What happened, Major Tom?
 A fantastical vision of Cairo’s elevated highway
– Amin El-Didi
, Mina George, 
Hussein Salem

Outdoor advertising has become a world-wide urban aesthetic in our modern societies. Businesses would call billboards a method of advertising within their constitutional rights, most of the general public would call them a nuisance, and a tool that takes away the citizen’s visual right to the city. Cities that have acted to change that reality are those such as Sao Paulo and Tehran. In Sao Paulo, billboards were outright banned, and most citizens were fans of the initiative.2 
In Tehran, however, billboard ads were replaced with artwork by renowned local and foreign artists. In a project which the city’s mayor hoped will encourage people to visit museums, turning the city into a giant urban gallery, such a move was commended by many of the general public.2 

As inspirational as these instances are, they are rare in a our current capitalist world. As Egypt takes a turn for the neoliberal, Cairo has become riddled with billboard structures, focused on the most vital vehicular roads and bridges. Such a reality is a result of the less than meaningful urban interventions, when it comes to serving the public right to the city, carried out by the Egyptian government.

Considering the state of metropolitan Cairo a decade from now, this short film speculates on the state of a vital vehicular bridge in a state of gridlock. With the ever increasing population of both citizens and cars, a fantastical reality is imagined where said bridge is put to consideration, a tabula rasa, creating an example of a new urban setting strongly tied to Egyptian culture. The investigation is primarily concerned with the identity of Cairo, how to enhance it and embed it into the Cairene cultural realm through funnelling its prominent features into one singular public vein, this vein being the 6th of October Bridge. The bridge spans over a multi-layered set of neighbourhoods with various key characteristics that define the character of Cairo.

The 6th of October bridge passes through many pivotal areas in Cairo, each with its own separate identity. Starting with Zamalek, and its history of lush greenery, as it was first named “Jardin des Plantes” (Garden of Plants). Since its conception, it has carried privatised green spaces. Downtown Cairo, specifically, the Maspero triangle, a historic favela seeming neighbourhood covered by a set of giant billboards from the side of the bridge. It is home to the Maspero Television Tower, a private governmental media centre for the country. The bridge moves along many of the city’s market places, such as Abbasiya. It eventually ends, tucked between two buildings of the Ain Shams University campus, a public university steeped in the city’s recent history. By 2026, the short film speculates a future where each of these unique areas expand onto the bridge, creating meaningful public spaces, in the spirit of building monuments for the future.

While the ‘Clean City Law’ act of Sao Paulo had broad public support, there were concerns regarding the considerable capital and effort it would take to clear the resulting ghost town of empty billboards. In this vision of 2026’s Cairo, its billboard ghost town is turned into a reinvented urban reality. Through using the overflow of billboards surrounding the bridge, the intention is to explore the multidimensionality of reusing a recurring element that adversely affects the city in a visual and socioeconomic manner. This reuse of all elements deemed redundant, from empty billboards to car frames, is a precedent to a vision evoking the potentiality of utilising what is widely perceived as superfluous and subsequently transforming into a tool to strengthen the city’s identity.

1. Kohlstedt, Kurt. “Clean City Law: Secrets of Sao Paolo Uncovered by Outdoor Advertising Ban”, 99 percent invisible, 5 Feb. 2016.
2. Dehghan, Saeed. “Tehran swaps ‘death to America’ billboards for Picasso and Matisse”, the guardian, 7 May. 2015.

Amin, Hussein and Mina are young architects graduated from the Architecture and Urban Planning program at the German University in Cairo in 2017. The Egyptian trio, sharing the same passion for pop culture and its eminent influence on cities’ unspoken identities, along with their mutual enthusiasm in the role of architecture in shaping prominent urban realities, seek to create alternate visions on different scales in Egyptian cities. Living within Egypt’s perpetual political turmoil and witnessing the recurrent urban failures throughout the country’s short lived past has driven the Cairene group to explore possible urban specimens examining extreme circumstances through which urban fiascos would allow for new ways of thinking, some of them influenced by Cairo’s rich visual culture. As well as opening up a dialogue for discussing the future of the city’s urban structures by creating whimsical scenarios stimulated by their hometown Cairo’s spatial oddity.


Volume 1, no. 2 Summer 2017