AUTHOR: Dalila Ghodbane
KEYWORDS: Islamic Cairo, thermal knowledge, heritage, expertise, environmental perception, architecture, ethnography
The number and the intensity of the heatwaves increase in cities around the Globe, and the ways in which people actually keep cool in urbanized contexts today is an issue that is rarely addressed. Shifting the gaze from the building to those who build them and make them live is necessary to reassess the climate agency in architecture. How do urban households face the heat in housings that were not designed to cope with hot temperatures? How do these thermal practices relate to the expert knowledge – or to the experts themselves – on planning and architecture about climate control? On the one hand, there is a plethora of architectural publications documenting what should be a virtuous relation to the climate. Wind catchers, window filters, thick walls and courtyards are ubiquitous archetypes. On the other hand, this extensive knowledge remains marginal in practice.
This ethnographic study aims to understand the logics of house making in Cairo from its inhabitant’s perspective. Construction involves a wide range of material resources and a large network of people. Those can be qualified craftsmen, but also construction workers, neighbours, or anyone deemed as reliable. Creating domestic microclimates requires skills and knowledge. They range from tiny material or body adjustments to thorough modifications of the house, like moving furniture, adding and removing nets or curtains, shading systems, moving across the house according to the day time and season, etc. These housing projects, reflecting the material and moral prospects of the inhabitants, address the demands of households in a fluctuating and, therefore, in an uneven manner. The forms of these housing projects differ from design projects as developed in architectural offices, but are not less architectural since they shape the most of the urban built environment in a city like Cairo.