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.

4 thoughts on “the reference wall

  1. Nice exploration! It’s great to see what you do on a small scale, that in just a matter of a couple hours you can unravel some of the politico-spatial relationships that are otherwise hidden by typical routes through the city.

    That last image of the bird houses is interesting–I wonder how they are attached? It looks like they are part of the brick construction.

    There are a few thesis projects which wrapped up here in Berkeley that deal with ecological reclamation of aging or underutilised infrastructure. Maybe that’s a direction you could go with your reclamation of modern cities?

  2. thanks nick! the bird houses are terracotta i believe, or painted wood, and nailed on after-the-fact (but then painted for some extra ‘stick’?)

    I like the thesis suggestion as well…as I spend time in more of these places, it is the ongoing reclamation that already catches my attention: the generally small scale moves of current inhabitants that begin to remake the place…alter, shift its organization to work better with current demands and issues. these things happen unintentionally, or with individual motives in mind, but quickly aggregate and/or spread to form a new aspect of urban organization, so long as the right amount of demand or population is in place! i’d like to tap into that latent reorganization as the structure for my approach to ‘reclamation.’

  3. Hi Miss!

    The aquaduct tresspassing sure paid-off! I love the pics and tale–reminds me of the many abandonded rail lines here in the Midwest–while not nearly “ancient”, I have been intrigued by the amount of effort and the short span of usefulness…perhaps the ‘duct was in service a bit longer (smile)…and we got some great bike paths out of the deal!

    Are you sure those are birdhouses? Perhaps not a funky old pipe-organ? As for the birds, I wonder if there is a heirarchy–you know the birds down below can’t be as important–or spiffy–as those above…

    Be safe–hope to see you soon!


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