Architectures of Dis-location and Re-positioning: Objects of Displacement during Colonial Times and Humanitarian Crisis

Dr. Momen ElHusseiny, The American University in Cairo AUC, Egypt

Today, according to the UNHCR one human in every one-hundred-and-eight is dislocated resulting in unprecedented humanitarian crisis (2019). The re-territorialization across borders is reminiscent of the flows that occurred throughout the twentieth century as a result of violence and conflict, and has led to mass-migration across the planet. By learning from each other, the paper investigates two processes of south-south and south-north migration in contemporary Egypt and compares them to equivalent cases in Europe and the US, first at the level of architectural objects and another at the level of urban space. During the colonial times of WWII, I compare the flow of the Bungalow as an architectural prototype from Bengal to the West and how its architecture was hijacked to signify Californian and resort houses as its new identity vis-a-vis Hassan Fathy’s work in New Gourna to house the forcefully evicted villagers at the south reproducing architectural elements extracted from Mamluk Architecture in Cairo. In the following decades, the reconstructed style of Fathy became a reference of Nubian architecture obliterating what was actually Nubian as happened with the Bengalese. At the urban level and as an outcome of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Syrians moved to Cairo developing “Little Damascus” at 6th of October town in Cairo bringing to the forefront parallel processes that spurred “Little Italy” and “Chinatown” in Europe and the US. What is then produced is a spatial construction different from the origin in Syria, Italy or China, which plays on recycling narratives of what the host-citizens think of about the migrant-guests. And in doing so, a process of self-orientalism takes place for matters of survival. What the paper argues for is that there are complex assemblages of displacements and re-constructions that produce similar, yet not same, urbanization modes at both the north and the south.

Momen El-Husseiny is Assistant Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at American University in Cairo. He is a trained ethnographer with a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in Architecture with a designated emphasis in Global Metropolitan Studies and minor in Anthropology. His dissertation “Compounds of Modernity: National Order and the ‘Other’ in Egypt (1940-present)” historicizes the formation of compounds since the colonial era until the present neoliberal condition. He lectured at UC Berkeley, the Academy of Arts in San Francisco, Cairo University, and the Arab Academy of Science, Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT). He was invited for talks at Harvard, Stanford, and the Society of Architectural Historians at the University of Buffalo, New York. He is also a licensed architect since 2003, worked on the design of several international competitions and projects across the Middle East including the American University in Cairo’s new campus.