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PART I CONTEXT AND FRAMING 1 Introduction 2 Methodology

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II RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS Cairo (CLUSTER) 1 Historical Context 2 Previous studies on GUPs in Post-Revolution Cairo 3 Selection of Practices 4 Analysis: Patterns within GUPs

B. Amsterdam/Rotterdam (Non-Fiction) 1 Historical Context 2 Previous Studies on GUPs in Post-Crisis Amsterdam/Rotterdam 3 Selection of Practices 4 Analysis: Patterns within GUPs

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PART III COMPARISON AND REFLECTIONS 1 Different approaches: Diverging Adaptations to Global Trends 2 Similarities across Egypt and the Netherlands: Lessons Learned 3 Moving Forward: Possible Next Steps

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GUPs CAIRO 10Tooba Bayt Yakan Cairobserver CILAS CLUSTER DUCO House of Egyptian Architecture Lala Studio Madd Megawra/Built Environment Collective Shadow Ministry of Housing Takween Transport for Cairo GUPs AMSTERDAM/ROTTERDAM Cascoland Jeanne van Heeswijk Samen Wonen Samen Leven Soweto Stad in de Maak Stadsherstel Urban Resort Verhalenhuis Belvédère Vers Beton ZUS

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126 128 130 132 134 136 138 140 142 144



Grounded Urban Practices (GUPs) → are projects, initiatives or offices who use space as a key agent of change → are rooted in communities, social movements or local areas → are critical of the status quo → experiment with legal, financial and organizational models as well as strategies, methods and tools



Researching GUPs

A wave of GUPs has emerged in Cairo after the 2011 revolution and in Amsterdam/Rotterdam during the 2008-2012 financial crisis. After almost a decade of experimental research and interventions challenging business-as-usual spatial production, many GUPs in both contexts face several difficulties today. In Egypt, the regime has managed to restore order, while in the Netherlands the economic upturn has ended some of the opportunities created by the crisis. This study contains an in-depth investigation of the work of GUPs in both countries, based on an extensive research and several meet-ups with the selected GUPs in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Cairo. The research focused on 1) the roots and reasons behind their emergence; 2) their structure and legal, financial and organizational models; 3) the strategies, methods and tools that have been applied; and 4) the risks, challenges and opportunities shaping their current decisions.

Cairo GUPs

During and after the 2011 Egyptian revolution a power vacuum emerged, which suddenly gave individuals and communities in Cairo more opportunities to engage the city and public space. Existing social networks of spatial professionals, unsatisfied with the way architecture was being practiced and taught until then, seized the moment to develop new modes of practices and experimental initiatives. Soon, a new, coherent movement came into being that sought to reimagine Cairo in ways beyond conventional practice and business-as-usual urbansim. In reality, the Cairo GUPs started to operate where the authorities had traditionally failed to provide, from heritage preservation, well-maintained public space to community services. While they experimented with a wide range of innovative practices and structures, a lot of effort has gone into evolving and adapting in parallel with the ongoing political and legal context. By now, a ‘restoration of order’ gave way to the return of top-down decision making on spatial developments, which has considerably worsened the working conditions of GUPs on the ground.



List of Cairo GUPs 10Tooba is an interdisciplinary group that conducts research on the built environment in Egypt, with topics related to urban inequality, informality, housing, public space and service provision. Bayt Yakan is a privately-renovated 17th-century house located in al-Darb alAhmar, which is now the headquarters of its renovator’s professional practice and NGO. Cairobserver is an online platform open to public contributions, dedicated as an outlet for Cairenes to engage with urban and architectural issues. CILAS is a liberal arts institute which seeks to make critical education accessible as an alternative to more traditional forms of pedagogy, with urban embeddedness as a core value. CLUSTER is an independent urban research and design platform located Downtown Cairo with a strong focus on public space and informal urbanism. DUCO is a company promoting street art, intervening in the urban landscape through wall painting. House of Egyptian Architecture is a museum dedicated to Egyptian Architecture located in Hassan Fathy’s former house in Darb al-Labbana. Lala Studio is a studio looking to provide community services in Darb alLabbana, working mainly with volunteers, and making its practices close to that of a charity. Madd is a non-formalized group of researchers and practitioners critical of top-down urban planning, who among others sought to create a participatory process for the Maspero area. Megawra/Built Environment Collective is an NGO based in and concentrating its efforts on the Al-Khalifa area, seeking to achieve heritage protection through a context-based approach. Shadow Ministry of Housing is an online blog critically discussing governmental policies pertaining to housing, such as rent, cost, and utilities. Takween is an urban development company engaged in design, construction and research activities, towards a more integrated urban development approach. Transport for Cairo is a company mapping Cairo’s public transportation network, triggered by the global trend towards the right to information through open data.

Amsterdam/Rotterdam GUPs

The aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis brought many regular urban development projects to a halt, which resulted in many abandoned properties and unemployed spatial professionals, and a shared need to do things differently. This appeared to be a fruitful ground for new kinds of initiatives, building on a long tradition of alternative or even radical urban practices. Many of them have been experimenting with new models, from crowdfunding urban interventions to leasing buildings from large housing corporations. As Dutch cities are increasingly becoming unaffordable and privatized, many of the GUPs work on obtaining control over spaces (and sharing it with others), while others seek to add a certain complexity to an increasingly overregulated and homogenous urban environment. For many of them, the personal investment of the founders, the ‘school of life’ such an initiative offers and smart partnerships with various stakeholders have been key in making their work a success. However, the current economic upturn has already proven to have a negative effect on the work of Dutch GUPs.



List of Amsterdam/Rotterdam GUPs

Cascoland is a collective of Amsterdam-based artists developing tools and interventions that empower people, communities and neighborhoods, and influence planners and authorities. Jeanne van Heeswijk is an ‘urban curator’ organising long-term community engagement, empowering inhabitants to change their own environment themselves. Non-fiction is a collective of researchers, designers, thinkers and curators, creating discursive reflections and temporary urban interventions allowing for different perspectives on the city. Samen Wonen Samen Leven is a foundation creating new community hubs, recently winning the Amsterdam Architecture Award for their project in Amsterdam West. Soweto is an alternative housing association, buying buildings to transform them into affordable, collective housing. Stad in de Maak is a foundation aiming to take properties off the market in Rotterdam and create affordable spaces for living and working. Stadsherstel is a company aiming to acquire dilapidated buildings (in particular monuments) restore and preserve them, and rent them out. Urban Resort is a foundation temporarily renting abandoned buildings and converting them into affordable working (and housing) arrangements across Amsterdam. Verhalenhuis Belvedere is a ‘home for immaterial heritage’ in Rotterdam’s rapidly changing Katendrecht neighborhood, where people can meet through food, storytelling, and exhibitions. Vers Beton is an online magazine for Rotterdam, focusing on urban development, architecture, politics, arts and culture, providing a platform for discussion about urban issues. ZUS is an office for architecture & urbanism, working worldwide but also in their immediate environment, where it is involved in the redevelopment of the area.

GUPs Compared

Despite the clearly different contexts, the many similarities between GUPs from both countries are striking. In both contexts, GUPs seem to mature and develop in a similar way over time, sustained by a personal investment from the founders who often continue to self-initiate new aspects of their practice. As the GUPs become more established, they have to remain independent to stay critical and constantly adapt to new situations, applying a certain ‘tactical cunning’. That said, GUPs from Amsterdam/Rotterdam are generally more focused on obtaining control over space and adding a certain complexity in increasingly privatized and overregulated urban environments, and have been able to experiment and innovate more in the process. The Cairo GUPs on the other hand have often engaged with making sense of an operating in complex, conflicted, contested urban environment, all the while filling the gaps where the state fails to provide adequate services.



