Cairo Is The Egyptian Capital Architecture Essay


Cairo is the Egyptian capital, the largest city in Africa. It is located in the Nile Delta, 14 kilometers south of the Nile River. The most area of the city is in the east of the river and it is 120 kilometers east of the Suez Canal. The urban area is about 214 square kilometers. Great Cairo included Helwan, Maadi, Nasser, Aslamm, Ramadan City, October 6 and other satellite towns with a total area of 1200 square kilometers. The population of those satellite towns is about fifth of the country's total.

It is standing for both financial centre and transportation hub. The city is the country's largest business and financial center. Manufacturing output value is nearly half of the country. Textile industry is the most important sector. Raw cotton material is particularly well-developed but also wool, silk, hemp textile industry. And they are followed by the food, sugar, cigarettes, cement and household appliances. There are also included traditional leather tanning, show-making, as well as gold, silver ornaments and other handicrafts. The satellite town, Helena which is 25 kilometers away from south of the city, focus on heavy industry in order to iron and steel industry. It has developed coking, machinery, automobile, motorcycle, oil and chemical sectors. Cairo gathered the national third of the trading companies and nearly a quarter of the banking, commercial and various service industries flourish. Tourism is an important part of the city economy, as directly or indirectly employed about 40 million.

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It also stands for an important transport hub. The nation's major rail ways and roads meet at this intersection, connected Alexandria, Port Said, Ismailia, Suez, Aswan and other major cities. The Nile to the west is the major way connected through Upper and Lower Egypt. Canal Ismailia which has access to Canal Suez is just on the west side of Nile. Eastern suburb of Heliopolis has a modern international airport, the provision of Article 30 domestic and international routes. There are 13 elevated railways, highway overpasses, and three large pedestrian bridges in the city. The bridge in the 6th Oct is more than 10 kilometer.

From the foregoing, Cairo is a city is the Egyptian center of economic, transportation and politic. The development clear influences the country. Today, many developing countries are faced with problem of urbanization. As the first 'open' country in the Arabian world, Cairo plays a crucial role in urbanization which cannot be ignored.

Existing urban planning strategies

The general master plan which established in 70's in to create a 'super agglomeration' or poly-nuclear City to accommodate large population growth caused by rural-urban migration. In each individual satellite town, it expected to be 'self sufficient' which included residential, commercial and entertainment development in order to reduce the need for commuting. Ring road, metro and other transportation system should be built in order to serve expanding settlements. In agriculture aspect, it encourages development to spread to the east and west of the city centre, into desert land, to avoid building on valuable nutrient-rich arable land in the Nile Delta. In Figure ii, it shows the original proposal of expansion gesture at west and east direction.

Unfortunately, the master plan has failed. The plan doesn't have significant effect on the urban development. It's mostly because of naïve urbanization which didn't consider some basic social issues well. First, the master plan covered large areas; however, the infrastructural development fell behind. Second, the new satellite town failed to attract population. (Table 1)The target of population cannot be carried out and there are not enough employment opportunities in some of development areas.

Feedback from Interview

People's points of view are always considered as the most powerful evidence. Before starting deep research of the project, an interview has been taken by M. Shaker in Cairo. Therefore, the public opinions have been investigated and analyzed. The interview is focusing on their residence history, the location they aspire to live in and their opinions about the downtown area. The population of downtown is shrinking sharply and the reason why people don't want to live in the downtown area is basically showed in the pie chart. Quality of living and traffic condition seem to be concerned mostly. Also, in the bar chart, it clearly shows that working close to residents is the most important factor for job selection. To sum it up, people intended to move out of the downtown for better housing and living environment. They also want the new settlement to provide job opportunities so that they can work close to their residence.

pAs the analysis of interview information, the main problems and contradictions come out in two aspects: one is about the living quality and the housing status with large number of rural population, and another is about traffic problems with the developments of satellite towns.

Living Quality

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The population of Cairo increased sharply from 1970 to 5.9 million, up to 8.7 million to 1980. In 1996, it reaches 14.6 million which is a quarter of this country's. However, Cairo's population is still growing at a rate of 0.35 million per year. The population is too large to enormous pressure on Cairo. (CAPMAS 1997)

Firstly, there are the food shortages. Cairo consumed half of the total imports of the country; any city in the world cannot be compared in this point. Import food prices keep rising, although the government spends huge sums of money for food subsidies, the result is not pleasing. Secondly, it caused the residents of Cairo declining standard of living. From 1985 to 1989, the general consumer price almost increased double, and it keeps increasing. Third, the large number of people ran into the city cause a serious shortage of rural labor force and unemployment to the citizens. In 1961, the national unemployment rate was 4.7%, Cairo unemployment rate was 7.5%. In 1970, the national unemployment rate was 2%, Cairo was 7.6%. Meanwhile, the young population is another challenge in Cairo, According to statistics, 1988 the population aged 0 to 14 accounted for 40%. The large number of young people will put a huge pressure on Cairo social and economic development in the future.

