Dystopia, Utopia, Past and Present

by mr


30/05/2013 – 5/6/2013, Cairo, Egypt

New Cairo is a new satellite city of Cairo. Located in what was formerly a desert, the master plan was created in 2001 by a Boston firm. It is the home of the new campus of the American University in Cairo, as well as the German University in Cairo, the Future University in Egypt (FUE) and the Canadian International College (CIC). There are residences in luxury villas and condominiums located in housing developments and gated communities.


Just rendered there an hour ago. GPS is working; I am online, driving through a continuous city. Everything is sandlike yellow, buildings are big and dense. Here and there a palm tree. Different landscapes, scenarios, and setups surround me on my way from the airport to a new city. On an elevated highway surrounded by clusters of buildings and houses we are entering a modernist city. A city of engineers; not exactly how le Corbusier imagined it – as towers in nature – but as buildings surrounded by buildings, big and dense, as if it had been built for giants. The scenery starts to change and we are in the 19th century Paris; young people are protesting, there are some barricades, more young people but this time in the military role; sailing on the Nile; we soon find ourselves in the Garbage city. A busy place – nobody notices us; we arrive to what seems to us as one of the few parks there… From here you can see another slum-like neighborhood. And then it starts all over again. A nice neighborhood with landed houses in nature; the huge unfinished, unsettled city of New Cairo; the pyramids which have merged with all the other buildings in the area – somehow destroying a mythical image of Giza; an old Muslim neighborhood; a wedding; the Bazaar; and it goes on like this ceaselessly… There are just 3 weeks before another revolution.

Mohandessin, could also be spelled Mohandesin or Mohandeseen, is an up-scale neighborhood in Giza. Its name means in Arabic literally the engineers, which was because it was given to at cheaper prices to engineers in Egypt; there is a similar area in Mohandesin called Sahafeyeen (journalists), mo’alemeen (Teachers), and ateba’a (Doctors), all designed for people with these professions. Mohandessin was built in the early 1950s. It was built over agriculture land and was a massive area of villas, and mansions. However in the 1970s, the population increased dramatically, and the once rich villas neighborhood turned into crowded apartment blocks. In the last 10 years, Mohandessin became the most expensive districts to live in real estates.



The whole city is full of things. Looks like the people of Cairo do not know how to destroy things or, what we would call, recycle them. In order to do this, you need to abstract from objects. There is no practice of continuous destruction and rebuilding, a cycle, which Singapore, for instance, perfected. Things and buildings are out of time; they are just growing on top of each other, slowly filling the space, and piling up. Similar thing is happening with the streets. They are just not there. Their connectivity and mobility is lost, so they serve simply as a stage for things. Everything imaginable is happening on the street, manifested in bargaining spaces, communication spots, cultural manifestations, family gatherings, weddings… At certain moments you have a feeling that all of the 16 million people of Cairo are on the streets at once, and that they are all talking at the same time. You have to fight for your every step. Even the cars are talking – they are constantly horning and pushing each other. There are no explicit rules of how to use the street, no lanes, no difference between parking and driving. Half of the bridge is occupied by a group of people that are just hanging out there. Cars are alive in Cairo. For a newcomer in a 1974 hipster Volvo it is quite an experience. The next day the car broke down, but in Cairo everything is fixable, so is our car. With a lot of negotiating you can revive it.



Downtown Cairo, has been the urban center of Cairo, Egypt since the late 19th century, when the district was designed and built. The area, designed by prestigious French architects was commissioned by Khedive Ismail. It was he who stressed the importance of urban planning for the first time in Cairo, to include broad, linear gridded streets, geometric harmony and modern European architectural style.


Manshiyat Naser, also known as the Garbage City, is a slum settlement at the base of Mokattam Hill on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. Its economy revolves around the collection and recycling of the city’s garbage. Although the area has streets, shops, and apartments as other areas of the city, it lacks infrastructure and often has no running water, sewage, or electricity. Coptic Christians were originally the predominant inhabitants of Manshiyat Naser, though in recent decades the area’s Muslim population has grown. The Cave Cathedral or St Sama’ans Church, used by the Coptic Christians in the Garbage City, is the largest church in the Middle East, with seating for 15,000 people. The economic system in the Garbage City is classified as the informal sector. Most families typically have worked in the same area and type of specialization in the garbage piles and continue to make enough money to support themselves.


Cairo is too much. It is an incredible and overwhelming city. It doesn’t fit to any modernist, postmodernist or any other idea about cities. Its spontaneity goes beyond statistics. In Cairo, all possible timeframes are coexistent. It is now clear to me how the Hollywood is making science fiction movies. It is all there. Dystopia, utopia, the past, the present and the future. You just have to take a certain aspect of it and push it to the limit. Everything else is already there.



foto: miro roman / smartphone