“In the majority of developing countries the low incomes of many urban households, combined with the high costs of urban land, conspire to make access to affordable, appropriate, and legal housing extremely difficult. In Egypt, the result is that about twenty million people live today in houses that are detrimental to their health and safety. Yet as Egyptian urban centers continue to expand, these problems become more urgent”

Ahmed M. Soliman, Tilting at Sphinxes: Locating Urban Informality in Egyptian Cities


This studio excursion will provide the students an intense immersion into the issue of informal and “unlawful” housing as it is practiced in the so-called developing world. This will serve as a primer to the problematic of future urban, sub-urban and affordable housing, especially in the city centers where rapid growth, expensive urban land and socioeconomic inequality prevail.

As long as income disparity and inequality remain and the public sector is unable to provide low income housing there will be strong demand for so called “unlawful” development. The real estate market and the laws surrounding these property rights have been shifting toward the established racial and cultural elites in any given society thus leaving the underprivileged to scramble for their rights to housing. Instead of housing being an undeniable right of existence it is more and more an underlying economic and speculative mechanism serving only the financial sector and landowners.

The recent economic fiasco clearly underlines the dangers of a society which invests almost all its wealth and energy in the unproductive speculation and development of real estate. Conservative politicians and lawmakers have supported the status quo in outdated land and property laws, turning away even temporary use of fallow and unused land for necessary occupation. Examples can clearly be seen in recent events such as providing shelter for the victims of Haiti’s earthquake, the aggressive demolition of informal housing in developing countries throughout the world as well as the forceful removal of urban squatters in Paris and Berlin. Speculators and lawmakers collude under the protection of constitutional rights in order to hijack the production of housing feeding into a large scale profit oriented mechanism. The failure of governments to suspend or disrupt this mechanism leads to more and more imbalanced housing conditions, with high rents for the poor and abandoned luxury apartments for the wealthy.

This Studio will also conduct an excursion to explore informality in metropolitan Cairo and will serve as an investigation into future urban housing typology, focusing specifically on the city centers where rapid growth, expensive urban land costs and socioeconomic inequality prevail. This excursion is the first part of our larger initiative of exploring informality in housing.  We will explore not only examples in the middle east but also examine the problem closer to home in the Tijuana corridor and other rapidly expanding informal developments in Mexico near the U.S. border. By comparing Middle East and Mexican case studies we hope to canvas a larger and more immediate problem area, veering away from the overstudied examples of the South American favelas. This global problem becomes more eminent as we approach a seven billion person planet.