What’s Next

While GUPs proliferated in Egypt and the Netherlands in the wake of economic and political crisis which happened more or less the same time, similar initiatives might have emerged in different places at different moments. In the near future, similar research projects in other European, North-African and the Middle Eastearn cities will be carried out, which will broaden the knowledge base on GUPs and expand the current network. Organizing more encounters with GUPs across different contexts might result in the emergence of a modest social movement, which could at some point collectively intervene at larger gatherings of urban and architectural professionals. Training programmes or Summer Schools are another format which could bring GUPs together, while at the same time handing their knowledge over to a new generation of critical and grounded practitioners. Finally, the GUPs research and mapping project calls for the recognition of a new role for architects, planners and spatial professionals amidst a global neoliberal shift in our cities and urban conditions, whereby the line between technical expertise and advocacy is becoming increasingly blurred. This new mode of practice needs new and better institutional frameworks, legally, financially as well as in organisational terms.




This study is developed through a collaboration between CLUSTER (Cairo), and Non-Fiction (Amsterdam) between June 2018 and July 2019, as part of the internationalisation programme of the Creative Industries Fund the Netherlands. It aims at documenting and reflecting upon what are referred to here as ‘Grounded Urban Practices’ (GUPs), the context in which they emerged, the structures and forms they take, the methods and tools they develop, and the challenges and risks they face. The study establishes the framework for a broader research and potential training program for GUPs in and possibly beyond the specificity of the Egyptian and Dutch contexts, in the next phases. The document is organized into three parts. The first introduces the research and its context, interrogates terms and definitions, and highlights the main questions as well as the relevance of this research. Part two engages each context on its own terms: listing and filtering GUPs, investigating the GUPs respective historical trajectories, reviewing

previous studies, analyzing interviews and extracting patterns and trends to confirm or challenge the original hypothesis about their alternity or groundedness. Part three reconnects the two focal cities, Cairo and Amsterdam/Rotterdam, through a critical dialogue. Following the internal comparison within each city, the Cairo and Amsterdam/ Rotterdam are compared from an international perspective. This last part contemplates the future of these GUPs, and examines possible opportunities, their financial sustainability, remedies to their legal vulnerability, and the scope of their organizational adaptability. Success stories are highlighted while short-lived experiments are critically examined. The third part is among others based on two encounters between Egyptian and Dutch GUPs in Amsterdam and Cairo in the Spring of 2019, whereby the preliminary findings of the above research were presented, discussing common challenges and exploring future opportunities for GUPs in both contexts.

Evictions in Amsterdam’s Spuistraat in 2015. Source: Hans Foto.


Cairo 2050 Plan to develop the Corniche. Source: Cairo vision 2050: The Strategic Urban Development. Plan of Greater Cairo Region, 2009.

1 Introduction


This study aims at documenting, analyzing and reflecting upon the future of Grounded Urban Practices (GUPs), a new term to describe urban initiatives that have been developing alternatives to mainstream modes of urban practice over the past decade. In this study there is a specific focus on two widely diverging contexts (Cairo, Egypt and Amsterdam/Rotterdam, The Netherlands), where GUPs emerged simultaneously in the aftermath of political and economic crises that have, respectively, affected each context. In the case of Cairo, the 2011 Revolution, itself rooted in economic, political and urban demands, provided an opportunity for initiatives to emerge and explore alternative forms of urban living and practicing. In the case of Amsterdam/Rotterdam, the 2008 financial crisis strongly affected the local economy, in particular the real estate sector, which forced spatial professionals to find new ways of working while at the same time leaving urban voids available for experimentation. In both cases, the political and economic crises led to the disruption of business-as-usual, which was used in both cities as an opportunity to innovate and search for alternatives modes of urban practices, differing from those that had led to the crisis in the 2 first place.2 This research argues that there is an interrelationship between the emergence of these practices and broader political and economic structural forces. It further proposes to recognize these Grounded Urban Practices as part of a global movement or wave. Political upheaval, such as the 2011 Revolution, and economic downturn, such as the 2008-2012 Financial Crisis, have both generated an opportunity for these alternative practices to emerge in their own contexts, and to a certain extent thrive and persevere. As these cycles close in, through the current economic upturn or restoration of political order, some of these practices suffer and their business model or legal framework become at risk.3 This study calls for learning from these experimental practices during these exceptional conditions, and for exploring ways to redefine the role of architects and urbanists within a changing urban context.

For the Cairo case, see Omar Nagati and Beth Stryker, Archiving the City in Flux: Cairo’s Shifting Landscape Since the January 25th Revolution, Cluster, 2013., 2013; for the Dutch case, see Michelle Provoost, Bottom Up Is Not Enough, International New Town Institute, 2013.

3 See Omar Nagati and Beth Stryker, Street Vendors and the Contestation of Public Space, Cluster, 2017 for the full cycle from a “City in Flux” to a “Restoration of Orders.”



This study presents in-depth research into grounded urban practices in both the Egyptian and Dutch contexts. It seeks to examine the roots and reasons instigating these emerging urban practices; their institutional, legal and organizational structures; as well as the strategies, methods, and tools they deploy. This project further aims to investigate the potential they represent and the challenges they face at the moment. It lays the ultimate foundation for further collaborations in which an exchange of experiences and strategies take place, or further research on these matters in different contexts. This project was initiated by the collaboration between CLUSTER in Cairo and Non-Fiction in Amsterdam, extending previous collaborations and fostering a chance to reflect on the recent wave of urban practices, which they are each part of. As part of the project, most of the Dutch and Egyptian GUPs have been brought together in Cairo in April 2019, to exchange ideas and strategies. The resulting conversations have been used to sharpen and expand this research report. This is a particularly relevant time to delve into this reflective research, eight years after the Egyptian Revolution and ten years after the economic crisis, looking at how these grounded practices are adapting to the restoration of order and economic upturn.

Defining ‘Grounded Urban Practices’

This study has defined a few core principles for a certain project or initiative to be perceived as a ‘Grounded Urban Practice’. First of all, as a primary principle, grounded urban practices (GUPs) all use space as a key agent of change. This notion of ‘spatial agency,’ a core element to our definition of grounded urban practices, is applied by architects and professionals trained in spatial disciplines, but also communities and people who wish to achieve social, political or economic change through spatial means, collaborating with the abovementioned professionals. Three other characteristics are shared by GUPs: groundedness, criticality and alternity. GUPs are rooted in communities, social movements or local areas. They use mainly bottom-up approaches, through on-the ground observations, inductive research and participatory methods to address the needs of urban communities. Their groundedness is manifest in the methods and tools they deploy in their research and design projects, as well as their coproduction of knowledge and dissemination strategies. Rather than the traditional “client-based” approach in conventional practice, they tend to work with a wide range of different stakeholders.

The definition of GUPs is restricted to those practices which are critical of the status quo and attempt to open up new horizons to respond to issues surrounding questions of inclusivity, sustainability, etc. These practices can position themselves differently on a spectrum of alternity to status quo (see figure), through modes of implied activism or explicit advocacy, with varying measures of risks and precarity. On one end, a more radical/idealist position would risk becoming too niche, lacking viable business models, and subject to legal liability, while being too close to market forces, on the other end, would risk becoming mainstream or potentially appropriated by private sector or state institutions and hence losing their ability to result in actual change. The boundaries we draw here to define GUPs, and thus who is included in this study, are both malleable and somewhat permeable, since the above positioning is constantly being renegotiated as these initiatives evolve and/or on a project basis in a changing political and economic context (fig. 1). By virtue of their critical position vis-a-vis the status quo, they also experiment with new modalities, including legal, financial and organizational structures. This experimentation is manifest in the way many of their projects are (self-)conceived, their modus operandi working within the interstices of established frameworks of practice, as well as in the methods and tools they deploy to realize these projects. They also hold a level of innovation, an openness to change and adaptation to circumstances through which they manage to remain active and sustain a space of agency despite the prevalence of conditions that limit their independence. The specific tools, methods, strategies and financial and legal structures that allow them to mediate these conditions will be examined here. The analyzed practices often find themselves at the crossroads of creative industries and urban activism: mobilizing innovative tools and, through spatial means, seeking to address urban issues to achieve better social justice, more equal distribution of resources, and recognize people’s right to the city (fig. 2).



