Connecting Cairo to the Nile

Renewing Life and Heritage on the River

In 2010, we conceived a plan to craft a collaborative learning experience and to catalyze a new understanding of the Nile as a public resource for the people of Cairo.

With a population of over eleven million, Cairo is one of the densest cities in the world, supporting an urban population underserved by parks and other public open space. Yet the city holds remarkable opportunities to reconnect its people with the river that was historically its heart.

Cairo struggles with the impacts of population growth and urbanization on traffic, air pollution, and informal housing settlements.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Cairo struggles with the impacts of population growth and urbanization on traffic, air pollution, and informal housing settlements.

In January of 2011 in Cairo, in an intensive workshop involving 23 students and seven faculty from Cairo University (CU), The American University in Cairo (AUC), and the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), interdisciplinary teams systematically inventoried existing conditions along a 12-km reach of the Nile from Maadi to Tahrir Square. The details of this workshop and its results were compiled in a report available online.

The first day of the workshop included student introductions at the recently designed Al-Azhar Park, site of a former landfill.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]The first day of the workshop included student introductions at the recently designed Al-Azhar Park, site of a former landfill.

Based on this fieldwork the student teams identified specific opportunities for ecological restoration and better open space connectivity with the rest of the city. The presence of historic landmarks and excellent views along the Nile also provide significant prospects for urban revitalization and economic development.

Challenges were pin-pointed relating to the existence of incongruent public and private land-uses along the Nile Corniche, and to urban waste management along the waterfront.

Following their investigations, workshop participants developed a strategic plan for a continuous trail network along the Nile with connectivity to important nodes in Cairo. They also developed detailed plans for the revitalization of two key zones: Athur El Nabi and Old Cairo.

The workshop ended just one week before demonstrations erupted in the streets of Cairo, highlighting public desires, expectations, and demands for major change. Bringing the people to the riverbanks could be an important step in improving daily life for millions, and could strengthen the city’s social fabric, and contribute to the democratization of Egyptian society.

UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Faculty Advisors and Coordinators:

  • Matt Kondolf
  • Louise Mozingo
  • Linda Jewell
  • Amir Gohar

Cairo Advisors and Coordinators:

  • Ahmed Sherif
  • Khalid Z. El Adli
  • Abbas el-Zafarany
  • Aboulfetouh S. Shalaby
  • Sami Shaker
  • Mohamed Nagib Abou-Zeid

Student Participants:

  • Noha Abbassy (AUC)
  • Krishnachandran Balakrishnan (UC Berkeley)
  • Tami Church (UC Berkeley)
  • Richard Crockett (UC Berkeley)
  • Nada Abd El-Aziz (CU)
  • Fekria El- Bialy (CU)
  • Ali Abd El Gawad (CU)
  • Momen El-Husseiny (AUC/UC Berkeley)
  • Mohamed El Kharbotly (AUC)
  • Heba Ezzat (CU)
  • Salsabil Fahmy (AUC)
  • Ahmed Farouk (CU)
  • Erene Kamal (CU)
  • Michal Kapitulnik (UC Berkeley)
  • Mirette Khorshed (AUC)
  • Madonna Maher (CU)
  • Malak Maher (AUC)
  • Rachael Marzion (UC Berkeley)
  • Nada Nafeh (AUC)
  • Adrienne Smith (UC Berkeley)
  • Bahaa Stephanos (AUC)
  • Mohamed Tarek (CU)
  • Rob Tidmore (UC Berkeley)
Student introductions at Al-Azhar Park
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Student introductions at Al-Azhar Park
CU, AUC, and UCB workshop students and faculty at Al-Azhar Park in January, 2011
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]CU, AUC, and UCB workshop students and faculty at Al-Azhar Park in January, 2011
Cairo university faculty lead workshop participants on a tour of Al-Azhar Park and Old Cairo’s Al-Darb Al-Ahmar district.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Cairo university faculty lead workshop participants on a tour of Al-Azhar Park and Old Cairo’s Al-Darb Al-Ahmar district.
Ahmed and Malak survey bankside conditions in the suburb of Maadi.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Ahmed and Malak survey bankside conditions in the suburb of Maadi.
Old Cairo survey team on the Manasterly Pedestrian Bridge (from left to right: Adrienne, Professor Mozingo, Ahmed, Nada, Krishna, Salsabil, Rachael, Nada, Aly, Noha)
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Old Cairo survey team on the Manasterly Pedestrian Bridge (from left to right: Adrienne, Professor Mozingo, Ahmed, Nada, Krishna, Salsabil, Rachael, Nada, Aly, Noha)
View of the Nile’s east bank in CBD from the Marriott Hotel. Landmarks visible on the east bank include (from left to right) the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, the radio and TV building, the Ramses Hilton Hotel, and the 6th of October Bridge.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]View of the Nile’s east bank in CBD from the Marriott Hotel. Landmarks visible on the east bank include (from left to right) the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, the radio and TV building, the Ramses Hilton Hotel, and the 6th of October Bridge.
Students observe steep concrete banks, unused terraces, and informal settlements along the water’s edge
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Students observe steep concrete banks, unused terraces, and informal settlements along the water’s edge
Unused vegetated terraces along the floodplain in Maadi.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Unused vegetated terraces along the floodplain in Maadi.
Low wide flood plains in Maadi could be used for cafes, food stands, outdoor seating, and a ferry plaza.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Low wide flood plains in Maadi could be used for cafes, food stands, outdoor seating, and a ferry plaza.
Overcrowded ferries arriving at Maadi’s ferry landing demonstrate the need for a more robust and efficient ferry system.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Overcrowded ferries arriving at Maadi’s ferry landing demonstrate the need for a more robust and efficient ferry system.
Students and faculty compile and discuss fieldwork data during the workshop held on the campus of The American University in Cairo.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Students and faculty compile and discuss fieldwork data during the workshop held on the campus of The American University in Cairo.
Students sketch cross-sections of the Nile to assess constraints and opportunities for each study site (sketches by Krishna Balakrishnan).
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Students sketch cross-sections of the Nile to assess constraints and opportunities for each study site (sketches by Krishna Balakrishnan).
One of the small collaborative student groups discusses a strategic plan for the four study reaches along the Nile.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]One of the small collaborative student groups discusses a strategic plan for the four study reaches along the Nile.
Ali, Professor Mozingo, and Krishna evaluate proposed designs for a continuous river trail along the Nile.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Ali, Professor Mozingo, and Krishna evaluate proposed designs for a continuous river trail along the Nile.
Berkeley students visit the Giza Pyramids during a break from the workshop.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Berkeley students visit the Giza Pyramids during a break from the workshop.

