DOWNTOWN CAIRO International workshop at the GUC

The workshop aimed at bringing together professionals to discuss the current state of the art concerning the documentation and communication of the Downtown’s Cairo heritage, both tangible and intangible. From the analysis of the work already done, the target of the discussion was to focus on still underdeveloped studies and areas, to create new ideas for future actions, building up multidisciplinary synergies among the participants.

The workshop was divided into two main parts:

A) The first part (day one and morning of day two) was the more theoretical one, which focussed on presenting know-how and giving methodical input. The main target was to offer a platform to discuss previous similar projects, ongoing researches and new methods of documenting the old area of Ismaelia, sharing results and methods applied. The architects, historians, urban planners and stakeholders participating in the workshop, presented in a 20 minutes contribution their experiences, explaining goals, methods and also desiderata of their past and ongoing researches. Long sessions of discussion after every three contributions allowed a direct communication between the participants and the public.

B) The second part (afternoon of day two) was dedicated to a session of output, designed as an open-workmeeting in the form of a brainstorming which involved not only the participants, but also students and other professionals attending the workshop.

The main goal of the open-work-session was to reflect about the work done, and about the ongoing projects, to point out the potential topics not being explored yet (desiderata of the research). Starting from these potentialities, the group formulated new ideas, which were summarised in a list of possible future common activities, cooperation and projects.

To better support the exchanges and discussion, the first part of the workshop (theoretical input) was thematically divided in three sessions:


SPEAKERS: Mercedes Volait; Amr Taalat substituted Khaled Fahmy (absent); Galila El Kadi; Soheir Hawass. The session was moderated by Dina Bakhoum and Ralph Bodenstein, both founding members of the DOCOMOMO Egypt.
CONTENTS: This first thematic field intended to provide a general overview about the historical researches already done about Downtown, focusing on the history of the buildings but also on the history of the inhabitants of this area (Volait, Taalat). The contributions of Galila El Kadi and Soheir Awass focused on explaining different ways of cataloguing the tangible heritage of downtown. Galila El Kadi provided an overview of the results of the Hercomanes Project, presenting part of the catalogue of the historical buildings and streets produced, and which will be shortly published (2012). Soheir Awass illustrated the work of the National Organisation of Urban Harmony, both from the side of registering buildings of historic value, but also explaining recent activities and projects.

SPEAKERS: Gaël le Borgne, Philipp Misselwitz, Alex Frediani. Ola Seif, founding member of the DOCOMOMO Egypt, moderated the session.
CONTENTS: The session aimed at discussing about the oral history as part of the heritage to be preserved in the area of Downtown. Gaël le Borgne reported about a project on the urban district of Heliopolis implemented on the occasion of the anniversary of the city, which used oral history as the basis to investigate the area and the histories of the inhabitants.
Both the contributions of Philipp Misselwitz and Alex Frediani focused on methods of participatory research and planning, to explain the role of the inhabitants for the conservation of the heritage. The speakers gave examples of various already implemented projects, explaining the applied procedures, the reached goals, the faced problems and challenges.

(3) SESSION: “FOCUS ON PROJECTS”SPEAKERS: Omar Nagati, Karim Shafei, May al-Tabbakh, Julia Dyllong, Aiste Plentaite, Elke Uitentuis, Wouter Osterholt, Xenia Nikolskaya. The session was moderated by Alex Frediani.
CONTENTS: This last session was the most interdisciplinary of the workshop, because it involved architects, artists, stakeholders and urban planners. The focus of the session was to illustrate different projects on Downtown, both practical and theoretical. From the theoretical side, Omar Nagati presented the project he did with his students of the Modern Sciences and Arts University in Cairo during the past years, which focussed on the analysis of the functions and forms of the spaces “inbetween” (mainly between two buildings) in the area of Downtown. Also Julia Dyllong and Aiste Plentaite described their work on the area, which they finalised as the submission of an intensive semester project on Cairo organised by the ETH Studio Basel. From the practical side, May al-Tabbakh described her design as a freelance architect for the building of Sednaoui Al Khazindar and Al Khazindar Square, which will be soon implemented. Karim Shafei illustrated the visions of Al-Ismaelia for Real Estate Investments S.A.E., explaining the future ideas of development for some areas of Downtown.
Finally Elke Uitentuis, Wouter Osterholt and Xenia Nikolskaya approached the topic of rediscovering the heritage of Downtown from the point of views of artists, reporting about their art works realised together with the inhabitants (Uitentuis, Osterholt) and photographical documentation of the buildings (Nikolskaya).

The great force and novelty of this workshop was in the multidisciplinary and integrated approach used to analyse and document the tangible and intangible heritage of Downtown.
During the first part of the workshop, the discussions at the end of each session were rich of ideas and questions because of the different approaches proposed by the participants, and built a good basis for the second session of the work on day 2, where it was asked to propose strategies and ideas for the next activities.
During the second part of the workshop on day 2, the public and the participants were involved in the discussion. The aim was to record the topics which would be necessary to keep or refine for the future and to develop new ideas for further activities and studies. In order to facilitate the communication and brainstorming without imposing hierarchies, the setting of the conference was changed into a more discussion-friendly informal arrangement. The results were documented immediately.

The output of the brainstorming could be summarised in the following topics:
–   Working not only with digital materials, but proposing activities directly in Downtown (presence in the area);

–   Involving the inhabitants to increment the link between users and the category of researches / specialists;

–   Long-term actions versus short-term actions: both are necessary to give continuity to the project;

–   Mapping local codes (invisible mechanisms) in addition to objective mapping on the urban design and architecture.