Fig.1: Spectrum of sustainable modes of practice

Fig.2: Diagram of GUPs at the intersection between activists and creatives


On the Emergence of Grounded Urban Practices

Grounded urban practices emerged as an alternative to dominant urban approaches in Egypt and the Netherlands, developing critical models that bridge social ideals and institutional structures. Despite the seemingly very different Egyptian and Dutch contexts, and broader regional conditions in Europe and the Middle East, the question of alternative and grounded urban practices is an emergent theme in architectural discourse. This trend can be seen as part of the necessary response to deeper structural changes of a ‘longue durée’ that may be summarised as the neoliberal shift; described as the specific economic and fiscal policies that have been implemented since the 1970s, such as market deregulation, flat or lower tax rates and unfettered free trade agreements, coupled with a gradual erosion of the welfare state. This shift refers to the renewed belief in the self-regulating market, which is implemented through deliberate state withdrawal from social policies in housing, health and education, and the privatisation of public goods. In the urban realm, this translated into speculation, soaring housing prices and real estate bubbles. Paradoxically, whilst neoliberalism means ‘less state’ in the economic realm (namely deregulation), it necessitates ‘more state’ in the urban realm to remedy the insecurity produced by the withering social state (Wacquant, 2011). This manifests itself in the lived urban experience in the deployment of military means, particularly in the Global South, including Cairo, heightened securitization and crime control, and the rise of an over regulated ‘smooth city’ in many Western cities, such as Amsterdam.4 Concurrently, the role of buildings and urban space is redefined according to market values as an investment from which to generate profit, rendering the process by which the city is produced increasingly in the hands of the economy-fueled private sector (de Graaf, 2015). The production of cities at the hands of developers has marginalized urban populations deemed as surplus and disposable (Harvey, 2014), simultaneously leading to massive inequality, urban segregation, accompanied by displacement and waves of gentrification. Ultimately, these conditions restrict the spatial agency of a public that has to increasingly con-

4 René Boer, ‘Smooth City is the New Urban,’ Volume 52, 2018. Available at: http://volumeproject. org/smooth-city-is-the-newurban/ [Accessed 30 Jul. 2018].



5 Luke Butcher, ‘Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture’ Notes on Metamodernism, 2018. Available at: http://www. metamodernism.com/2011/08/02/ spatial-agency-other-ways-of-doing-architecture/ [Accessed 30 Jul. 2018].

6 Omar Nagati and Beth Stryker, Street Vendors and the Contestation of Public Space, CLUSTER, 2017

form to the spatial context that thus materialises.5 This extends to the agency of creative actors working spatially within the urban realm, from artists to architects and urban planners.6 Furthermore, where conventional practice still prevails, it is private developers taking the lead. This is already tangible in the increasingly limited authority of the architect within the construction process, through new forms of construction contract and value engineering that place the value of the building in its potential economic return rather than its service to its users. As conventional modes of practice within the urban realm, such as commissioning, competitions and project briefs, have become increasingly intertwined within a restrictive neoliberal paradigm that prioritizes profit, the current challenges facing our cities call for new, alternative ways of working, such as grounded urban practices. Within this context, grounded urban practices seek to define local priorities as well as develop methods and tools to engage communities, through discursive and spatial interventions. In other words, they try to develop a space of agency within a restrictive mainstream environment in order to address the issues linked to quality of urban life and urban justice, dealing with a range of issues from housing rights to inclusive heritage conservation.


Relevance of this Research We find ourselves today in an interesting position to look back at the impact of crises in both contexts, but also at a turning point where the political and economic climate is putting increasing constraints on the practices that have emerged. Our aim throughout this research is to understand the organization of such practices but also to understand how they are adapting to current changing contexts, implementing mechanisms to sustain themselves from this very moment onwards. The relevance of a comparison between Egypt and the Netherlands is to avoid looking at the specific Egyptian or Dutch contexts in an isolated way and understand the rise of alternative/grounded urban practices as the outcome of global processes. This research investigates unconventional modes of professional practices and urban policies, articulating a new role for architects and urbanists as mediators between broader structural forces and local priorities. In addition to researching, mapping, and analyzing these initiatives in both Egypt and the Netherlands, most of the GUPs from both countries have been brought together to allow them to exchange ideas and strategies. Currently, plans are being developed to widen the network to various North-African cities. Also, future phases of the project might result in a training program or summer school on ‘grounded urban practices’.

The purpose of such a school is a) to further exchange experiences, share tools and methods, and understand each other’s main challenges and concerns, b) to debate future strategies for collaborations and mutual support, and c) to hand over the experience of the last decade to a new generation of critical urban practitioners. By doing so, the project seeks to address current concerns about the sustainability of these practices on the long term. Finally, the outcome of this research reveals the need to develop new institutional structures for GUPs to operate. This includes legal frameworks, financial models and organizational structures. For example, most of the GUPs in Egypt are registered either as an NGO or LLC, while their range of activities, such as organizing events and workshops, producing publications or building online platforms, does not fit into conventional architecture practices as defined by the Engineering Syndicate or Architecture Society. This research thus calls for developing new frameworks and categories to address and support the emerging scope and activities by GUPs.



2 Methodology

In order to be able to examine the emergence of GUPs and their various ways of working, this inquiry followed a mixed-method approach dominated by its qualitative component. While archival research was useful to set the contexts and locate our project in the current discussion around GUPs, our methodology was mainly based on interviews, fieldwork and inductive reasoning. Finally, it was conceived in such a way it could be applied in both the Egyptian as well as the Dutch context, and allow for a comparison between them. 1) Contextualizing the Research Through archival and press research, we provided a critical description of the respective political and economic background GUPs operate in both in Egypt and the Netherlands. After locating our research in their respective contexts, we conducted a review of previous studies discussing GUPs in both contexts. This exercise revealed the multitudes of visions regarding GUPS, helped enrich the debate concerning them, and allowed us to step back from the present project to seize the broader questions at stake. 2) Interviews Semi-structured interviews with the founders of each organization were at the core of the research. Interviews were conducted in-situ when possible, and in CLUSTER or Non-Fiction offices when site visits to the GUPs’ projects were irrelevant or impossible. The purpose of semi-structured interviews was to give the interviewee freedom to talk about what seems most relevant to them in relation to the issues at stake. The interviews were loosely structured along the following core questions.




a) Roots and Reasons What was the main motivation to start your practice? And how has it evolved initially? What issues are you responding to? What are the political, economic and professional landscapes that helped instigate your practice? How is your practice rooted in (pre-)existing structures, practices and communities? How is your practice inscribed within existing networks of other GUPs? b) Structure and Organization How is your practice structured and modelled? How has it evolved over time? What are the different legal and institutional frameworks of your practices? How did you organise your practice internally? What financial model(s) have you applied? c) Strategies, Methods and Tools What is your approach to achieving the motivation behind your practice? What strategies did you apply to mediate between the institutional level and grassroots urbanism, or between academic discourse and your grounded practice? How do you relate and connect to the communities you are working with? How to create a sense of shared ownership? What methods and tools have been crucial in your work? d) Risks, Challenges and Opportunities What are the main challenges facing your practices and projects? What are some of your coping strategies? How do you envision the sustainability of the practice without the key role of the founder? What financial, organisational and/or legal risk do you face? And what models of sustainability could be highlighted and analyzed as good practices to follow? What has your impact been? What are the main opportunities for improvement in the future? Beyond those selected angles, interviews also helped to define, refine and localize the terms of the research. The final definition of Grounded Urban Practices proposed in this study is induced and informed by practices on the ground.

