Criticizing the current developments isn’t necessarily being accepted as a technical critique, rather perceived as a political one. Speed is the most important factor since the current regime is interested in implementing as many projects as possible.
Many local architects and academics don’t seem to talk openly about it for political reasons. However, the question raised by Alejandro Aravena (A well-recognized architect, international fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects) during a panel discussion at the AUC event on the 4th of April. Resulted in several debates and comments in the architects and urban planners’ communities.
The audience was introduced to the current projects during the presentation of the deputy minister of housing. Including the new administrative capital and new Alamein city. Arevanas’ question after the presentation was “is it possible that Egypt could change the path and its current direction of what was presented by the deputy minister in terms of the built environment?”. He points out that it is not about elevations. Rather the chosen materials, footprint and created shades in the streets to make it a human city. Arevana added, “I wonder if it is clear that the glass tower, is going to be the tallest greenhouse effect generator in Africa”. He then directed his question to Norman Foster (Founder and chairman of Foster and Partners, who built worldwide recognized projects ranging from urban master plans to product design) “how can we make the presented ideas and projects from the panels side the norm rather than the exception?”.
Foster answered: “History, one has to question why Egypt is building huge roadwork when elsewhere in the world the lessons have been already learned. In the Big Dig in Boston, the road of the ’60s has been ripped up and replaced with a tunnel and green parts. Creating higher value, greater mental health, and less crime. And so we have seen motorways removed and made into parks and the city doesn’t freeze, it’s liberated. In China, when I first went there you look on the road it was a sea of bicycles and now it’s a sea of cars. But everyone today is wondering how to get the bicycles back. So lessons should be learned, building motorways for something already extinct like a dinosaur. We have to learn the lessons and apply them, look far ahead and have the courage of leaders.”
Christine Binswanger commented that education would be the answer for how to make the social and environmental impacts a priority and mainstream. And added: “I was shocked by the current projects presentations I saw and would have prepared a different presentation. If I had known that this is the introduction presentation”.
The Big Dig Project
Lord Norman Foster referred to the big dig project, its rather a complicated project. The Big Dig is considered one of the most challenging infrastructure developments ever in the US. We will only discuss part of the project. The development had to deal with an existing Central Artery, six-elevated highway lanes. Expected to carry 75,000 vehicles a day. However, it has regularly carried in excess of 200,000 vehicles a day. Resulting in a continuous traffic jam in Boston and wasting lots of time and money. In addition to an unpleasant city center and dividing the city by this huge road. These elevated highways were demolished and freed up to 29 acres’ space that was replaced by parks and attractive boulevards. The roads were replaced by a 10-lane underground expressway. In several countries, the central artery in the middle of the city proved its failure. The big dig project itself was highly criticized. The central artery cost lots of money and years to build in the first place. Followed by the “beautification project” as some would call it and again cost lots of money.
We should, therefore, rethink our highways and motorways strategies and start optimizing the roads for bicycles. Furthermore, decision-makers should consider the pedestrians and other transits mean more than we do for cars.
Last, Christine Binswanger comment on Education is and is not valid. The current mega projects in Egypt are not the result of uneducated architects. It’s the result of the decision making criteria, young or well-educated architects do not get the chance through competitions or other means to participate in them. The laws, regulations, institutional frameworks and building methods are outdated.
The start, however, could be now, at least after being faced with this critique, to rethink and raise awareness against the huge concrete roads and bridges built everywhere in Egypt.