International Workshop

(Nezar AlSayyad, University of California, Berkeley)
While Constantinos Doxiadis was pursuing an intellectual and professional agenda in the 1950s and 1960s based in Athens, events in Greece's southern neighbor, Egypt, were unfolding. A country that for a long time was part of a western colonial empire was now rebelling against this European world order, turning eastwards the socialist political ideology prevalent in the then other superpower, the Soviet Union and the Eastern European block.

Egypt's attempt to pursue an alternative modernity based on embracing a socialist paradigm in its architecture and planning projects remains an unstudied domain at the national level, but also in terms of its regional implications. In Nasser's Egypt, two architects/planners stand out as central figures in the state's project to redefine itself: Sayed Kuram and Hassan Fathy. These two had fundamentally different approaches to both modernity and the question of national identity. Kuram, on one hand, attempted to design and plan buildings and spaces that captured the state's desire to project a new modern image in effort to place Egypt among the nation-states of a new non-aliened block that was still tilted towards socialist aesthetics. Fathy, on the other hand, struggled to find a middle ground between the maintenance of Egypt's historic architectural identity and the demands for change brought about by the new political realities. In addition, Fathy's exposure to Doxiadis' ideas do not seem to have impacted his agenda. Ironically, Fathy, who was a lot less influential in this time period, emerges in later years, and for reasons that have little to do with the larger project of modernity, as the guru of contemporary Egyptian and Arab architecture.

The paper suggest that architecture and planning in the Arab World's largest nation-state in the 1950s and 1960s was a product of competing interests and ideologies that the larger modernist project of planning in the era of decolonization never fully took roots in this regional context.