What is the reason for population expansion in Cairo? It has the heavy urban function. The density of its urban functions is highest in Africa. It loads half of the industry in the country and it has to main international and domestic trade activities. In addition, it has education institute such as Al-Azhar University, Cairo University and American University. As the Government's road construction, housing, water, electricity and other public facilities placed in Cairo, which determines the government's majority of investments are staying in the area. Therefore, it provided substantial employment opportunities in this area, on the other hand, small towns and rural areas infrastructure construction will be lack of funds. It so that expand the gap between urban and rural areas. The contrast cause rural youth do not want to go home after graduation.

In the other hand, basically, there are three types of housing in Cairo:

A. Legitimate housing. It was divided into three types: 1. Countries to rent and sell or provide housing for the national staff. 2. Cooperative housing (Cooperative). 3. Private housing.

B. Illegal construction. Since 1960, annual housing construction accounted for 70% of urban housing about 60000 units of housing annually, is mainly for citizens with low income.

C. Slums. They are mainly used by people with lowest income and new immigrants.

The legitimate housing is getting old and loses their attraction to citizens, but the slums are keeping growing and cover most of the urban places. The Government cannot stop the poor to build that as the very low incomes they have. The "Roof room" effect shows a housing shortage in Cairo. Today, in the city, the many buildings left room on the top and those places are nice place for the poor. Therefore, the slum and informal settlements became strong impression of some development site. 'These dense concentrations of human and economic activity are often located near factories, garbage dumps, or other noxious activities where eviction pressures are relatively low. While slum residents typically plan, finance, and build their own communities, they do not have the financial resources to also construct basic infrastructure like waste disposal and drainage facilities. With little assistance forthcoming from outside the slums, these facilities are often inadequate, resulting in degraded and unhealthy living and poor environmental conditions. Informal housing and slum areas are, in most cases, the source of environment pollution, both above and underground, slum and informal communities in the GCMR are typically found in the developed portions of the GCA.' (M. EI Araby 2002)

The pollution of Cairo is another big issue and makes people get away from it. Today, the motor vehicle emission is major source of the air pollution. Another source is industrial emission. Because some of the high density of heavy industry located near the city, the air pollution is really dangerous to public health especially children. All the people are trying to escape from those industrial regions.

All of those show that the environment of living in downtown area is really bad and even getting worse; therefore, new settlements were built for people especially for those can afford a new house and want to have a better living standard. Some of those settlements included working, education and other living infrastructure; it became more and more 'self sufficient' and part from the city main part. In the future, as satellite towns increasing, the population will be drag out of the city and disperse to the desert.

Transportation issues

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Traffic and transport situation is a measure of urban functions, while the city has promoted the evolution of modern transportation. In 19th Century, as several trams developed, various modern transports are turning up in Cairo. With the development of the city, vehicle grows rapidly. Until early 1995, an official statistics shows a total of 3.6 million various types of motor vehicles. All the auto motor companies take notice of the huge markets in this country, variation types of cars and new cars exhibitions emerge one after another.

However, car congestion has been a threat to pedestrians on the sidewalk. The disorderliness gave a bad impression of this city. 'When people say that a city, or a part of it, is dangerous or is a jungle what they mean primarily is that they do not feel safe on the sidewalks.' (Jacobs, J 1961 p. 37) In downtown area, many pedestrian are exposed with motor vehicle on the street. The lack of effective management and the underlying dangerous created an image of chaos.

The problem is also charged upon urban distribution. The urban layout is unreasonable in some ways. Some of the government departments located in the central business district, others located in the Nasser City which is one of the satellite cities. Industrial areas occupied the south of Helwan, housing area are around the north. Major education institute, Cairo University, Al-Azhar University and Ain Shams University located in the different sites. As a result, almost half of the citizen in Cairo is far away from their workplace. About 1 million people have to get out of town for work every day. Therefore, public transportation becomes the key issue of the economic development. From 1970 to 1980, passengers are rising about 10% per year, while public transport is almost not increased. However, in 1990, it accommodated 13million passengers. It is not easy to imagine a bus can carry so many passengers and spend more than an hour for about 1mile.

Inadequate of public transport is getting worse; however, several solutions have been established by the Government to solve that. In order to relieve the traffic crisis from the 70's, Cairo, built 13 large-scale motorway bridges and more than 3 thousands pedestrian bridges. The new road system has been built; a large road network connects the city with other towns. New ring road is built surround outside of the city and connected with most of the districts. Especially, the motorway bridge located in the heart of 6th Oct. is up to 10 kilometers.

