(re)-Activist Architecture


Informal City 

Studio tutor: Simon Baker

The Informal City – a chaotic megalopolis where life is characterised by extremes.

One of the world’s largest cities, Cairo is home to 17 million residents. 70 percent of Cairenes live in informal settlements.  The failure of the government to provide affordable housing for a significant number of Cairenes has led many to build — illegally — on privately-owned or public land. 

On most maps “ashwa’iyat” (‘disordered’ or ‘haphazard’) neighbourhoods are lumped together into an amorphous hinterland.  Informal areas suffer from problems of accessibility, the absence of open spaces, extreme density, insufficient infrastructure, and public services, such as water, sewage, garbage collection, electricity, schools, health centres, clinics, and social facilities. 

Urban authorities, aware of what is happening outside official regulations, have adopted a laissez-faire policy, supported by system corruption that has ensured tolerance; “policies of negligence”. Official speeches present the informal city as a social threat and a disease that should be removed from the city with the adoption of policies of brutal eradication.

The informal city hosts not only the urban poor, but also the young, the middle class, educated families, university students, and public sector employees in search of affordability.  A culture of “guhood zateya” (self-help) prevails, where inhabitants prioritise mutual cooperation over transactional competition….an autonomous social power.  

The studio will promote the systematic integration of the “urban poor” into the city. Our interventionist efforts will not squander valuable resources on replacing what is already working. We will target strategies of improvement, filling the gaps in infrastructure where services are completely lacking.  

We will imagine future conditions and craft a collaborative narrative interplay between reality and fiction, developing a critical take on the idea of reverse infrastructure and a user-generated city. An implementation strategy that considers the needs of the residents to create a common vision to upgrade the informal.

Four students laughing while sat at a bench, outside the Students' Union

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