Interview with Cairo based urban designer Mohamed El-Sharkawy, on space design in Cairo City
There is a field called Space Psychology, a brand of psychology concerned with defining how the human brain adjusts to it's environment. Paul Keedwell said in his book, Headspace: The Psychology of City Living "We can all become architectural psychologists, and in so doing, lead a more contented city life." - Paul's book offers a lot of insight on how our homes, streets and public buildings arrangement matter, It's not about aesthetic design but about how it relates to inhabitants mental health, prioritising the mind aspect. When we walk in the city we get a myriad of impressions - smells, sounds, how other people behave and how the buildings look like and so on. All of these impressions influence where we decide to go, how we move our bodies. If there is no nurturing and no maintenance, the communal spaces becomes neglected. In turn, the people will feel neglected. If the government generates the impression that society cares little about you, you will care little for society. If the architecture of the city feels lifeless, faceless, hopeless, joyless, mean-spirited, the only message it sends to the citizens is that life is a prison. In addition to the craze of modern life which can be very overwhelming, the messy social and economic realities we are bombarded with, thousands of different influences on tastes and preferences. All of these elements are very demanding on our attention, our brain can feel under attack from all directions which can cause fatigue or anxiety.
Much of the time, Cairo feels like a force of antagonism that we need to endure. Epictetus, a greek stoic philosopher proposed thinking of one's life as an actor in a play. You do not choose your role, or the place you will perform and you have no say in how anything that happens. Your only task is to just play the role you find yourself in as best as you can. If we were to entertain Epictetus's proposal and thought of Cairo as a stage, its narrative would be almost incomprehensible. It's too diverse, no one knows what is the narrative. No matter how much we draw lines, divide the city into sections, establish boundaries, break it down into pieces. The city is a play within a play within a play, it's a labyrinth of consciousness. The city is a creature, an organism with a personality that we build a relationship with, we need to understand it, analyze it and if we could, try to fix it.
To further explore this topic, I have constructed an interview with Cairo based Urban designer, Mohamed El Sharkawy. An academic researcher whose focus rotates around Cairo's urban transformations that occurred in the past couple of years and the impact it left on it's inhabitants. He explains how Cairo doesn't give its inhabitants a sense of belonging to the city and a better quality of life, instead the city is only becoming a vessel for investments in favor of corporate elites. The more it transforms the more it loses its identity, creating a sense of monotony between districts and cultures. The result of this expansion strategy led to the disruption and division of the urban fabric and further disconnecting it's inhabitants, increasing the gap between the classes of society and creating corrupted patches between the old and the new. Mohamed says, "Cairo's expansion is a way for Cairo to run away from it's old self, escaping the undesirable qualities of the old city and starting from scratch"
you can watch the full interview on youtube.