3) Analyzing / Comparing

The analysis is structured along the four axes of the interview guideline: the conditions of emergence; the organizational structure (in terms of legal status, financial model, organizational structure); the strategies, methods and tools used8 ; and finally the current opportunities and challenges they face. All intertwined, these variables helped grasp the exact framework under which GUPs operate as well as their mode of practice. Hence, the comparative analysis highlights trends, similarities, differences, exceptions and common patterns across GUPs in Cairo, in Amsterdam/Rotterdam, and across the two contexts. This transnational comparative analysis was done through site visits, and exchange between both teams/ cities, skype meetings, and a joint workshop in both cities. The analysis also involved the visualization of the legal, organizational, and financial structures in order to make complicated concepts more accessible. Legal models were produced, through the analysis of Egyptian and Dutch laws, and organizational and financial models were induced from the interviews. Finally, temporal and geographical dimensions were added to highlight the evolution GUPs have undergone since their inception and to inform a non-familiar reader on the spatial distribution of GUPs in Cairo and Amsterdam/Rotterdam. By doing so, we also attempted to reach a level of abstraction that allows for further comparison between practices and across cities.

30 8 We define strategies as the long-term visions adopted by grounded urban practices, which correspond to the general goals they aim to achieve. On the other hand, the distinction between methods and tools can be established drawing upon definitions from social science research. A method is a protocol to collect data, that is the broad rules to follow in order to gather information, while a tool is a device to actually collect data. Similarly, in our project, methods are understood as processes of strategy translation into effective lines for actions and modes of operation. Tools are the concrete means mobilized to implement the strategy.



4) Limitations and Perspectives for Future Research

The lack of critical distance to the subject of the study represented a risk in the research process. In addition, the initial loose definition of the research objective allowed for bias in the sample selection, as it was not clear which practices should be included and which ones should not. Those difficulties can yet be interpreted as opportunities: this work seeks to provide a snapshot of GUPs which are still developing and evolving. It also presents the interest to be an auto-ethnography, as CLUSTER and Non-Fiction are part of this network of GUPs. In Cairo, the difficulties encountered are similar to those described in greater detail in this study. The legal restrictions imposed on GUPs have also impacted the scope and nature of this research work. As the lack of clarity of the Egyptian landscape made it difficult to understand the legal context, advice from an external auditor was necessary to investigate the dispositions that apply to and thereby define GUPs. In addition, we recognize the risk that this work could be outdated in the near future as new laws are in the making and should be published soon. Finally, information overviews of all participating practices and glossaries of Dutch and Arabic terms with their English equivalent are included as an appendix for future researchers.  

CLUSTER/Basurama participating in Al-Fann Midan street art festival, Cairo July 2012 (photo by CLUSTER).




1 Historical Context


The Precondition

By the middle of the 1970s, following the Nasserite era, Egypt had experienced a stark shift from the previous model of a state-led to a free-market economy through structural adjustment programs where the state withdrew from its role as provider of social welfare programs and urban services. Amongst the many effects of the state withdrawal was the deterioration of Cairo’s urban core, the expansion of high-density, underserved informal development mostly on privately owned agricultural land, and inception of dispersed, exclusive (often gated) housing developments in the new desert satellite cities (Sims, 2012). Until today, top-down urban practices in Cairo increase class segregation and exclusion, and produce starkly contrasting urban realities.9 On one hand, there exists a neglected urban core, as exemplified by the deteriorating Downtown Cairo. On the other hand, Cairo is expanding in the form of unregulated informal neighborhoods and formal desert compounds. Such contrast is manifested in the worsening living conditions of the majority of Cairo’s population, to which the investment in desert cities originally sought to answer, but in fact increased urban inequalities (Sims, 2012). The couple of decades leading up to the 2011 Revolution have witnessed examples of urban practitioners working within the gaps and shortcomings of the aforementioned system. They built on a base of community development, government mediation, and self or foreign funding. International actors such as the United Nation Development Program (UNDP), the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), and the German Cooperation Agency (GIZ) provided support to include local communities as well as public authorities in the implementation of upgrading projects. Egyptian practitioners have adopted similar approaches in renovating historical buildings or upgrading neighborhood (Ibrahim, 2014). On a more global level, Egyptian practitioners and scholars’ involvement in the return to critical urban development theories also contributed to this trend (Stadnicki, 2015).

9 ‘Investigating Spatial Injustice in Cairo,’ Tadamun, 2015. Available at: http://www.tadamun. co/2015/12/15/investigating-spatial-inequality-cairo/ [Accessed 30 Jul 2018]; ‘Egypt’s New Cities: Neither Just nor Efficient’, Tadamun, 2015. Available at: http:// www.tadamun.co/2015/12/31/ egypts-new-cities-neither-justefficient/ [Accessed 30 Jul 2018]; Yahia Shawkat and Amira Khalil, ‘The Built Environment Budget FY 2015/2016, An Analysis of Spatial Justice in Egypt,’ 10Tooba, 2016. Available at: http://www.10tooba.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/10-Tooba-BE-Budget-2015-16.pdf [Accessed 25 Jul 2018]



Among these alternative practitioners that emerged prior to the 2011 Revolution is Abdel-Halim Ibrahim, a contemporary Egyptian architect known for his negotiations with the municipality to advance community interests, specifically during the design and implementation of the Sayyida Zaynab Cultural Park for Children (1983-92). Such a project attempted to achieve a grounded intervention beneficial to the surrounding communities (Adham, 2009). Takween is also an example of practice with a history of community-focused implementations, such as their renovation of a number of houses in ‘Izbat Khayrallah one of Cairo’s largest informal settlements. Other examples include the Egyptian Earth Construction Association (EECA), which was founded in 1997 and aimed at training and building the capacity of community groups and architects, and Yahia Shawkat’s blog Shadow of Ministry of Housing which was launched in 2008. Through visits and interviews of affected communities, this blog articulates a critique of urban policies in Egypt. Following the 2008 economic crisis which harshly affected real estate business, practitioners further questioned the urban paradigm taught and applied in Egypt (Ibrahim, 2014).


The grounded efforts described above in the outset of the twenty-first century nuance the romanticized narrative from which the Arab Spring gave birth to a new kind of alternative urban thinking in Egypt. However, these few examples, among others, may be viewed as a precursor to the proliferation of a new genre of grounded urban practices, as a part of a broader social movement engaging the city and public space, shortly after the 2011 Revolution. The Revolution and its Aftermath The Revolution provided a moment of opportunity which sparked developments in urban practices both at the community and at the practitioners levels. Firstly, the relevance of community-based initiatives was made explicit in the immediate post-Revolution security vacuum. Popular Committees, born out of necessity in this context, provided people from all walks of life with a sense of civic agency. Neighborhood residents would take to the streets to form neighborhood watches, mediate with destabilized government bodies, and implement physical interventions in their streets (Ibrahim, 2014). An example of such a practice can be seen in the construction of onand-off ramps connecting al-Mu’tamidiya informal area to the Ring Road, one of the major transportation axes in Cairo. These ramps were informally constructed through community efforts during


the three months following the Revolution. Later on, the state, through the Giza Governorate, recognized the ramps as part of the official road infrastructure (Nagati and Stryker, 2013). Social media powered such mobilization of millions of Egyptians, playing a pivotal role in this unprecedented treatment of the urban environment. With heightened communication between activists, practitioners, and community-based groups, Egypt experienced a wave of collective interest in experimenting with an alternative mode of practice; one opposite to the all too familiar top-down model. In addition, the world’s collective interest in Egypt and its Revolution made foreign funding more accessible than before. In the following couple of years, both the access to funding and the sense of vigor after an influential Revolution encouraged more individuals and collectives to generate urbanistic ideas and interventions based on a grounded ideal.

CLUSTER, Madd and Megawra are examples among others of initiatives created in the wake of the 2011 Revolution. Researchers and urban practitioners came together and engaged with communities to discuss, share knowledge and propose alternatives to previous urban practices. Online blogs open to contributions were also founded at that time, such as Cairobserver or Cairo From Below which articulated a clear critique of the Cairo 2050 Master Plan. The Revolution forced alternative urbanism to deal with a different set of givens, and provided more practitioners with space and funding to implement grassroots methods of urbanism in the void left by a collapsing top-down system. While architectural participatory practices predated the Revolution, the latter did result in a proliferation of such practices.

