People & Sustainability


Two contrasting urban fabrics in Cairo, Egypt

People shape their cities in many ways and on many scales. Describe how socioeconomic factors can shaped the built environment from the entire city to the single public space.  Discuss the most relevant example from the class/reading material and bring your own example from your own experience and observations

(Sustainable Development in Cities, USP 514 Class Discussion)


Urban Forest of Africa | Johannesburg, Lagos & Cairo

By: Joe McBride

The urban forests of Johannesburg, Lagos, and Cairo were surveyed to provide a data base for a comparison of their composition, structure, and condition.  Tree species diversity in these three urban forests was compared to the species diversity of trees in each biome in which the city occurred and to climatic parameters of each biome to measure the correlation between urban forest characteristics and the characteristics of the biomes.  Structure of the urban forest was examined in relation to historical precedents for urban design in each city.  Current problems of urban forest condition and management are discussed.

To obtain a copy of the presentation, click on the link below:

Urban Forest of Africa (Johanesburg, Lagos & Cairo)

Sustainability of Buildings in Nuweiba Village, New & Ancient Building Techniques | Egypt

By: Mamdouh Sakr


One of the project’s clusters after the external plastering (still under construction)


Architecture students and architects in Egypt and elsewhere seldom have the opportunity to study and understand the various techniques of Earth Construction. The majority of the architectural educational systems ignores such a topic completely, and restricts it to anthropological studiesThis severe neglect of teaching the ancient yet sustainable building techniques is contemporaneous to a ruthless erosion of the Egyptian vernacular architecture, with all its architectural elements, decorative motifs and structural techniques.

Nowadays a number of projects are trying to benefit from the timeless building techniques and local materials to create sustainable, environment friendly and economical buildings.Most of these trials are a direct result of the efforts of Hassan Fathy, the late Egyptian architect who spent his entire career looking for and developing means of rebuilding communities that would allow people to live with self-respect despite their economic status.

The Project… The Idea

I was asked to design a touristic camp on a piece of land north of Nuweiba, which is a coastal town in the eastern part of the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. An area, which is well known for its numerous “Bedouin-Style” camps, where tourists stay in cheap huts made of palm reeds and recycled plywood boards.

The “Bedouin- Style” hut seemed like a nice idea that has been abused by bad taste and limited budgets, and what started as an environment friendly, economical and aesthetically pleasing simple lodge turned to be an ugly ramshackle heap of different materials. After almost two decades of labeling the area as a “Hippie paradise”, things changed for a number of reasons and a camp composed of huts would never generate any income or even sustain the ownership of the plot. Sothe owners of the camps were obliged to build permanent rooms in addition to the simple huts.

The owner who was mesmerized by the beauty of the site wanted to respect the environment and create buildings that enhance the visitors’ experience of the sea, the desert and the mountains. The piece of land had a narrow frontage on the beach (90 meters), and this required a different design approach than the typical spreading of the rooms in rows parallel to the shoreline.Therefore the design gradually developed as a number of rooms clustered around courtyards that varied in size and form. These room clusters were placed organically in the natural desert landscape, ensuring natural lighting and ventilation to every unit.

Building Materials and Techniques

The use of natural materials and traditional building techniques was the main criterion, which influenced and guided the design of the camp. The available building materials in the site and the region were: stone shingles, silt, gravel and sand. Apart from these materials anything else had to be brought from the cities of the Nile Delta (almost 350 km away).

As the local volcanic and granite stones radiate large quantities of heat, they were unsuitable to build living spaces, but were easily used tobuildthe foundations. The presence of good-quality silt and sand encouraged the use of adobe, where only dry straw was needed to strengthen the mixture. So it was decided that adobe will be prepared in site, and used to build the walls, and the question was what will be used for the roofs. Unfortunately using reinforced concrete to create flat roofs became the norm in Egypt that most of the architects and clients do not even think of other options. I was trying to provide other environment friendly alternatives, however using wooden joists would not be that appropriate, as the materials, its preparing to withstand the harsh climate and the skilled labor involved would be extremely expensive. While I wanted to use adobe domes and vaults for environmental and aesthetic reasons, fortunately the owner accepted the idea because of its economical advantages and the overall ambiance, which would appeal and attract tourists visiting the camp. So we were simply using natural building materials and reusing Ancient Egyptian building techniques in the 21st century.

