Vertical Urban Sprawl
Egypt is facing a housing crisis seen in all of its cities. Contractors buy pieces of land, or an old building, disassemble it to empty the land, then come up with a residential building 2, 3 or sometimes 4 times higher than the original building. The motive for this act is pure profit because these contractors see the piece of land as an asset, and all they work on is maximizing their profit by creating as many residential units that will eventually payback for its expanses and create a profit in the end.
Sadly, the problem with all of this is that the contractors only have knowledge of structure and construction to build a huge structure, but not the architect’s mind that can design a space that is livable. Therefore, these new buildings come up with a wide range of problems, from lighting to ventilation, and even to inadequate urban density according to the local laws. All of these factors contribute immensely to the overall housing crisis in Egypt.
Do you wonder what could be the consequences of replacing low rise building with the new high towers?
We will walk you through the problems created by such practices and how it affects our daily lives.
Here are some of the problems that we analyzed:
Extra floors=More urban density
Cities are designed to digest a certain amount of people, which is determined by calculating the average number of people who can live in one apartment and multiply it by the number of apartments in the whole city. Of course, the number of apartments will insanely increase if every old building was doubled in size and capacity, even one extra floor will insanely affect the whole community, as this in return will affect the traffic in the street, water and electricity supply, and parking spaces.
To maximize the net home area, the designers reduce the area of the courts that should provide lighting and ventilation for kitchen and toilets, as well as for some home spaces if needed. Yet, the constructors found a way to go around this issue and hide from the law.
One very creative contractor built the court as stated by the law in accordance with the total height of the building. And after the owners finished the license and the officials approved their work, they closed more than two-thirds of the court. This way the paperwork is done, and nobody really knows that they used the court to maximize the internal area of the building.
It was very surreal when I was discussing with the owner and he was pointing out in mere space and saying this will be your living room when we close it after we take the license.
No proper Lighting or Ventilation
Most of the rooms are getting their lighting and ventilation from a shared court with bathrooms and kitchens. While this on itself is a huge issue, the problem here is the size of the court, which makes it impossible for sun exposure to reach some rooms, especially on the first few floors of the building. On the other hand, the residents are constantly facing a lack of privacy in their own rooms, due to their exposure to their home’s services.
Breaking the Law and just Paying the Fine
When we asked about how the owners get away with the extra floors, we found out that they calculate the fine they pay as part of the budget, and in the end, the profit from selling these apartments will be more than enough to cover the fine they paid. In some cases, the government officials don’t allow those extra floors, that’s why the owners have to be very cautious during the construction to make sure no sudden investigations happen.
Poorly designed spaces
Because after all the whole purpose of these new buildings is profit, some owners don’t even recruit an architect to design their homes to cut out some expenses. Instead, they rely on templates and some general knowledge of the contractors.
But sadly, architecture is not just some walls and doors, it requires a lot of critical thinking and knowledge to properly design an adequate space. Therefore, the lack of proper intervention from architects in the design process causes all these problems that are showing in these new buildings.
Inadequate building materials
A very common practice that we saw was finishing up the front elevation of a building, and leaving its back and sides with naked building materials. For the owners, these sides are not really seen by anyone, and all they are thinking about is creating an attractive elevation.
What the building owners don’t really know is the importance of the external coating, as this working hand in hand with the external walls to protect the building from the weather.
As for the external walls, we saw in some cases the outer walls are composed of single brick units, which in no way will be enough to prevent the summer heat or winter cold from seeping into our homes.
Due to the poorly designed exterior finishing of the building, each apartment in return will depend on external systems to maintain a livable temperature both in winter and in summer. The poor environmental treatments of the building will force its inhabitants to rely on air conditioning and electric heaters, which will significantly increase the energy use of the building, and all the buildings with similar conditions.
Not Enough Parking Spaces
As we mentioned earlier, the street surrounding those new high buildings were originally designed to accommodate a certain amount of people, and adding more residence to the same area will cause huge problems of traffic within the premises of the building, and overall in the whole city.
Fire Escape Stairs aren’t According to the Law Standards
Some owners see the law stating the need for more than one staircase is useless. When, in fact, it is very important to maintain safety regulation, because, in case of emergency, there will be no escape to certain disasters if we don’t take our precautions.
The building owners have all sorts of creative solutions to go around this issue in their design. One owner completely removed the fire escape just after getting his license. The funny side to the story is that he didn’t put a lot of materials in its construction because he designed it to be built and destroyed.
On another solution, we saw that the owner made the staircase and hid it. This way no one can access it from any floor, but it is still so that when the officials check for it, they can find it.
No Consistency in the Elevation Style; Urban Eclecticism
Now that there is no respect for the laws, there is also no respect for the local style. Each building owner is free to shape, color, and decorate the façade as much as he likes, which leaves us in the end with a very inconsistent skyline for the city, varying from heights, to widths, to styles, etc.
Some of these inconsistencies are severely eye-hurting.
The housing crisis of Egypt is getting worse day by day. The built environment is one of the most important parts of our life. We live, eat, work, and enjoy our time in architecture, that’s why we should all be concerned about its deterioration, and work together on finding solutions for it.
Read more about Urban Problems in Cairo