One of the main concentrations in the master course of Large Scale Architecture and Urbanism in Politecnico di Milano, are the industrial voids created in the height of the industrial revolution to respond to its advancements and meet the needs of mass production. In the aftermath of the post-Fordist society, factories, railways and huge ports were deserted, and city walls were demolished when information technology prevailed and permitted an industry of postal service to diminish into a fax machine. The sites of those industrial voids turned into an opportunity for reuse within the boundaries of the city.
Among these industrial voids are the Hudson Yards, the site of my Master thesis/project in New York city. Once a cargo shipment port and a railway storage hangar, the site lays today deserted and unused. In a crucial and undeveloped area of the megalomaniac island of Manhattan, and in a time when global cities are packed with concentrations of population that diminish the opportunities for urban interventions, the site retains a strategic urban importance, especially due to its size.
The project turned the infrastructural void into a needed green artery on the west side of the city. It’s museum/theater program is thus contained within the soil; its cultural activities serving as an alternative infrastructure for the city. The void left in place of the architecture is a negation of how the city has developed maniacally leaving only absence to represent nature and freely accessible public space.
In another urban reality across the Atlantic, the city of Cairo faces a similar case. In the aftermath of the 1952 Coup d’Etat turned into a revolution, huge sites of land were acquired by the newly ruling military to advance the rule of the new regime. In 60 years of military rule, those sites have encroached inside the city, as well as, having been outside, engulfed by the expanding metropolis to represent a big share of what is now Cairo. Like every regime, the military manages its own economy; an empire of factories, clubs, hotels, hospitals, food and housing projects exclusively for the benefit and loyalty of the ruling generals, lieutenants and officers of the distinguished army. In a merge of interests, a political intertwine inevitably takes place between the ruling regime and the ruling class, mixing oil and flower, as goes the popular Egyptian saying.
One of the longest and most important arteries of Cairo, Salah Salem, connects the Giza Pyramids plateau to the Cairo airport on the other side of the city, acquiring the prestigious presence of the Muqattam hill, as well as Jewish, Christian, Roman, Fatimid, Ayyubid and Ottoman monuments in its route. But beside the monuments that narrate the story of Cairo across different ages, military sites occupy most of the scenery on both side of the road narrating a different story. With high walls serving as deterrent fences for the sites of sensitive military activity, the military sites provide barriers as an eloquent architectural expression of obstruction.
In the midst of the Egyptian revolution of Janyary 25 in 2011, those military sites secreted the urban military that strangled Cairo for months, and was the subject of many protests and sit-ins challenging its authority with the chants and graffiti of an overgrowing frustrated crowd. In the consequence of a year and a half of military rule, increasing and louder voices have been calling for the downfall of the military rule, and questioning the extent of its economy and the legitimacy of their empire of properties in the heart of Cairo.
As a result of failed urban policies and regional planning, Egypt’s capital and regional metropolis has been growing in population and largely informal development causing it to be jammed with sanitary and traffic crises, still unresponsive to the social needs of its inhabitants. The housing and transportation sectors remain poorly managed and reflect a great satisfaction by Cairo’s population. Green and public amenities have decreased to the point of scarcity, engulfed with the air of the world’s 12th most polluted city.
A few proposals have been made for the urban planning of Cairo of the 21st century. Among them is the highly criticized Cairo 2050 proposal for the planning of Cairo after huge developments of high rise towers and insensitive urban interventions, presented in fancy rendered models, again, portraying a policy of privatizing the most for the ruling and fortunate few. In a time of global frustration with neoliberal policies, and an upheaval in the form of occupy movements all over the world, initiated in Tahrir square at the heart of Cairo, the Cairo 2050 proposal is deemed by many of Egypt’s architects as irrelevant, out of date and removed from the time and the reality of Cairo’s urban crisis.
In this light, with the downfall of military rule at sight, military sites at the heart of Cairo’s complaining body seem to be the excellent voids for public reclamation as political reform, as well as an opportunity for Cairo’s new urban planning agenda for a new age.
الحي، الساحة و السايس
ربط تسلسلي لفشل السياسات الحكومية و تأثيرها المباشر على تفاعل المواطن بالشارع في حياته اليومية بالمدينة.