Berkeley-Kyoto Exchange: Landscape, Culture and the Art of Maintenance

The landscape design education that most students receive in the U.S. emphasizes the design and crafting of space.
Tim Mollette-Parks Berkeley-Kyoto Exchange
Berkeley-Kyoto ExchangeEnlarge [+]

This education typically ends before the installation of a design, when dirt is moved, trees are planted, stones stacked. However, as six UC Berkeley students discovered while visiting a top Japanese design school, the end of construction can mean the beginning of a new phase of design. During a weeklong workshop hosted by the Kyoto University of Art and Design in May, six students and LAEP chair Linda Jewell were exposed to an approach to landscape design education that pushed students to value thoughtful and creative maintenance as a crucial component of the design process. During the workshop, we saw the elevation of maintenance to an art form, defining its role as a shaper of space and experience alongside conceptual, on-paper design.

This lesson in the value of maintenance emerged during visits to Kyoto gardens such as Katsura Rikyu, Kinkaku-ji, and Daisen-in and from doing hands-on maintenance with our Japanese counterparts. The UC Berkeley contingency was joined by two students from Rutgers University and their professor Seiko Goto, one of the organizers of the event. Two faculty members from the Kyoto University of Art and Design led our workshops: Ken Kawai (M.L.A. ’93) and Takahiro Naka, one of the foremost experts on Japanese garden history and restoration. Our hands-on workshops included learning time-honored pine pruning techniques that consider the visual and experiential implications of each grouping of needles, which we were trained to trim and shape by hand. We learned from master gardeners how pruning, when considered as a design process of its own, can adapt to the evolving characteristics of the tree and the conditions of the space it occupies. Other workshops utilized Professor Naka’s expertise in garden restoration. Our Berkeley group, working alongside students from Rutgers and Kyoto, helped excavate an ancient stone path as well as a pond garden on imperial palace grounds in Kyoto. The Kyoto students spend one day per week honing these creative maintenance and restoration skills to augment their conceptual design instruction.

Tim Mollette-Parks Berkeley-Kyoto Exchange
Berkeley-Kyoto ExchangeEnlarge [+]

Of course, the mode of professional practice in the U.S. limits the role of this type of maintenance in design thinking. Here, firms see projects through construction, sometimes providing guidelines for maintenance to the client, sometimes not. Budget cuts put maintenance of public landscapes at risk. Developer-driven private landscapes mean relatively rapid changes in ownership, leaving long-term maintenance unlikely. From viewing the results of maintenance in the Kyoto gardens, it became clear that many meaningful American landscapes built today will not receive the care that enables landscapes like Katsura and Daisen-in to abide.

The exchange of knowledge during our week in Kyoto did flow in both directions. The six Berkeley students, along with Professor Jewell and the Rutgers students, delivered presentations on the influence of Japanese gardens on U.S. design and designers. Topics ranged from the important role of Japanese immigrants in the residential gardening industry in California to the influence of traditional Japanese gardens on modernist landscape architects in the U.S. Through these presentations, we described for the Japanese students how their design heritage had affected our built landscapes, from the commercial-driven mimicry of the Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park to the profound inspiration for leading designers such as Rich Haag.

The week-long exchange with the faculty and students at the Kyoto University of Art and Design cast Japanese and U.S. attitudes toward landscapes in an appropriately contrasting light. The notions of continuity and harmony and tradition that are so important in Japan are likewise critical in their man-made landscapes. The rapidity and temporariness inherent in U.S. culture no doubt play a role in our attitudes and actions toward designed landscapes. The experience in Kyoto added up to a crystallization of an idea we all grapple with on a consistent basis–that landscapes are inextricably linked to the culture that produced them.

Tim Mollette-Parks Berkeley-Kyoto Exchange
Berkeley students receive instruction on creative pruning techniques alongside students from the Kyoto University of Art and DesignEnlarge [+]
Tim Mollette-Parks Berkeley-Kyoto Exchange
Berkeley-Kyoto ExchangeEnlarge [+]