The Restoration of Order

In the last five years, Egypt has witnessed the gradual re-establishment of a strong and centralized state. The post-Revolution securitization efforts were spatially manifested in the policing of street vendors, in the facade repainting of Downtown - the epicentre of the Revolution - and finally in increased limitations on alternative practices or interventions in public space (Nagati and Stryker, 2017). The newly enforced order translates into the restoration of the centralized planning paradigm. As political stability in-




creased, the government resumed its top-down urban projects. Urban interventions are now mostly, if not all, planned, designed and built by state authorities, or large real-estate corporations that support official urban policies and narratives. It is also reflected in the continuation of new desert developments, and the demolition of some deteriorated districts near the historical core. The complete demolition of the Maspero neighborhood is an example of this. Despite it not being informal, its description as such by state-led media served as justification for Maspero’s demolition in 2017 and the relocation of its inhabitants within the boarder urban renewal framework of the Cairo 2050 plan.

2 Previous Studies on Grounded Urban Practices in Post-Revolution Cairo


The present project draws upon previous efforts to document alternative urban practices in Cairo. This review seeks to investigate the discourse produced around urban initiatives by understanding the way they are described, viewed and categorized. In the immediate post-Revolution years, there was an urge to archive the blossoming personal and collective urban initiatives. One of the first attempts to document this phenomena is the Cairo Urban Initiative Platform (CUIP), a mapping project launched and maintained since 2013 by CLUSTER.10 CUIP is an online user-generated directory and shared calendar, which includes the multiple architecture, art, advocacy, urban development, and interdisciplinary initiatives addressing issues related to the city, the urban environment and public space in Cairo. On this open platform, anyone can submit a practice for it to appear on the mapped collection of initiatives after CLUSTER’s approval. CUIP is not merely a list but also highlights each practice’s activities, events cal-

endar, resources, contacts, and sponsors. The platform seeks to foster collaboration and resource sharing among its members. Starting with 35, CUIP has now more than 400 documented initiatives, many of which have died out in recent years. Other authors attempted to unravel the origins of those practices and directed their efforts towards context-setting. In his 2013 printed issue of Cairobserver, Mohamed Elshahed wrote a one-page essay in both English and Arabic titled ‘Popular Initiatives and the Future of Cairo’. Those initiatives are defined as issue based, emerging from activists, architects and designers who seek to respond to gaps in the existing system. Elshahed describes the political context in which they emerged, namely the January 25th Revolution or ‘Arab Spring’ with little empha-

10 Cairo Urban Initiatives Platform (cuipcairo.org) was initially a Cairo-based online platform. In 2017 it was renamed as Creative Urban Initiatives Platform to expand to other regional cities, starting with Amman. http://amman. clustermappinginitiative.org




sis on the initiatives themselves. In the last pages of the same issue, ten initiatives - selected using CUIP as a source - are listed and described with more details. Although both the essay and the list remain descriptive and do not attempt to analyze the initiatives, they instigate an interest to focus on registered practices functioning at the margins of the municipal system and led by urban professionals. In an issue dedicated to Cairo in 2014, the German magazine Bauwelt published an article titled ‘Paradigm Shift on the Nile: Cairo after the Revolution’. It argues that while public space has lost the political edge it had gained during the Revolution, the political upheaval has engendered an array of urban professionals in Cairo who have been calling for a paradigm shift to remedy the many challenges faced by the city. Interviewees include architects, urban planners, and preservationists such as the co-founders of CLUSTER, Shadow Ministry of Housing, Megawra and Dina Shehayeb’s office. The online version also features pictures from projects implemented by Madd, Baladilab, Cairobserver, Niletaxi, Icecairo, Green Arm, Nawaya, Egypt 712, Schaduf Microfarms, Takween and Urban Collective Cairo. While Bauwelt focuses on the post-2011 Revolution period, Kareem Ibrahim’s essay ‘Post-Revolutionary Urban Egypt: A New Mode of Practice?’ (2014) retraces a longer historical trajectory of alternative practices in Egypt. The latter are defined as the voices calling for the ‘Right to the City’ and demanding more social justice, equitable distribution of resources, state accountability to its citizens in urban development policies. This essay seeks to nuance the romanticized narrative according to which the 2011 Revolution suddenly gave birth to new urban practices in Egypt. According to Ibrahim, the Revolution did not represent a major paradigm shift. On the contrary, he argues that alternative urban thinking followed a continuum since the 1940s which influenced and informed the pre- and post-Revolution context. A few years after the Revolution brought urban practices under the spotlight for academic research, calling to reflect and push the analysis of the phenomena further. As part of his research for the Centre d’Etudes et de Documentation Economique et Juridique (CEDEJ), Roman Stadnicki has attempted to classify and compare the different urban initiatives in an essay titled ‘Urban Activism in Egypt: Emergence and Trajectories after the 2011 Revolution’ (2015). Urban Activism includes activities turning the city into a place for major urban evolution as well as a site for a possible continuation of the Revolution. To the contrary of the

nizations. The report features a lot of projects conducted in partnership with national institutions and includes projects in five different governorates while most of the other attempts to document urban initiatives focus on Cairo. three former authors, Stadnicki is not part of those initiatives. From his outsider position, he draws commonalities between initiatives, stresses the diversity of points of view they endorse, and concludes that the recent years have seen a re-articulation of urban actors in Cairo: ‘street activists’ have participated to politicize urban issues, they gained power vis-à-vis dominant institutions and, more importantly, they have started to change the urban paradigm taught to Egyptian students. Urban practices were not only documented by online platforms or academic research but also discussed in forums and conferences. The 2013 Learning from Cairo conference, organized by CLUSTER, gathered key urban and architectural players engaged in the post-Revolution emerging practices. This conference sought to reframe urban discourse regarding informality, right to the city, segregation through the eyes and expertise of Cairene urban professionals and international guests. The First Egypt Urban Forum was held in June 2015 and gathered national institutions, international organizations, as well as non-governmental actors focused on community-based urban initiatives. More specifically, charitable organizations rebuilding or repairing deprived neighborhoods, activist architects and planners preparing participatory urban plans and civil society think-tanks were invited to present their projects. The report ‘Parallel Urban Practice in Egypt’ published by 10Tooba therefore focuses on the specific projects rather than on the practices or on the orga-

Later that same year, the Creative Cities: Re-framing Downtown Cairo conference was organized by CLUSTER. Its discussions framed alternative urban practices as part of the creative initiatives. They should yet be distinguished since, as we argue here, alternative urban practices endorse a normative position, through spatial agency, which is not always the case of creative initiatives in general. Having reviewed earlier attempts to map, analyze and engage alternative urban practices over the past 7 years, this research intends to reflect on these practices within the shifting urban, political and legal landscapes over the last couple of years, as well as the financial pressure that is increasingly shaping their activities and projects. This project aims thus at filling a gap in the existing literature by conducting a qualitative analysis and engaging in a comparison with European cities, starting with Amsterdam/ Rotterdam. Given the qualitative and comparative dimensions of this inquiry, it has been decided to narrow down the definition of our object of study to Grounded Urban Practices, which have been defined in the section above.





