the reference wall

our first day in cairo sachin and I wandered onto an aqueduct. this particular portion begins at the nile, with a pump to draw water from a well next to the river, and ends at the metro line, where the arched structure was simply demolished.

the tall open structure (we only had to remove a small wire from the barricade to open it and get in) gave us a spectacular view over Cairo, and a chance to see what was happening on top of the buildings, many of which are unfinished. I am told that this is because there is a different tax structure in cairo for finished vs. unfinished buildings, the latter being the cheaper alternative. therefore building owners might leave the structural brick exposed, extend concrete columns in preparation for the next floor, or leave out the final enclosure elements.

an active element on many roofs is the water tank, which is often surrounded by a lightweight shade structure of dried grasses, likely papyrus or cane, or wood slats. one of few rural references in cairo’s sea of red brick, the structures take an edge off the harsh sun and offer a quick solution for shade on the roof or at the street, as well as temporary shelter or an initial cover for space grabbing.

finally, the aqueduct itself acts as a wall for the city. to the north, the nile runs up to downtown, and a major east west thoroughfare runs along the aqueduct. to the south, dense settlements press up against it.

despite the density, there is still space for birds.


intermission: india

the first major leg of my trip is complete. after traveling from northern india to the brink of europe in istanbul, down through israel/palestine and around egypt, i spent a short week in ethiopia, whose neighbor eritrea i was sadly unable to enter. due to an unbelievable processing time of 5-6 weeks for an eritrean tourist visa, i had to reroute my ticket at the last minute, after pleading at embassies in the us, israel and india for an exception (to which they all happily agreed yet failed to enact).

i have taken a moment to breathe back in ahmedabad for a week before heading off to switzerland and france. summer is at its peak, and every gust of wind feels like the air from a working oven, burning every inch of exposed skin.  needless to say, i’m spending my time indoors or at least in the shade. stay tuned for some posts of the recent past…i’m hoping to (yet again) catch up on what i’ve missed over the last few weeks of travel.

heliopolis: dual structure

I have spent the last few weeks in Cairo, and now I am about to head off to another adventure in Addis Ababa and surrounds. before I go I will try to get a few things posted from my time in Egypt…and more is on the way sometime mid-May…

Heliopolis is a little on the early side of my subject: it was designed and built just before the twentieth century began. But the design of the commercial arcade was certainly something worth investigating.

On Baghdad Street, four story arcades line one side of the street, while the other contains shops and on the ground floor and holds upper stories with various bay window structures, more typical of the rest of the urban fabric of the district.

What is remarkable about the four story arcade buildings is the dual structural systems that govern the division of (in this case) shops in the building. The structure of the façade, outside the arcade, is symmetrical, and emphasizes the building as a block of the street. Classical motifs punctuate the columns and center + end are dealt with as anchors. But the structure of the building behind is not hierarchic: it is a simple post and beam system in which all beams are spaced equidistantly.

The dual system allows the commercial space behind the arcade to be divided and subdivided, or expanded, without overtaking the public zone of the street. What is more, the variation in the scale of the arcade spaces as they move up through the section of the building allows different types of activity and different materials to be inserted as the occupants shift.

The symmetric  style may be a bit heavy handed, but it offers an interesting possibility for the creative use of competing structural systems in the design of a building that must withstand commercial and residential change while keeping a foot in the public and the private.