Featured Image Credits: Foster + Partners | MASPERO TRIANGLE DISTRIC MASTERPLAN
The suburb we informally call Maspero was named after the French archaeologist Gaston Maspero, the former chairman of the Egyptian Antiquities Authority. This is where what is considered as the oldest state-run broadcasting building organization in the Arab World and Africa is located and is known as the Maspero building.
About the Area
The Maspero Triangle covers 77 acres of land and is located on the riverbank of El Galaa Street that overlooks the Ramses Hilton Hotel and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while behind the frontage lies informal housing, home to around 18,000 citizens. The place is divided into six areas: El Kafrawi and El Azawi slums, Narooz Alley, Santo, Radwan and the Haja Zeinab area.
Ownership of these lands goes back to the 1952 nationalization process implemented by Nasser that forced some landowners to grant their lands to their serving employees with endowments that indicated that they would receive interest for 20 years.
The first spark that threatened Maspero residents to be relocated was when The General Authority for Urban Planning was established in 1973, followed by when Hassaballah El Kafrawi, Minister of Housing and Reconstruction, issued an official document to evict residents from El Torgman, Maspero, Ramlet Boulaq and Souq el Asr in 1979 due to building conditions becoming progressively worse, followed by the earthquake in 1992, which caused the collapse of approximately 19% of them and damaged 14%. As residents of these houses could not afford to renovate, or move out, as well as not having any legal proof of land ownership, it was easy for the government to transfer some of them to Sayeda Zeinab, Wayli and 6th of October City.
Specialist planners and engineers discussed the possibility of three alternatives for implementation, suggesting a steady measured time-scale, while preserving religious, historical and buildings in good condition. The plan was suspended and then cancelled when Sadat was assassinated in 1981.
The Development Project Process
After the 2011 revolution, fire incidents took place in Arcadia Mall and El Kafrawi slums, and since then the triangle has become a public issue, and the welfare of the residents drew the attention of some officials who started thinking seriously about restoring the area and ensuring the resettlement of the residents.
In 2014, the development of haphazard areas and slums became the government’s priority, and the Ministry of Urban Development was established, headed by Dr. Laila Iskander who formed a committee of university professors, and the Urban Planning Authority, along with a number of specialists and volunteers. The committee had a clear vision for developing the triangle, taking into consideration spatial, social and cultural aspects.
In June 2015, the Ministry, in conjunction with Cairo Governorate and the Egyptian Informal Settlements Development Facility (ISDF) declared the prequalification of a global competition upon invitation for the development and architectural design of the Maspero Triangle. The goal was to design the master plan, which included the establishment of new residential, commercial and retail space, as well as the resettlement of most inhabitants in the same area.
Included in the plan was the Broadcasting Building where employees at the Egyptian Radio and TV Union work. Since the number of employees was decreased by an estimated 60%, it was decided that the rest are to be relocated to a building in the Media Production City. A lot of disputes regarding the future of the Maspero building were sparked, raising questions like whether it would be maintained as a valuable heritage building or will it become part of the investment project for the Maspero Triangle, which aims at creating a higher quality of life for the people living in this area.
In August 2015, Dr. Laila Iskander announced the winners of the competition to prove full transparency of the ministry. First prize was granted to The International Union of Architects, a non-governmental organization, whereas second prize was awarded to Foster and Partners – United Kingdom, and third ex-aequo to Stefano Boeri – F&M ing. Baukuh (Italy).
By the beginning of 2016, the Cairo Governorate started to receive residents’ requests, and the government started the negotiation process with locals to find adequate solutions for their properties. It was clearly emphasized by the Ministry of Housing that the implementation of the project should start before the end of 2016, yet this statement did not materialize at first as many residents rejected the three scenarios offered by the government.
The first scenario was providing monetary compensation to leave the place, which many resisted as the amount offered was too low compared to the value of the land they occupy. Secondly, they offered to transfer the residents to another housing unit in one of the development projects of the government like Asmarat or any social housing project, and finally, in case they wish to stay situated within the project, the government suggested paying their rent for three years outside the project until they can return after completion, which they will then be provided with a rental unit in exchange for paying a small amount, or the possession of the unit by paying a 20-year installment.