Also, because of the high pressure of public transportation, the need of cheep and fast transport revealed. 'A study was made about the needed capacity in 1990 for the transportation power, which showed the need of 8,400 Million trips a day for public transportation like buses and 2,770 million trips a day for other transportation systems like taxis and cars. The actual available capacity for public transportation is 4,872 million trips a day which is 3.5 million trips less than the needed capacity.' The Government reached an agreement with France, in March 1982 1 September 1987. It takes five and a half years, costs 500 million Egyptian Pound to build 43 kilometers Metro. This is the first subway in the Middle East and Africa, which operates daily from 5:30 to 12 midnight, with a passenger capacity of 60000 people per hour. From 1996, they began to build the second line which connects from Shobra El Kheima to El Mounib and it finished construction in 2005. But as the need of the large capacity keep growing; Egyptian Railway Authority has already proposed another two lines: Line 3, Mohandiseen to Cairo Int'l Airport; Line 4, October to Oasis Highway to Mubarak Police Academy. It is expected to finish by 2020. The subway construction to solve the traffic problems has made a significant contribution. Meanwhile, the Government started to develop the river transport on the Nile to relieve the traffic congestion, particularly, the peak traffic congestion pressure.

International Airport is also a crucial factor in the economic development of a capital. Cairo international airport stands for the gateway of the city and the country. It located in the Heliopolis district, which is about 10miles away from the city central area. However, the air port will be connected with Metro Cairo in couple of years. It also is the second busiest airport in Africa. 'Cairo Airport handles about 3,400 daily flights, more than 12,100 weekly flights and about 125,000 yearly flights. The airport has three terminals with the third (Terminal 3) opening in April 2009 which houses Egypt Air and its Star Alliance partners.' (Wikipedia 2009) Practically speaking, the airport really contributes international communication of Cairo and promotes the development of economic.

Future developments

'Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif has commissioned the Ministry of Housing, a representative in the General Authority for Urban Planning, to prepare a comprehensive plan for the development of all Downtown Cairo.'(The Boursa Exchange 18 Oct. 2009) Therefore, several large downtown development competitions have been hold recently. The Urban Planning Authority planed to create open space to the citizens by this redevelopment. For example, the Cairo Expo City designed by Zaha Hadid and the Sorouh City district designed by Callison. From 2009, the Government is planning to develop the Ramses Square in the central Cairo.

"A comprehensive vision of the area will primarily rely on the transformation of downtown's main streets into pedestrian areas, so that it becomes an area of open-air restaurants and spaces." Said Mustafa al-Madbouli, president of the Urban Planning Authority "Among the other proposals is to design the area's principal squares, such as Talaat Harb and Abdel Moneim Riad Squares, in a distinctive way, creating multi-story underground garages, so that most of the traffic remains underground."

Conclusion about Cairo's urbanization problems

Theoretically, the right urban planning strategy is a proof for urban development. It is important to note, Egypt is an agricultural country with a high proportion of the population, a large number of peasants moved to cities, particularly in large cities. As result, the urban intensity of Cairo in different levels is rare in the world. The large expansion, rapid growth of population, housing issue, traffic congestion and environmental problems are coming out under this situation. It shows that the main development strategy today is to build satellite towns which can be self-sufficient and be part from the city. It is good for economic growth in the few years but it might be cause more and more problem in the future. First, many projects which have done or are going to do are not considered with sustainable issues. The architecture which introduced might not fit with the Cairo culture and climate. Many critics are still questioning if those new landmark development project will really attract people as the failure of 70's master plan. Second, the large expansion will rely on the infrastructure which cost huge amount of money and will take a long time to complete. Before that, how to solve the traffic problem? Lots of people live in new settlement are still working in downtown; they need to travel a long way to work. So this will put more loads on the transportation again. The expansion will make more contrasts between old Cairo and new towns. The poor and people who could not move will leave there. This has lead to a lower standard of living than in other areas and the standard of living in downtown will keep getting worse. However, the development should never leave the old city behind and make escape for upper-mid class people. Cairo's development process must make efforts to their self-awareness, to overcome the excessive dependence on external weaknesses. The Government should prevent the blind copy and follow other foreign capitals, seek for large development to leave away from the reality. Many issues are undergoing right now and those are really what should be improve and solve in the first place.


  • Alexander, C. (1977), A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, Oxford University Press.
  • Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) (1987), Population, Housing and Establishment Census 1986, Preliminary Results, CAPMAS Press, Cairo.
  • CAPMAS (1990), The Statistics Annual Book for A.R.E., 1952-1989, CAPMAS Press, Cairo.
  • CAPMAS (1991), Housing Units and Buildings Characteristics,Final Report, Vol. 4, CAPMAS Press, Cairo.
  • CAPMAS (1997), Population, Housing, and Establishment Census 1996, Preliminary Results, CAPMAS Press, Cairo.
  • Jacobs, J. (1961), The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Random House Inc.

Internet Sources

  • World Architecture,
  • The Boursa Exchange,
  • Wikipedia, Transport in Cairo, (modified on 21.11.09)
  • Wikipedia, Cairo Metro, (modified on 5.1.10)