Cairo is a city that is an architectural and urban design disaster. If the sentence is true that “all Egyptians want to be designers”, as one professor of the applied arts tells me, then it is a pity that this was not the case at least 30 years ago. Cairo is the city of the block, the slab, the monolith. It reflects the nimbus of construction in the country, whose first industrial champion was Arab Contractors, a state corporation that privatized and is now tantamount to a state itself. Having built the Assuan Dam it branched out. And was soon followed by the cement industry, which was in turn followed by the light breeze-brick industry. The slabs are often only two apartment boxes wide, with a single utility shaft for the elevator, stairs and piping. The sides of the building are left bare, no money shelled out for plasterwork – the desert dust will sandblast the red bricks beige soon enough.

Meaning that unless a tenant decides to paint the façade around the balcony, all buildings look alike in terms of dingy color tone, and their shapes differ only depending on whether they are cylindrical (next to the Nile) or a greater or lesser grid of boxes. And each sand-colored building is topped in the same inimitable way: by a crown of satellite dishes, all aligned in the same direction such that if you buzzed the city with a small plane the impression looking down would probably be similar to gazing across an extensive field of mussels all standing in rows reaching up into the water – from the sandy seabed below. Even at 25 storeys in height, it is a matter of 25 layers of identicalness. Difference is a matter of the interiors or the street life at ground level, or the proximity of gardens or parks, of which there are many – despite the excessive price of land that has prompted all these buildings to rush upwards, clamoring for space.



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