Government Officials’ Comments to Community Times
General Mohammed Tawab, Deputy Governor of Cairo
When we asked General Tawab about the status of this development project and with the residents, he said, “The country is serious about the Maspero Triangle development plan, and the state will not force anyone to leave the area. We have finally come to full consensus with the requirements of 4,500 families.” He added, “We appointed eight groups in the area to receive the requests of people, and help them choose a suitable proposal after our specialists explain the alternatives available.”
Dr. Ahmed Darwish, Deputy Minister of Housing
Dr. Darwish said that the people of Maspero who want compensation in return for leaving the area will be granted EGP 60,000 for each room, in addition to EGP 40,000 as evacuation expenses.
According to him, 70% of the residents requested material compensation, pointing out that 27 families were already transferred to Asmarat, and an additional 170 are scheduled.
“The rental value offered as a second option starts from EGP 1,000, which is a huge number compared to what they used to pay, which ranged from EGP 2 to 15 EGP maximum. Also, I believe that the question of ownership is not very affordable for them,” he said, explaining why the residents agreed to evacuate.
Engineer Ahmed Zaazaa, Co-Founder of D Group
Researcher, urban designer and co-founder of the D Group, Zaazaa is also one of the architects who worked on the development project.
“The plan we submitted included the same scenarios presented by the Ministry of Housing, but at lower prices starting from 250 to 800 EGP for rent. We also suggested moving people to a nearby location or offering monetary compensation, which ranged from EGP 50,000 to 25,000 per room,” he elaborated.
Zaazaa adds, “Actually, we feel frustrated because we worked on the development plan for two full years, as well as with investors and the government, and our project was agreed upon and signed by all parties, yet the project was given to Foster and Partner. We do not know what will actually be implemented, but we believe that if the government continues the process, 98% of the population will be moved outside the triangle.”
Residents’ Opinions and Concerns
We decided to visit the Maspero Triangle to find out what the people’s opinions were after coming to an agreement with the government. We met Mahmoud who said, “Not all houses need demolishing as there are a number of them that still retain their beauty and only need maintenance and slight restoration. Their architectural style is what gives them character and what the area is known for.”
According to Shaaban, the collapsed houses have pushed locals to leave the area, and the landowners, along with the governorate, have imposed a ban on the restoration of houses in the triangle. With the inability to prove ownership over the land, rebuilding is not an option. “It is like a gradual eviction: they want to see the whole area collapse,” added Shaaban.
There were initial proposals by the government to move the locals to new developments on the outskirts of Cairo, an option that the majority of them turned down, citing economic reasons and the fact that almost 76% of residents work in the local area neighborhood.
“We are not against development, but after we are housed in suitable areas with proper jobs,” said Sami Mahmoud who is skeptic about the government’s intentions because he witnessed the selling of the area to investors four years ago.
“Our children’s schools and our workshops are here, and so we have to defend our rights. However, after the government re-considered our social and economic circumstances and reviewed the financial compensation, I felt satisfied,” he added.
Atteya, who works as a blacksmith in Al-Galaa Street said, “I want a fair solution. I can move to Asmarat, for example, provided that the government guarantees to provide me with a shop in the same location or nearby. Being in a remote place and having to pay a lot for transportation will not work.”
The current situation now leaves residents feeling like they are forced to move to Asmarat, a place they consider as remote compared to Maspero, while others are satisfied with the financial compensation but are still worried about employment.
The Re-making of Maspero Triangle and Old Quarters
Foster + Partners
It was announced in November 2015 by the Egyptian Ministry of State for Urban Renewal and Informal Settlements (MURIS) that Foster + Partners won the competition to design the masterplan for the Maspero Triangle District in Downtown Cairo.
The project is envisaged as a combination of public initiative with private investment support to produce a viable urban regeneration scheme. Based on estimated land values, the masterplan places commercial and residential spaces along the river edge and main street frontages, while buildings and open community spaces occupy the more private, central core of the scheme. This allows the existing population of the district to maintain their overlapping work relationships while new office and retail spaces on the edges of the site create employment opportunities for the entire city of Cairo.