3 Selection of Practices





A list of practices which could qualify as grounded urban practices were selected mainly from the CUIP platform developed by CLUSTER during the Revolution. The selection is also embedded in the previous studies which had already identified a number of alternative practices, namely Takween, Megawra, CLUSTER, Shadow Ministry of Housing and Cairobserver. The main criteria of selection, following the definition of GUPs above, was then based on the importance of space as an agent of change being one of the central aspects of the work. The practices chosen mainly focused on urban embeddedness and the ability to impact discursive and socio-political change through the urban lense. Practices which were embedded in the urban realm but mainly focused on art and culture, for instance, were not included in the list. Secondly, the choice was based on their rootedness in community, meaning their ability to address the needs to ground their work in a community or neighborhood. Finally, we narrowed

the list of practices to those that position themselves critically towards the status quo, specifically in terms of being critical of mainstream practice or state-led policies, while keeping in mind the extent to which the question of criticality or alternity is contingent upon the temporal and spatial context. Chosen initiatives all display a form of innovation compared to the way urban practices usually take place, whether it be in the vision they have, in the new tools they use or in the structure they experiment with. Project-based initiatives which fulfilled the given parameters however which were short-lived and did not maintain their work on the long-term were excluded. Finally, while a longer list of newly emerging and project-based initiatives was identified, this phase of research limited the 13 sample practices to those of at least two-years of active presence including multiple projects and programs.

Practices in Cairo

We conducted 13 interviews with the (co-)founders of the following practices:

1. 10Tooba Interview with Ahmed Zaazaa An interdisciplinary group that conducts applied research on the built environment in Egypt, with topics related to urban inequality, informality, housing, public space and service provision.They use the lessons learned from the ground to inform their policy recommendations and research.


2. Bayt Yakan Interview with Alaa al-Habashi A privately-renovated 17th-century house located in al-Darb al-Ahmar, which is now the headquarters of its renovator’s professional practice, Turath Conservation Group, and NGO, Center for Revitalization of the City. The center organizes events and workshops for the community with a particular focus on heritage, community development and art/culture.

3. Cairobserver Interview with Mohamed Elshahed An online platform open to public contributions, dedicated as an outlet for Cairenes to engage with urban and architectural issues in Egypt. Between 2011 and 2016, various printed versions have been produced.

5. CLUSTER Interview with Omar Nagati An independent urban research and design platform located Downtown Cairo with a strong focus on public space and informal urbanism. It organizes conferences, symposia, talks, and walking tours to engage critical urban questions facing the city and public space.

6. DUCO Interview with Hassan Ismail A company promoting street art, intervening in the urban landscape through wall painting. DUCO seeks to enhance the visual experience of the city and make people see the potential of space, promoting artists from the community in the design of specific projects.

4. CILAS Interview with Karim-Yassin Goessinger A liberal arts institute which seeks to make critical and interdisciplinary education accessible as an alternative to more traditional forms of pedagogy. Its core principles revolve around urban embedeness in the community and critical thinking.

7. House of Egyptian Architecture Interview with Heba Safey El-Deen A museum dedicated to Egyptian Architecture located in Hassan Fathy’s former house in Darb alLabbana, including a virtual library gathering architecture-related work. It organizes workshops, children’s activities, and hosts cultural events.

8. Lala Studio Interview with Ali Labib A studio looking to provide community services in Darb al-Labbana, working mainly with volunteers, and making its practices close to that of a charity. It hosts events related to heritage, art and culture, having a strong emphasis on education.

9. Madd Interview with Mohamed Abotera A non-formalized group of researchers and practitioners critical of top-down urban planning. Among its main project was the Maspero project which aimed at creating and formalizing a participatory framework for urban planning, integrating local stakeholders in the process.

10. Megawra/Built Environment Collective Interview with May al-Ibrashy NGO/Professional Practice based in and concentrating its efforts on al-Khalifa neighborhood in Historic Cairo. It seeks to achieve heritage protection through a context-based approach, and through not only technical renovation but also community empowerment and a renewed sense of heritage ownership.

11. Shadow Ministry of Housing Interview with Yahia Shawkat An online blog critically discussing governmental policies pertaining to housing, such as rent, cost, and utilities. It opposes the process of evictions and tries to create an alternative discourse focused on the right to housing, and has published articles in Arabic in order to be more accessible.

12. Takween Interview with Kareem Ibrahim An urban development company engaged in design, construction and research activities, towards a more integrated urban development approach. It’s online platform Tadamun promotes citizens’ equal right to their city, as well as a shared responsibility towards it.

13. Transport for Cairo Interview with Mohamed Hegazy A company mapping Cairo’s public transportation network, triggered by the global trend towards the right to information through open data, and aiming to launch a mobile app and share their work on Google Maps in order to make it available and useful to commuters and policy-makers.


Fig.3: Map of selected GUPs [Cairo]



Fig. 4: Areas of focus of GUP [Cairo]


Fig. 5: Timeline of date of establishment of GUPs [Cairo]



4 Analysis: Patterns within Grounded Urban Practices This section delves into the roots and reasons leading up to the inception of grounded urban practices in Cairo, their structure and organization, their strategies, methods and tools, and finally the risks they face and future opportunities.

1. Roots and Reasons

Though many reasons led to the creation of these practices, it seems that social networks played a key role in fostering their inception. It was mentioned throughout the interviews that friendship networks were crucial to the circulation of ideas, tight connections and the support system they created. In fact, many organizations originated as an idea between friends or colleagues who, even before the Revolution, had been wanting to find an avenue to express themselves in ways that had previously not been available. Most GUPs were conceived as platforms or hubs to foster discussion, to draw upon the existing networks and to broaden them. Interviewees have recognized the existence of, as well as the need for, a dense network of social and professional relationships amongst themselves.

Furthermore, this network of mostly young architects and urbanists, coupled with the growing dissatisfaction of the way architecture was taught and practiced, led to a widespread feeling of discontent and frustration. In fact, feelings of frustration were mentioned by most interviewees as a motive to urgently create and organize their own alternatives. Typically, state-led practices were a main source of discontent. More specifically, they were blamed for failing to maintain the positive outcomes of upgrading projects, and for adopting heritage conservation strategies which - at best - condemned monuments to oblivion. Dissatisfaction with the established educational program for architecture was also shared by the GUP founders. The lack of critical studies, social sciences and humanities in architecture curricula contributed to isolating the discipline from issues onthe-ground. Finally, the lack of writings by Cairenes about their city produced a one-sided history of Cairo, which some media initiatives specifically sought to remedy.





‘There was no way of changing it from the inside [...] There was no way of making the projects better or more participatory through the government’ → Yahia Shawkat (Shadow Ministry of Housing) Overall, this dissatisfaction led to common desires to create an alternative, especially addressing the following points: First, GUPs’ founders were seeking to promote critical discourse. For instance, according to one GUP founder there was no term for ‘parallel urban practice’. These terms were later created by these new practices as a way to describe themselves and the architectural/urban practice they were trying to define. Secondly, GUPs’ founders wanted to generate platforms for accessible knowledge and common space. They were pushed by the need to create community spaces to unite fragmented voices and to build open source online platforms written by Cairenes. Finally, they expressed the will to experiment with non-commercial practice, rather than architectural practices taking place in corporate and market settings; those driven by high profit without much consideration to stakeholders’ interests, and allowing little or no room for experimentation. There was thus a strong desire to experiment with different forms of organization that favor a horizontal hierarchy, allowing for more fluidity in structure and projects. In 2011, the Revolution triggered into action the ideas that had been simmering in people’s minds, and turned their frustration into projects and initiatives. While not all of the selected practices were created during the Revolution - there were those created before - we can nonetheless acknowledge the important shift it brought (fig 5). In many ways, the Revolution created the possibility for change. It was a moment of debate and questioning, especially about the role of students and architects in changing the socio-political scene. In other words, the Revolution provided the opportunity to link politics and architecture. Amongst the spirit of change and possibilities, everyone was asking themselves questions about their role in the future of the country, the ways in which they could instigate change, and the changes they wanted to see. The Revolution resulted in a temporary political vacuum and a relative suspension of formal order. The fragilization of the state and the legal structure made it easier to create and form associations, platforms and blogs, which sparked the creation of a pletho-

ra of organizations and people’s associations. Furthermore, Egypt witnessed an influx of international support and attention during that period. Foreign media came along with foreign funding for specific types of projects. Grants promoting democratic initiatives and participatory projects became more accessible and further encouraged the GUPs’ activities. Finally, one could say that the Revolution had effects akin to an economic crisis: certain industries were greatly affected (especially tourism); public projects were put on hold and foreign investors withdrew from on-going projects. Many practitioners were pushed out of work and had to find other ways to survive. However, it was thanks to this crisis that the GUPs had the opportunities they did, as will be elaborated on through this report.


