In his introduction to Cairo Since 1900: An Architectural Guide, architectural historian Mohamed Elshahed writes that he hopes the book “will inspire residents and visitors to see Cairo in a new light,” and “will lead to the protection and preservation of some of the buildings included in it, for the sake of the city and its historical memory.”
This book is a gift to those who love Cairo, albeit a bittersweet one, since it inevitably highlights the ongoing loss of so much of the city’s modern architectural heritage.
Recently published by the American University in Cairo Press, the book is beautifully designed, as elegant and functional as many of the buildings it documents. It is a small, compact, softcover volume that can be carried along as one explores the city. It contains a clear, concise and informative introduction, a small glossary and maps on which the location of each building is noted. The buildings are grouped by neighborhood and each is documented by one or two pages of text and illustration.
The book’s production was supported by the Barjeel Art Foundation and carried out by an extensive research team, led by Elshahed, who is the creator of the Cairobserver blog. He was also the curator of Egypt’s Modernist Indignation exhibition at the London Design Biennale in 2018 and of the British Museum’s Modern Egypt project in 2017. He is currently teaching as a practitioner-in-residence at New York University. (See a related article, “Scholars Consider What Popular Culture Means in Egypt Today.”)
A Changing, Hybrid Capital
The buildings documented in Cairo Since 1900 range from famous landmarks to unknown but interesting examples of particular architectural practices. Examples include parks, bridges, workers’ residences, movie theaters, banks, grand apartment buildings, and houses of worship. The book shows buildings that were planned but never executed, ones that have been demolished, and ones that have been altered beyond recognition.