The first phase will fill the empty spaces within the district with greenery to enhance the vibrant public realm in the community. This will improve the quality of life and benefit the existing community immediately. The parts of the residential and commercial areas will be built in tandem creating a sustainable model of development.
The design of the public realm is key to the project, and in addition to the green spaces throughout the settlement, a central open space has been created at the heart of the neighborhood for community events and celebrations. This space links directly to the food market, serving visitors and locals alike, which in turn leads to the retail spine and the hospital at the northern corner of the site. The settlement prioritizes pedestrian traffic with its narrow, shaded streets, which also connects across the river to the exclusive neighborhood of Zamalek via a footbridge that boosts the connectivity of the area. At the foot of the bridge, there is the ‘Lagoon’, lined with a number of cafés, restaurants and shops that will make this a highly desirable leisure destination.”
International Union of Architects
SEED project seeks to establish a new urban regeneration model for Cairo. A model based on community driven principles and a dedication to achieving balanced social and physical change.
Central to SEED is a development structure that runs commercial strategies and revenue generating businesses with the objective of furthering the social and economic development of the community. Profits made are reinvested into the community – both in ‘hard’ investments such as housing and public spaces, but also in ‘soft’ investments such as education and training.
A community working together: As a social enterprise, the principle aim of SEED is to establish a neighborhood which is a great place to live, work in, and visit.
Phased physical development and balanced socio-economic initiatives will transform the Maspero triangle into a thriving mixed-use neighborhood. A neighborhood that boasts new social housing, shops, offices, galleries, restaurants, cafes, parks, Nile frontage and a range of leisure and recreational facilities. A community that grows through its access to learning facilities, childcare services, family support, events, festivals and enterprise support programs.
SEED is not a clean slate redevelopment plan. It is a collaborative regeneration process that aims to capture and nurture Maspero’s rich heritage and sense of community. It is also a flexible and evolving process that responds to the changing needs and aspirations of the community. At all-times, SEED must act as an enabling canvas for social wellbeing, growth, and achievement.
The architects imagine a system of new green islands along the river that will contain public spaces open to the city and a new, elevated Botanical Garden covering the colossal road interchange which separates Maspero Triangle form the Egyptian Museum.
International Union of Architects website.
Stefano Boeri – F&M ing. Baukuh (Italy)
Their masterplan is based on five main points:
1. We propose an exchange of properties that will allow private investors to develop the Nile waterfront – with the exception of a New Museum – and that will, at the same time, allow the public sector to secure property of the popular neighborhood, in order to upgrade this area using the revenues of the sales of the land along the waterfront, and the taxation on real estate profits. This exchange prevents the displacement of the inhabitants of the popular neighborhood.
2. Inside the popular neighborhood – which after the property exchange will be entirely owned by the public sector – we propose a series of small interventions (restorations, completions). These interventions will not affect the identity of the area, on the contrary, they will bring new life to the neighborhood by introducing new productive activities such as workshops for craftsmen and services. New construction technologies will be experimented in the upgrading of the area.
3. In the spaces between the popular neighborhood and the waterfront, we propose to develop a series of new residential settlements, where the Cairene middle-class – that in the last years have left Downtown Cairo – could come back to a new, intense, metropolitan life, directly linked with the attractions of the centre and of the new waterfront.
4. We propose a waterfont made of residential towers that ends with a new hotel at the northern end of the Maspero Triangle. At the centre of the waterfront there will be a New Museum. The Museum (that could be developed in close partnership with similar international institutions) will combine a new public square open onto the Nile, an elevated platform for laboratories, ateliers and artistic production and a system of exhibition spaces grouped in a circular volume.
5. We imagine a system of new green islands along the river that will contain public spaces open to the city and a new, elevated Botanical Garden covering the colossal road interchange which separates Maspero Triangle from the Egyptian Museum.
Positive improvements include commercial and cultural projects, luxury high rise apartments, entertainment complex green landscapes and a multi-storey car park.
Stefano Boeri – F&M ing. Baukuh website.