عرض: بين رحلة و اخرى، مستقبل و مودع
تبدأ القصة من حيث عدت من الخارج لاجد السياس قد ملأوا شارع البيت، بقمصانهم الصفراء و اصواتهم…
Supposedly, the main interest of Architects in film, and its relation to architecture, is that a film is made of scenes moving in space expressing content; an intentional content. This content has a structure and is being conveyed through a form. Film is constructed through a process that involves very much a similar process to that of architecture, in being an industry and being a cultural product. But the most important connection there is between film and architecture is the movement of the camera within a space, which is much the same to the movement of humans within a space.
This is also not very unrelated to Husserl’s phenomenological concept of intention in the consciousness of man, and how man perceives an object through a reflection that expresses an intention/essence. The movement of the camera within a space and how its scenes are composed is something that film authors are consciously enacting to reflect an intention, also, that is a reflection of an essence (nostalgia, confusion, resistance, etc). How our consciousness works is very much the same. We perceive through intentional cameras that are our minds and our eyes, reflecting intentional essences that vary from one human to another according to their view of the world. In this sense, the process of architecture-making is not very much different from film-making. It can be also utilized in being a reflection of a certain scenario that is happening within a space, with all its attached experiential and cultural components of identity, emotions, experiences and so on so forth. A film camera can accelerate its motion to manifest a time lapse, zoom in and out to highlight details; it can prolong or shorten time, or even disorder scenes in order to relay a fragmentation, revealing a certain essence. Architecture has other elements, other tools and techniques. It can also try to reflect an essence expressed in a movie, instead of doing it on its own, utilizing similar structures and effects used by a film director.
Architecture and movies do influence each other rather mutually. It’s only that films can be richer in an instantaneous intensification of content, while architecture can be very prolonged in its influence and very flexible to the appropriation of the human behavior. The film can also be subject of appropriation as well as prolonged influence. But it remains in the scope of a box, or of a cinema; of eyes, of imagination. It, itself, doesn’t change even if our perceptions of it varied; whereas architecture is experienced through a wider and more real set of elements, which can be directly experienced in reality on an everyday basis. It doesn’t have the intensification that film does in a 120 minute event, but it has a longer duration of influence. This is where the industry understands that it is very valuable, economically, and that it cannot be subject to as much experimentation as film is. If the force of the industry disappears, I do not find it difficult to imagine a population that each dweller would wish for themselves a very different dwelling than their neighbor, which express them dynamically. But then wish for that when you have solved the problem of hunger in the world, or shelter, before starting to envision a special one! This is as concerns to experimentation in architecture in contrast with experimentation in film.
On another note…
Carlos Dall’Asta said that residences are not subject to experimentation. I don’t think that it is true that people prefer stability in their residences… in the experience within the residence, yes, but not in the residence itself. I can even imagine pre-industrial societies each living in their own unique dwelling that expresses them better, and that the industrious elements that would prevail as norm would only be structural elements (that depend on technology in construction and pre-established techniques), that respond to an ultra-human necessity: to defy gravity and build sound and durable constructions. Yes, architecture definitely has a dual nature: that of containing an interior, and that of exhibiting an exterior that is part of a collective system; this collective system is the city or the village or the settlement where it belongs.
Yi Fu Tuan wrote about the experiences of place and space and their relation to fixity and movement, stability and change. Change here is quoted in the sense of being a venture towards the unknown, the unfamiliar. In many cases, the interior, even of a public space, can be an element of stability that incorporates familiar elements, with familiar colors and intimate landmarks. But… I can seriously see no reason why this should be applied to the exterior face of architecture as well. If we take the extreme case of need for stability, the home, we will find that whatever this home looks like from outside, it will always feel home, because of how it is (as a shelter), and how it performs (as a dwelling). There is not much in its exterior that could manifest its intimacy. Rather, it would be more intimate as much as it expresses its owner, like certain music expresses and indentifies its listener. Here you are, returning to a home that looks and thinks like you. What a city that would be?
