In Egypt, mass housing projects follow an industrial view with standardization as their main objective to save cost and speed up construction. Public and private sector developers fill large parcels of desert land with thousands of apartments, all having the same design and yet many of these cities remain ghost cities. In Greater Cairo Region, home to almost 25% of all Egyptians, an estimated 65% of the population live in informal housing. In Egypt as a whole, between the years 1986 and 1996, 45% of new housing units constructed were ‘informally” built without license and without an architect. While 22 new cities were planned since the 1970s all around Egypt, most of them did not attain 25% of their target population. Why do people still choose to live in poorly serviced informal areas, rather than move to those planned new cities? Because ‘livability’ is low; because streets are designed as roads; because walking to school and to daily needs becomes impossible or unsafe; because public space is left-over space, poorly designed and underused; because people have to muscle their way in ‘informal’ mass transit stops that have no space dedicated for them. Egypt graduates around 5000 architects annually, yet these problems keep getting worse, and Egyptian policy makers and professionals are still building more of the same.
Architecture world-wide has been suffering fragmentation within the profession into specializations by scale of intervention (architecture, urban design, landscape design, urban planning…); narrow definitions of “function;” standardized design patterns led by real estate developers of homes, work environments and public service centers; blindness to contextual and cultural factors, and most importantly to the lifestyle and needs of users. All those factors have their roots in architectural education. More and more practitioners and academics around the world realize that the role of the architect is shrinking to aesthetic considerations while the genius loci of design and planning are taken over by real estate developers and politicians. They see the need for multidisciplinary approaches, for considering both tangible and intangible factors, for integrative methods and skills. They realized that architectural education has to qualify graduates to address those real life challenges.
In Egypt architectural education still suffers from:
- A shrinking knowledge base confined to normative theory rather than explanatory theory that gives architects required tools to base their design on.
- Advancement in tools of visualization and computer-generated forms aim at achieving ‘novelty’ rather than multidimensional ‘functionality’.
- The way its knowledge base is taught (hard and soft sciences) lacks the relevance to architecture and lacks inter-disciplinary connections.
- Integrating human factors into architecture and the engineering sciences is still a challenge as human aspects are often deemed immeasurable.
Egyptian architects need to be given the tools to overcome these shortcomings. On the one hand, Egypt is in the process of revising its policies and strategies towards urban development as a whole. On the other hand, young architects are frustrated at witnessing mistakes repeated, at seeing resources go to waste. They are seeking alternative ways and working individually or as part of think tanks with local communities in an unconventional manner experimenting with participatory and more integrative approaches; seeking to compensate for the shortage in their professional training.
This project will address these contemporary needs and utilize up-to-date technology to assist in integrating the spectrum of disciplines that form the foundation of architectural education bringing people back to the center as the primary concern of architecture, urban design and planning.
Vision/ Innovative Character/ Innovative Features
The vision is to develop academic programs that are “innovative;” reconciling technology and culture, reconciling arts, social sciences and engineering, utilizing latest technology in a context-sensitive manner to address the challenges facing the building of human settlements that support and sustain the wellbeing, prosperity and fulfillment of human values.
Innovative elements include:
- People-oriented, experiential-based teaching material founded on multidisciplinary and integrative approaches that cuts across the scales of professional intervention (architecture, urban design, landscape design, urban planning).
- Programs that produce socially responsible architects who consider people’s needs and lifestyles as a primary function of architecture and urban design based on an integrative knowledge of human interaction with place, of change over time, and of urban dynamics.
- Programs that equip architects to bridge the gap between theory, research, design and practice, as well as between disciplines offering interdisciplinary constructs, methods and tools of inquiry, participatory design thinking and grounded theories to understand and design the built environment.
- Programs where this integrative approach to architecture is enabled by a strong IT component that maximizes the efficiency and expands disciplines into dimensions beyond their conventional boundaries.
- Programs that capitalize on the integrative thematic strength of each partner university and introduces Virtual Reality, and 3D scanning to provide media and tools for the new generation of architects to further their capacity in documentation, analysis, design and evaluation.
- Programs that offer unique courses to all academic partners relying on the rich context of the Egyptian experience as an open City Lab that embodies diverse phenomena, challenges and opportunities and lessons relevant to the future of cities worldwide.
Aims and Objectives
The aim of the project is to develop a new breed of architects capable of initiating a paradigm shift in Egyptian architecture practice; to become more integrative, multidisciplinary, people-centred, and technologically agile, utilizing ICT enabling technology to better consider the social and psychological dimensions of design and meet the needs of current and future generations, to create supportive and inclusive settlements that positively impact human well-being, safety and satisfaction leading to the prosperity of cities convincing other actors and shapers of the environment to adopt this approach. This is realized through the following objectives and milestones:
- Develop gap analysis of architecture education, role of architecture in community, integrative approaches and ICT enabling technology.
- Develop ECTS-based 5-year undergraduate academic system in integrative architecture and urban design offered at NU/SCU/AU with EU-student exchange ingredient.
- Develop professional training modules for integrative approaches and tools in Building Ecology, Contemporary Cities and Human Behaviour.
- Introduce Virtual Reality and ICT as enabling technologies and develop Egypt’s first Virtual Architecture Studio for 3D stereoscopic, immersive, shared learning environment.
- Develop the academic program in a modular fashion integrating core architecture and urban design knowledge with social, environmental and human factors.
- Develop integrative human and practicum “plug-ins” for existing courses offered at EG universities.
- Accredit developed program in EG and EU.
- Establish exchange links between EG and EU.
- Implement the program during the project lifetime.
The 4 milestones being:
- Gap analysis to identify road map.
- Develop integrative, multidisciplinary, people-centered undergraduate and professional development programs.
- Train EG instructors.
- Implement the program.
If properly implemented, future and current architects and urban designers shall find means to enhance their capabilities with knowledge, methods and skills in high demand as they will be able to successfully address unresolved problems in housing, revitalization of city centres, and designing neighbourhoods that people would actually want to move to. This would open their work opportunities whether in public or private firms, or having their own practice. This way four pillars of architecture education shall be erected (students with integrative mindsets, instructors, interactive teaching methodology, supporting academic and professional resources). This shall ensure the sustainable supply of qualified architects properly equipped to initiate change that would relief stress off millions of Egyptians by providing a supportive built environment that facilitates daily life activities, rather than an impeding one.