2. Structure and Organisation

A. Legal Status It is important to understand the legal organization of these urban practices, especially in the Egyptian context, where the legal landscape imposes many restrictions on them and affects the possibility of action. The following infographics are an abstract representation of the diverse and complex legal landscape of GUPs. Each type of organization, whether for-profit organizations (which include sole proprietorship, professional practices, joint-liability company, limited partnership, joint-stock company, and partnerships limited by shares) or nonprofit organizations (which include associations and foundations), is subject to different legal regulations. The infographics represent the laws that apply to management, activities and income sources. Within this general legal landscape, shown above, we notice that most GUPs opted to register as an LLC. This is not surprising considering the legal constraints imposed on nonprofit organizations. As shown in the graph, nonprofit organizations are subject to strong legal constraints in terms of management. They must have both a general assembly and a board of directors; concerning the sources of revenue, they cannot receive funds and all income must pass by the government for approval; concerning the activities, they can neither conduct research nor produce technical drawings, and all published papers must also get the government’s approval. Overall, their scope of work is limited by the fact that they cannot partake in any form of political or syndical work. For these reasons the majority of practices (nine in total) are registered as Limited Liability Companies (LLC), which gives more independence and freedom in terms of their scope of activity and receiving contracts. According to the law, Limited Liability Companies ‘cannot be held personally liable for the company’s debts or liabilities,’11 which limits the founders’ personal responsibility in the eventuality of any legal or financial issues. Furthermore, an LLC is easier to set up than a corporation, needing only a general assembly and a minimum of two founding members.

11 Investopedia, Limited Liability Company - LLC, https://www.investopedia.com/ terms/l/llc.asp (Accessed 11 July 2018)




Fig. 6: Key for legal landscape of organizations [Cairo]


Fig. 7: Description of legal entities and their management structure [Cairo]




Fig. 8: Revenues and activities allowed for nonprofit and for-profit organizations [Cairo]

However, the legal constraints imposed on nonprofit organization has not prevented all GUPs from choosing this registration. Despite the inconveniences two GUPs have chosen to be associations, due to the benefits it provides. These include (1) exemptions from registration and entry fees, from current taxes and stamp duties, from charge and duties on all imported equipment, and (2) real-estate and custom tax cuts for built properties owned by the association. Furthermore, in order to circumvent constraints imposed on associations, both NGO-registered GUPs are also registered as Private Practices. This has proven useful since a Private Practice allows for the same activities as an LLC, including consultancy work, research, organizing events and it only requires one founding member.

56 In terms of their revenue, it is noted that GUPs have a diverse funding portfolio, mainly as a way to ensure financial sustainability within the practice. Most of them have between one to five sources of revenues, with an average of three sources.

As a way to start off the practice, many founders invested personal savings before a secure source of funding was found. This was the case for most practices. For all practices, the main source of revenue is from consultancy fees, through which an organization is commissioned by a client for a specific project. LLC, JLC or Private Practice all receive consultancy fees to implement research or design projects from various sources including inter B. Financial Models national organziations, private The following diagram is a rep- companies, governmental agenresentation of an exempla- cies and more. ry financial model of a typical grounded urban practice. It is International support12 is an imdivided between a) the possi- portant source of funding for the ble sources of revenue, which majority of GUPs; indeed all but include international or local three organizations benefit from support, government contracts, it. This source of funding is parconsultancy projects, sales, in- ticularly important as internakind contribution, crowdfund- tional funding has mostly been ing, and membership fees; and directed towards participatory b) expenditure, which includes development, in line with the overhead, rent, taxes, staff sala- goals of grounded urban pracries, and outsourcing fees. This tices. However, this funding is financial model can be adapted volatile and dependent on the according to the needs and le- political situation; with the new gal structure of the organization. law on NGOs and the shifting The second diagram shows political landscape, internasome of the resulting variations tional support has become more scarce, which is leading to the original model. these practices to search for other sources of funding to remain sustainable.

12 International support includes expertise exchange, funding or in-kind contribution from foreign governments/ authorities, developmental agencies, cultural institutions, universities, foundations and private entities. This list includes but is not limited to the following: Agence Francaise de Development, GIZ, UN Women, UN Habitat, UN Refugee Agency, UNESCO World Heritage Center, Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute, Goethe Institute, British Council, French institute, Swedish Institute, Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, Swiss Embassy, Ford Foundation, Drosos Foundation, Rockefeller Center, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, German Cooperation, Relief International, UrbaConsulting - France, American University Washington. DC, Together Foundation, USAID, and more.




Fig. 9: Extended financial model of typical GUPs [Cairo]


Fig. 10: Examples of alternatives to financial model [Cairo]



13 Governmental funding includes the Cairo Governorate, The Center for Documentation of Cultural and National Heritage (CULTNAT), Giza Government, General Organization for Physical Planning (GOPP), Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Development, Ministry of Urban Renewal and Informal Settlements (MURIS), National Organization for Urban Harmony (NOUH).

14 By the time this report was written, five out of thirteen GUPs received government funding.


Government contracts13 are not a main source of funding, as the amount received from the government - for the five concerned organizations - only represents a small share of their budget.14 However government contracts may endow a sense of legitimacy, and potential stability, beyond financial compensation. Interestingly, the most established organizations in terms of staff and output receive this form of funding. Sales is not a main source of revenue either, as most practices are committed to providing free and accessible workshops, reports and projects.15 Others use membership fees as a way to sustain the practice, to the extent that one GUP became fully self-sustained through the student’s tuition fees. Finally, crowdfunding, calling for people’s donations to raise money for a project, has only been used to a limited extent, partly as a way to retain independence from foreign and governmental sources of revenue and partly to gain popularity amongst a wide audience.

15 Only one GUP sells merchandise products.

C. Organizational Structures The following diagram is a representation of the exemplary organizational structure of grounded urban practices. It represents the organization of the staff from the core team (including co-founders/ founders, managing director, seniors, juniors and volunteers) to the support team (including outsourcing). Many grounded urban practices have adapted this model to meet their needs and capacities, producing many variations to this format. The second diagram intends to show the possible variations from the original model. GUPs are characterized by a flexible organizational structure. They differ from corporate organizations as they do not have a fixed board of directors. Instead, they call upon an advisory board during large events.The founders and co-founders usually act as the managing director which shows the personal investment and commitment of those who created the initiative. They all have a semi-flexible staffing meaning that tasks and responsibilities are not always fixed but depend on project and capacity. Practices have highlighted the need to be flexible, independent and self-driven to work within this structure. Usually, the organizational structure is predicated on a more horizontal model, fostering collective action and the exchange of ideas. Most of them range from a more flat structure to a semi-hierarchical one. This, according to an interviewee, can be explained by the fact that the GUPs’ own ideas reflect into their organizational structure.Their reliance on primarily junior staff is a main resource for these practices, as in


Fig. 11: Extended organizational structure




Fig. 12: Examples of variations of organizational structure


most cases they work with recent graduates, young professionals, paid interns and, in some cases, volunteers. Finally, they are usually constituted by small core staff of 5-10 people, working in open spaces, that are in some cases accessible to the public. D. Evolution As previously mentioned, one of the key features of GUPs is their capacity to evolve and adapt in parallel with the ongoing political and legal context. This is mostly seen in the patterns of evolution of their legal registration, which also impacts their organizational and financial structure. This resilience is necessary for GUPs to be a viable and sustainable alternative to conventional practice. Around 2011, many practices started with the intention of being a fluid, non-formal organization. Some chose to be a platform as a way of promoting the voices of the community, particularly during and around the time of the Revolution. The choice to be a platform attests to the need for grounding the debate in the needs of the community by letting a multitude of voices be heard rather than imposing one vision from a position of authority. Others chose to be non-governmental associations, as a way of maintaining political independence, or a foundation, established from donated funds. Following their inception as fluid structures, many started to formalize. However, two GUPs decided to maintain a fluid structure and have not changed into a formal legal structure. However, some, 16 over time slowed down and became less active. 16 In other cases, those that started without a legal registration, or as a foundation or association, decided to turn to the legal structure of a company (mostly Limited Liability Company). This evolution has been justified as a way of gaining more legal and organizational flexibility. This transition often happened following internal debate weighing the pros and cons of incorporating into a company. This is particularly relevant in the current context in which the 2017 NGO law increased limitations on associations and foundations. Changing and diversifying their status has been a way to change the legal system that applies to them in order to become or remain sustainable. Finally, due to this increased restriction on associations, some decided to pair this legal registration with a Private Practice.

