would imagine that there just is not enough space for everyone. The unfortunate thing is that there is enough housing in this city. But, it is just not affordable. So, I guess there is really not much of a difference. David Sims, an urban planner and economist I met with, differentiates between speculative demand and utility demand. The crazy thing is that in new planned communities on the outside of Cairo, 75% of the housing units are EMPTY. People have bought units in the hopes that their son will get married and move into it, or that they will sell once the prices increase. This was reinforced as we drove through the planned community of Beverly Hills, and it seemed like a ghostland.

New Vacant Housing

The intense quest for space supports many amazing sights. To me, the first noticeable one was the balconies of apartments. Each one is totally different. The buildings become collages of layer and layers of individuality. Some produce a rich formal language, breaking up the monotony of the fa├žade, while others, combined with the scattered and omnipresent satellite dishes and air conditioners produce a more chaotic building expression.

Buildings as Collage

But, beyond the appeal of the formal language, people use their balconies to allow their home to be dynamic and responsive. But, a range of classes have enclosed their balconies, not just the poorest ones. One architect we met with described the balcony enclosure issue as giving poor people no choice. The balcony should be used as an outdoor space for pleasure. But, as the size of an apartment and ability to receive people in a separate room is often a sign of status, people have added on. And unlike in America, people don’t move. They can’t, as they won’t be able to find housing. So, they make do with where they are.

Balcony Additions

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