The Architect and the Mason

I can claim that earth building construction and traditional building techniques depend on the experience and ingenuity of the mason more than the creativity of the architect. The masons deliberately made some slight modifications, such as the sizes and location ofsome of the alcoves and a few decorative brick formations, where they felt that their modifications added a distinctive flair to the buildings.

I believe that such flexible relationship between the architect and the masons is peculiar to the earth building construction and is rarely present in the conventional building processes. This remark might raise an important question, whether these buildings are considered examples of “Vernacular” or“Neo-vernacular architecture?

Conflicting Visions of Sustainable Development: Struggles over the Production of Eco-Cities in Dakar | Senegal


The concept of sustainability has been invoked to advocate a wide variety of environmental and economic development projects. Most recently, calls for the ‘sustainable development’ of urban centers in the global South have sought to address environmental and social problems associated with informal housing settlements. This presentation examines debates –among a variety of public and private actors- over how to counteract the proliferation of informal housing settlements and manage natural resources in Senegal’s rapidly urbanizing Dakar Region. In doing so, I draw from ethnographic research and textual analysis to examine conflicts that have developed over how sustainable development should be practiced in urban Dakar. Through an examination of several conflicts that have developed from recent efforts to plan and construct ‘eco-cities’, I argue that actors are struggling over a/how to best preserve urban farmland and floodplains and b/the extent to which middle-class and elite housing estates should be integrated into urban development strategies. In addressing the outcomes of these struggles over sustainable urban development, I contend that these conflicts are reconfiguring Dakar’s urban landscape and increasing urban poverty and inequality.

Can Africa survive the current food system crisis? | Africa

UntitledIntroducing the debate around the issue of systemic crisis of global food system in relation to global hunger, climate change, and sustainability; particularly, its ramifications on the African people and continent. Moreover, it is crucial to shed lights on three folds: (a) the political question of huger and food distribution, (b) the debate around the food system and climate change vis-à-vis land grabs which will include examination of large scale food production, and (c) alternative solutions of the current food system that rural farmers and social movements advocating for.

Red Sea: From Mass-Tourism to Ecotourism | Egypt


The Red Sea is a very unique resource that is not yet being utilized to its full potential. Since 1980s till today the mass tourism has destroyed large areas of coastal stretches of the northern Red Sea region and the city of Hurghada is an example for such environmental deterioration.

Innovative initiatives have taken place in order to protect the remaining parts of the red sea (From Marsa Alam city to South) including several guidelines by the Red Sea Sustainable Tourism Initiative (RSSTI) in 2000-2004 that focused on developing ecotourism and coastal planning for the region, followed by another pilot programme named Livelihood and Income From Environment (LIFE) in 2005-2008 which supported implementing pilot projects in national parks to demonstrate examples of the appropriate process. Since 2008 to date there has been several initiatives to introduce sustainable practices (i.e. Solid Waste Management, Mooring Buoys,..and other practices) lead by local NGOs such as HEPCA.

Despite all these attempts, the development pattern did not change much and the knowledge gained remains within a limited number of people, the main obstacles are: (i) An intuitional problem where the responsible authorities (both tourism and environment ministries) do not coordinate especially with such complexity of stakeholders, (ii) Practitioners are more inclined to utilize the Nile Valley architecture as the local and appropriate one for the Red Sea, and (iii) The lack of the understanding of the Red Sea system (i.e. drainage, soil, marine life,…and habitat) resulted to several inappropriate land subdivisions and allocating development in vulnerable areas

The solutions for such complex problems can be summarized as follow:

(i) Elevate the planning exercise above the ministry level, where planning is not limited to one ministry (housing, tourism, … and environment) that has a very specific mandate and will encourage mono-type of development, but rather an over arching exercise that is a product of a higher level proposed committee on the prime-minster level.

(ii) Improving the education (mainly architecture and planning) to incorporate appropriate planning tools and building technologies and not limit this arena to the Nile Valley architecture. Learning from the local tribes knowledge about best site selections criteria and building styles. Seeking guidance from relevant experiences in the region rather than copying western countries

(iii) Need for suitability land use maps that can guide development in the region without harmful intervention to the environment and being locally implementable within the local market dynamics

Also posted on the Berkeley Tourism Studies Working Group, (part of TSWG colloquium):