13 December 2022

Cairo Bike Live Project: Collaboration across borders

Our Live Projects are an opportunity for students studying on our Part 2 courses, and our MA Architectural Design, to take part in projects working with real clients drawn from charities, local authorities and community organisations.

Team in Cairo
The team in Cairo

Note

Live Projects are a pioneering educational initiative introduced by the School of Architecture at the University of Sheffield.

Masters architecture students work in Live Project groups with a range of clients including local community groups, charities, health organisations and regional authorities. Live Projects include design/build, masterplanning, building feasibility studies, sustainability strategies, online resources and participation toolkits.  In every case, the project is real, happening in real time with real people.

This year our students worked on a wide range of projects. Many of these projects are based in Sheffield, and include repurposing buildings, making more effective use of existing space and engaging young people in the local community. Some of these are based in the wider Yorkshire area, including Barnsley, Goldthorpe, Leeds, and Stalybridge. And this year one of our projects was a collaboration with the American University in Cairo. 

Hammad is a sixth year student on our MArch Architecture: Collaborative Practice course. Here he writes about his experience working on this year's Cairo Bike project. 

After the abandonment of travel throughout the pandemic, the yearning to once again connect with our urban world was needed. As a part of the annual Live Projects initiative at the Sheffield School of Architecture, such an opportunity to broaden horizons came to the forefront this year with the Cairo Bike Live Project - a unique collaboration between the University of Sheffield, The American University in Cairo and the UN Habitat. As a group of 15 Master students and academics we embarked on this project to explore a new bike sharing scheme within downtown Cairo, looking at sustainable active transport gearing up for COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh. 
As a student who just completed the first year of MArch Collaborative Practice and had limited involvement with university in my first year, being a part of the Cairo group for my final year of study ensured that I was able to fully experience and take advantage of everything that is associated with this group venture; a time to really go beyond what was expected of me.


Pre-Trip

With Jack Shenker (Guardian Correspondent for Egypt)
With Jack Shenker (Guardian Correspondent for Egypt)

With the group being selected carefully based on an initial expression of interest, we had little knowledge of what the project brief entailed apart from the fact that it was overseas in Egypt. For many of us it was stepping into the unknown - but I think that's where the excitement came from.

The group had a diverse structure with local, national and international students aiming to bring about a fruitful team dynamic. For many of us Egypt's climate, context and culture was not within our knowledge, so the initial 2 weeks of the project revolved around dissecting the brief, carrying out thorough desktop research and using professional contacts with prior knowledge of Cairo to gain an understanding of the city. The communication with the American University in Cairo also began during this phase but was limited to only introductions.

The Trip

During our third week of Live Projects we travelled to Cairo, our expectations were about to be confronted with the reality on the ground. With an early transfer from the Arts Tower to a direct flight from London Heathrow, we finally arrived in the Egyptian capital - the city of a thousand minarets. A city of 22 Million people. A megalopolis. As the aircraft began its decent into Cairo international we were awestruck by the urban fabric beneath us, a vast maze of informal settlements (the 'ashwa'iyat'). We proceeded to our hotel in Cairo, driving through the city and navigating through the dense traffic and heavy activity. As we saw a glimpse of the Nile River we arrived in Zamalek, our base for the week.

The first day involved orientation and getting to know our collaborators for the project at the American University of Cairo which was situated in the New City, about an hour from Downtown. Met with sheer joy and excitement, Momen El-Husseiny, Assistant Professor in Architecture and Urban Design at AUC gave us a tour of the campus, explaining its design principles and theoretical approach. The first meeting with the students was rather fruitful, with it being a chance to get to know one another and establish a framework for the days ahead.

Orientation at AUC New Campus
Orientation at AUC New Campus

The next day involved city excursions from the Great Pyramids of Giza and Sphinx to the Citadel of Saladin, the Mosque of Mohammed Ali and the Museum of Egyptian Civilization. This was a chance for us to learn more about the history and heritage of this ancient hub and to really spend time within our collective. 

Urban sketch of the Great Pyramids of Giza
Urban sketch of the Great Pyramids of Giza

The following day we made our way to Tahrir Square at the heart of downtown Cairo; a vital piece of the city and a landmark location that bears testimony to the resilience of the Egyptian people. At the campus we gained an insight from UN Habitat and their progress and plans for Cairo Bike along with guidance from design thinking professionals from the institution.

The design challenge involved looking at a part of Downtown Cairo and assessing the conditions for cycling, suggesting solutions that could be taken forward. This was a chance for students of both institutions to come together and work collectively in a specific context bringing in a new perspective from our side whilst utilising the local knowledge of those from Cairo.

Design Challenge Day
Design Challenge Day

The following two days consisted of group reflections and continued site observations whilst maintaining communication with our AUC counterparts and working towards a design response in relation to active transport. 

Site observations
Site observations

As our time in Cairo slowly began to come to an end, we took part in a Symposium at the AUC new campus where we collated, documented, presented and then unpacked our findings to the whole cohort, reflecting on the success of the design process and identifying areas for continued research. The session was a chance to really celebrate this unique collaboration and to look back at what we had achieved in such a short space of time. Learning from one another in a supported environment and bridging our expertise cohesively that transcends borders. 

Symposium Day
Symposium Day

The Cairo Bike scheme was launched during our visit and inaugurated by the Prime Minister of Egypt Mostafa Madbouly and the Governor of Cairo. We tested out the bikes in the locality to mark the end of our time in Egypt. 

Launch Event
Launch Event
Bike lanes on launch day
Bike lanes on launch day

Reflection

Cairo Bike Live Project design
Cairo Bike Live Project design

This whole project has no doubt been a challenging experience, we were faced with multiple difficulties, changing clients and briefs, working internationally and in a different language. However the strong collaboration between Sheffield and Cairo has emphasised how Live Projects can exist in different ways. We had to make social, cultural and political considerations that we wouldn't typically have made in the UK. The 'liveness' started with how we had to adapt and improvise on the ground, adjusting to cultural attitudes, working with varied pedagogical approach and connecting with different groups of people. The whole project has been about empowering communities through local design engagement and developing ideas for sustainable infrastructure. With the primary aim of the Live Project module being to provide us students with an experience of real practice work and collaborative working, this particular project far exceeded that and left a very positive impact on each and every single one of us.

The Future

This has been a trailblazer partnership that carries real potential in becoming an exemplar for future research prospects and a vehicle to broaden the scope of Live Projects itself. Following on from this, one of the MArch studios also visited Cairo in the month ahead looking into the informal settlements of City of the Dead and Garbage City - a chance to continue the narrative within this context and to look further into the layers that connects its people to the place, history and culture. These experiences truly do leave a mark within our academic journey and leaves us hopeful of what is to come.

Hammad Haider , Year 6 MArch Collaborative Practice 

Find out more about Live Projects

Weekly online events

Attend an online event when it suits you, all year round, as an alternative to an open day.

Every Wednesday, Sheffield Live sessions cover different aspects of University life. You can also meet your department and learn more about studying your subject.