This is actually happening, if you see the difference in built environments between different cultures and classes (different neighborhoods of Cairo, or New Mexico for example). But in this globalized world of today, houses in Egypt are planned after American suburbs, built with Chinese tools, finished in a Greek style depending very much on the availability of construction material and techniques that are almost always imported from abroad! What identity does that express? How stable or intimate is that? But what the hell… the people work so hard to afford their houses and they live in it with content, feeling very much stable and at home.
اوضح سمات الاغنية هي:
السمات العامة المتأصلة في اغنية الاولتراس من شعارات تجسد تفاني فوق طبيعي (2)، و هو ما يستعير نفسه من اصل كلمة اولتراس اليونانية او ما فوق الطبيعة، الى الايقاع الحماسي الذي يتسم بالاستمتاع في الاداء، الى الهتافات التي تجسد لافكار المقاومة (3)، الى الابيات الصغيرة المتقطعة التي يسهل حفظها و القائها في مجاميع، الى تلقائية اسلوبهم و غيرها – كلها سمات تعبر بشكل واضح عن طبيعة تكوين الاولتراس و افكاره.
و لكن ما يهمني بشكل خاص هو هذا المنتج الفني الذي ينشأ من تنظيم بهذا الشكل، و مدى اخلاص مادته الفنية الى افكاره و طبيعة تكوينه الاجتماعي. كل السمات السابقة و غيرها تعبر عن منتهى الصدق بين اسلوب حياة المؤلف و العمل الفني الذي ينتجه. ان ابسط و اوضح الروابط التي تجعل من الاولتراس حركة تتعلق ضرورياً بالثورة هي:
هكذا تعبر اغنية الاولتراس “شمس الحرية”، كما عبرت اغاني لهم قبلها بشكل اقل تطوراً، عن تكوين اجتماعي اتسقت افكاره و ممارساته مع انتاجه الفني حتى اصبح انه من السهل استباط الاصول التعبيرية التي يستخدمها و ارجاعها بسلاسة الى طبيعة حياتهم - مع الحفاظ على قوة التعبير. منتج فني كهذا، ذهب في عقلانيته و صدقه و ضرورية محتواه الى ان اصبح انتاجه معبر عن احتياجاته، و من ثم مخرج ملائم لقدراته الابداعية. منتج فني كهذا، في اخلاصه ل”اسلوب حياة” مؤدييه، هو عمل اصلي جداً نادر وجوده في المجتمع المصري. نحن بالتأكيد امام ظاهرة شعبية اصيلة.
هذه ظاهرة انا -كباحث معماري مهتم بالنظم المعمارية التي تنشأ بشكل شعبي و افقي- ابحث عنها باستمرار و لا اجدها كثيراً. و ان وجدت، فلم توجد بهذا الحجم و التطور.
ان التكوين الاجتماعي لجماعات الاولتراس كثيراً ما يستخدم كتهمة تلقى ضدهم للحط من شأن مشاركتهم بالثورة المصرية او وجودهم في العموم. و لكني ارى انه على العكس من ذلك، ان هذا التكوين هو بالضبط الشيء المذهل في هذه الظاهرة. قد يكون فرداً من الاولتراس همجي او اقل وعياً من مستوى هذه الاغنية. و لكن الافراد لا يشكلون المؤسسات، بل المؤسسات هي التي تشكل الافراد. و ها هي مؤسسة الاولتراس تعلن في اغنية تمثلها عن مبادئ شعبية راقية جداً، يتشكل بها افرادها، و هم من انتجوها من خلال مؤسستهم التي هي تتشكل منهم. و عبر الوقت، يفرزون اجيالاً و فنون و ممارسات اكثر تعقيداً و تنوعاً لتثري الساحة المصرية، الفنية و الثورية و غيرها. و قد يمتد تأثيرها لساحات اخرى في المستقبل قد لا تربطها بها علاقة مباشرة. لا استبعد –و لا اتخيل غير ذلك- ان تكون ساحة العمارة من بينها.
