AUTHOR: Dalila Ghodbane
CONTEXT: Presentation at the Swiss Doctoral Summer School for Art History, Academy of Architecture, Mendrisio, 16-17.06.2017
KEYWORDS: Cairo, climate, thermal heritage, memory, thermal practices, ethnography, thermal knowledge
The research presented here aims to identify knowledge and practices about housing linked to climate, in order to rethink passive architecture and thermal control in a highly urbanised context, namely Cairo. More specifically, I will focus on heritage buildings, celebrated for their thermal efficiency, but used as living places and modified by residents through time. These adaptations show that climatic and energetic performance, which is often portrayed as the basis of sustainable architecture, needs to be balanced with an idea of thermal knowledge embedded in lived experience and in the social context of its emergence. Therefore, the study is at the intersection between a technical analysis of building activities in Cairo today, and an examination of the users’ practices and techniques concerning thermal control. For that purpose, my methodology of research includes ethnography as well as architectural survey and thermal measurements, and a study of the literature nurturing the Egyptian’s architects’ education.
In this complex network of skills and knowledge in the plural, my research questions are: how does thermal expertise establish between scientific knowledge, constructive know-how and local practices, and between universal knowledge and the fluctuating character of its frame-notion of comfort? In a field where practice and theory are closely associated like in architecture, how is the question of thermal control tackled? How do Egyptian architects and engineers refer to vernacular architecture - by extension, to a vernacular sort of knowledge? For which purpose in their strategies of positioning, do they make use of it? By investigating this shared history, I would like to interrogate as well the figure of the expert, examining his/her role otherwise than as the embodiment of an incontestable knowledge.