ما هي عمارة القاهرة الجديدة الا تعبير عن حالة مجتمع فقد توازنه الثقافي و حسه الفني و تخلف في انتاجه و زادت الفروق بين طبقاته؟ ما هي عمارة القاهرة الجديدة الا ترجمة و نتاج لفشل سياسات التخطيط و العمران في العقود الماضية؟
كلمات اغنية الاولتراس تعبر عن مضمون فوق مستوى مجرد الاهتمام بلعبة كرة (4). كلمات تربط مباراة كرة بمصير الوطن، و القدرة/الاستعداد للفداء من اجل غاية اسمى، و المقاومة الصامدة ضد الظلم و الفساد. اغنية كهذه تعدت في كلماتها الاهتمامات الخاصة بها لكي تعبر عن اهتمامات مشتركة للوطن، حتى تكاد تكون صالحة لان تصبح نشيداً وطنياً للثورة الا لبعض الثقوب.
ان الاولتراس و منتجهم الفني الذي عبر باخلاص و صدق عن ثقافتهم و اسلوب حياتهم هي ظاهرة مجتمعية ناشئة و غنية جداً تنذر بتأثير ثقافي هام و مباشر ولد من رحم حركة شعبية اصيلة من شانها –و من اولى اهتمامنا- ان نتابع بقرب كيف تتوغل و تعمل على اثراء القماش الثقافي المصري المعاصر، و ان نستنبط منها دروساً من ال ممكن ترجمتها في نواحي شتى من انتاجنا الفني و التطبيقي.
مصدر الصورة: لقطة ثابتة من فيديو اغنية “شمس الحرية” ل اولتتراس وايت نايتس. الوصلة الالكترونية بالاسفل.
(2) “فارس عايش للنضال”
(3) “فارس عقليته مقاومة و حياته الصمود”
(4) “الكورة حياتي لكن لبلادي اموت”
مصادر تم الرجوع اليها:
CALL FOR PAPERS
Intensities and Lines of Flight: Deleuze and Guattari and the Arts
May 4-6, 2012
King’s University College and The University of Western Ontario
London, Ontario, Canada
The Centre for Advanced Research in European Philosophy, King’s University College, along with the McIntosh Gallery at the University of Western Ontario invite proposals and submissions for a conference focusing on the intersection of the work of Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari and the arts.
Like the Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions novel written by Edwin A. Abbott, I am projecting at writing a short story comparing our world to an atom, a molecule or a cell, featuring the elements and forces that comprise this entity, fight together to become all the more stronger and more stable, and thus transcend to a reality or organism, higher in dimension or more evolved.
The novel would serve as an inquisition into the nature of human struggles in politics, society, economy and architecture in order to attain a more perfect form, i.e. a utopia, through the mechanical struggles of natural organisms to attain stability or functionality.
It would also draw highlights into the similarities that exist between humans and their natural surroundings, evoking Buddhist concepts, e.g. Karma; and how the environment does not differ much than us. The novel makes the point that killing a cell or a tree does not differ much than killing a fellow human; it similarly points to environmental issues that concern the global society. The novel would also serve as an investigation in issues of sustainability in our natural and biological composition as an architectural mechanism.
It would finally serve, pending the conclusion of the novel, as a reminder of how transcendentally aware humans should be. This part will always remain the most obscure reference; the reference that has the most secretive formula. It will only be hinted in shadowy and singular phrases. The reason is that: transcendentalism is a frowned upon topic nowadays. But more because: transcendentalism is not the only model that the novel evokes, but it equally does to immanence.
It’s a shame that, while I write these words, I am thinking of all the attack I would get from non-transcendentalists, and humanist preachers. It is a shame that any author, intellectual or scientist should be afraid of the fruit of their honest observations. Preachers are very dangerous to society. They are practitioners of intellectual terrorism.
The structure of the novel would be architectural in nature. Membranes are borders. Cells are countries, as well as architectural units. Dualities or multiple analogues would serve as conscientious linkage to similarities between different levels of being. The linkage would be made through properties that are engraved into our minds as pertaining to certain forms. Mixing different properties into one Analogue that resembles each of the forms from which we are renting properties, draws attention to their similarities.
The end architecture of the novel should point to the fact that what is big is similar and connected to what is small. Macro goes back into Micro. Architecture mutates to being a detail. The source and the product. Like a mobius that rotates outside only to find itself inside once again.
- Mobius is sustainability is the Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra is Plato’s Ouroboros is the Egyptian Ankh is infinity is Deleuze’s Plane of Immanence is Buddhist Karma and is eternal life.
- In his final essay entitled Immanence: A Life, Deleuze writes: “It is only when immanence is no longer immanence to anything other than itself that we can speak of a plane of immanence.”
- In Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, The Square has a dream in which “the Sphere visits him again, this time to introduce him to Pointland. The point (sole inhabitant, monarch, and universe in one) perceives any attempt at communicating with him as simply being a thought originating in his own mind”.
- The Book of Komarios, which dates to around the same time as the Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra diagrams, relates to it a description of ‘how the highest descends to the lowest, and how the lowest rises to the highest, and how that which is in the midst approaches the highest and is united to it’.
- Important references:
Any traveling is a journey from periphery to center. This especially applies to culture and urbanism. Since any place has its specific culture, that culture becomes most central to it than any other place however close they can get. Since men and places are largely tied to the ground, their cities become the incubators of their culture.
Young men in the center of a culture will share the same wording used in language. They will recall in their jokes and expressions the same memories that tie them as a generation. To a lesser extent, they will also share same opinions. In this center, they feel the more secure and familiar. Of course, within each center there are many smaller componental centers that add up to form the collective (not the best word) center. The componental centers to the collective center are like protons and neutrons to a nucleus. Collective centers shield their components within a membrane  of bonding, like atoms are bound together to form a molecule .
Like the difference between Cairo and outskirt cities that live out and off of Cairo; they lend them their sons and daughters to work in the shitty tasks that downtown Cairenes would abstain from. But every now and then, they will also lend them the opportunity to acknowledge their difference, and make a laugh about it. They say Outa, or Ayooh, and what a funny thing it is. As subtle the difference becomes, as more the funny and less racially profiling. However, if it is as different as to permit an exclamation or a laugh between those in the common majority, then it does not come exactly from the center, but peripheral to the center, and central to another culture.
Of course, there are only centers. Centers are nuclei that are made up of an intimately specific common culture. The form and structure of this common culture is an essential investigation to be made in this regard; but in the same time, despite its hinted tininess, it is as vast as how deep it can go. As deep as the rabbit hole goes, and as divisible as the components of the atom can be.
Centers differ in size and influence. Bigger and more influential centers attract people from their centers, to come and become peripheral. In this act, they swallow other centers into their own self, and draw more peripheries closer. In this regard, a view into the urban history of markets cities and global cities could be very useful. Global cities, for example, are defined by a globalized world, where men and their cultures are no longer fixed to their places . Even when they are, a continuous flow of mutual interaction with other cultures essentially influences how they behave.
To be continued…
Hint to a possible conclusion: Any traveling is a journey from periphery to center. Thus, all travelings from all peripheries to all centers take you all the more closer to the source. When you posses all in knowledge you become one of everyone, and everyone in one. 
[o] This article was inspired by a smoking session in the kitchen of our apartment in Piacenza, Italy – with a Sardinian, a Sicilian, an Iranian and me. The triggering effect of its chain of thought came from the observation that my Sardinian friend was fluent enough in the Italian language and southern Italian cultural expressions, as to be able to identify with our Sicilian friend. In English, he was not less informed as to be barred from identifying with us, global English language speakers. His traveling, in place and in thought, has made him capable of communicating with all the components of the kitchen table, and thus, bringing himself closer to all centers.
 Membranes in cells typically define enclosed spaces or compartments in which cells may maintain a chemical or biochemical environment that differs from the outside.
 Atoms are bound together due to instability in charge, positive (lacking protons) or negative (lacking electrons). Their bonds serve all the more a higher purpose: the formation of a chemical substance.
 Important references to be read: Etopia, W Mitchells; The Informational City, M Castells; City of Bits, W Mitchells.
 Important reference: Invisible Cities, I Calvino.
"Cities are amalgams of buildings and people. They are inhabited settings, from which daily rituals -the mundane and the extraordinary, the random and the staged- derive their validity. In the urban artifacts and its mutations are condensed continuities of time and place. The city is the ultimate memorial of our struggles and glories: it is where the pride of the past is set on display." - Spiro Kostof