3. Strategies, Methods and Tools

Grounded Urban Practices adopt certain strategies, meaning they seek to achieve certain goals, such as promoting critical discourse or promote participatory modes of development. They use methods, such as critical mapping and tactical interventions, to translate their strategies in their research or design efforts. Finally, they mo-

Interestingly some of the members of GUP’s that were no longer active, collaborated to establish a new GUP, in line with the goals and objectives of the former.




bilize specific tools or devices, such as time lapse photography, geomapping, Open Street Maps, that serve as a direct interface with reality in order to implement the strategies. Overall, strategies, methods and tools are deeply interlinked and a specific tool can be mobilized for different methods or strategies (figure 14). This analysis first explores the five common strategies, and then focuses on the main methods and tools mobilized in the process (fig 14). 17 We should acknowledge that some GUPs are exceptions as they do not adopt each of these five strategies. For instance, some do not explicitly seek to influence decision-making.

18 James C. Schoot, John Tehranian and Jeremy Mathias, ‘The Production of Legal Identities Proper to States: The Case of the Permanent Family Surname,’ Society for Comparative Study of Society and History, 2002.

With only a few exceptions,17 and each to varying degrees, all GUPs included in this study share the following five strategies. Firstly, they seek to produce critical knowledge. Through critical mapping and process documentation, GUPs articulate a knowledge-driven critique of mainstream urban practices in Egypt. Knowledge creation proceeds from the need to make the human and physical landscape legible.18 For instance, GUPs tend to focus their research efforts on informal processes which are still largely undocumented. They also engage in naming practices, as existing Arabic vocabulary fails to accurately describe their practices.

‘Our work is socially oriented we’re trying to serve the clients that nobody serve, that is the public and actually people living in existing neighborhoods, especially [the] poorer neighborhoods. [...] We’re mostly working in neighborhoods that nobody wants to work in’ → Kareem Ibrahim (Takween) Most GUPs place the emphasis on knowledge transfer and diffusion. In doing so, they seek to achieve a more equitable distribution of knowledge among citizens. Knowledge dissemination platforms - whether physical (conferences, classrooms, library, museum) or virtual (blogs, mobile applications) - are featured by all GUPs. Internship programs as well as university workshops aim at familiarizing and training the youth to alternative urban practices. Financial accessibility to this knowledge - through free workshops, free publications on Issuu, or on social media - aims to facilitate outreach to large and diverse audiences. Creating and diffusing knowledge often aims to encourage participation and empower communities. GUPs engage in bottom-up approaches because they consider that knowledge lies on the ground and is best revealed by field work and local communities.


‘We need to live the city’ → Alaa al-Habashi (Bayt Yakan) ‘We cannot work on heritage without grounding this work in some kind of socio-economic understanding of the area’ → May al-Ibrashi (Megawra) GUPs develop participatory methods and tools to voice the communities’ needs and boost their agency - that is their ability to organize, speak, and act for and by themselves. This strategy reveals the GUPs progressive political position and their bias towards the low-income communities and the groups marginalized by urban policies. GUPs experiment and develop innovative practices and structures. The density of interactions they engage in - with youth, authorities and communities - favors knowledge spillovers and innovations. Given GUPs’ scarce financial means and their relative marginalization, projects are often implemented with early localized pilot programs and plans to scale them up. Capitalizing on existing urban furniture, tactical interventions are another method largely employed by GUPs to showcase their alternative approach.

Finally, GUPs attempt to influence decision-making, which pertains to the urban realm. They do so by providing expertise to back up policy choices, by coalition-building and actual lobbying, or by producing a manifesto. In specific cases, GUPs also engage in mediation between local authorities and communities to promote alternative modes of government. In order to translate those broad strategies into actual lines of operation for onthe-ground and everyday practice, GUPs mobilize a common set of methods and tools. Figure 13 ranks them from the most employed to the least employed. The most employed methods all pertain - but are not limited - to the strategy of diffusing knowledge to broader audiences. Partnerships and collaborations are established for different purposes (project implementation, financing) and between different entities (GUPs, public authorities, foreign agencies). Beyond sharing knowledge and competences, cooperation helps build strong coalitions to ultimately influence decision-making. As events bringing together a diversity of actors, conferences are also conducive for building such alliances and engaging in collaboration. They are a type of knowledge dissemination platform, where local and foreign speakers share their expertise and exchange ideas. Those events often take place to shift Cairo-centered paradigms. For instance, the 2015 Reframing Downtown Cairo conference, which involved several GUPs, allowed the rethinking of the concept of creative cities and its relevance to understanding Cairo. Online platforms are another way to diffuse knowledge to larger audiences and have the advantage of being accessible to everyone.




Indeed, GUPs all seriously consider the question of access to the knowledge they produce and how to share it. This is why financial accessibility is a key aspect of GUPs activities. GUPs put this method into practice to different extents and through different tools. Most publish content in open source, such as Tumblr, Issuu or their own websites. A particular GUP tries to democratize access to knowledge is to propose a curriculum for low tuition fees and scholarships available for refugees. In its founder’s own words, ‘tapping into different walks of life’ (Karim Goessinger) enhances the quality of the education delivered in his institute. Facilitating access to knowledge and practical competences (through free workshops for instance) also proceeds from the will to encourage citizens’ participation and ultimately empower them. GUPs engage with multiple training methods in order to transfer knowledge to the youth. Those methods include internship programs, calls for volunteers and workshops. Furthermore, the strong presence of young members in GUPs facilitate the use of new technological tools and create a state of emulation which favors the development of innovative solutions. Interestingly, and despite the current political context that tends to marginalize them, GUPs engage for the most part in mediating with all stakeholders, including authorities. Through policy papers, participatory plan design, manifesto, coalition building, and ‘borderline advocacy’, GUPs attempt to influence decision-making. The Downtown Passageways pilot intervention was also a way to demonstrate to the authorities that alternative visions of public space were possible and beneficial to the community. Another GUP has met with the relevant ministry many times and in many different settings. They put the emphasis on the usefulness of their work to make efficient and data-driven policy choices. Even though they do not have a formalized agreement with the government yet, they have made good progress that allows them to continue their work relatively safely.


Fig. 13: Typical methods used by GUPs [Cairo]




Fig. 14: Sunburst diagram of strategies, methods and tools

This figure provides insights on the fluid arrangement between strategies, methods and tools employed by Cairene GUPs. The strategies are defined as long-term visions of grounded urban practices, methods are the processes to translate those broad goals into lines of operation, and finally tools are the devices used to act upon reality. Each are cross-cutting categories, as different tools can be mobilized for different methods and strategies.

4. Risks, Challenges and Opportunities

In the recent years, top-down policies returned to being the norm. Entry points with the authorities are now difficult to find and even harder to sustain. As a result, bottom-up practices are scrutinized, seen as a foreign body to the traditional decision making process, often sidelined and rejected or hijacked. In other words, they have to constantly argue for their right to their projects’ space, on several scales. The working conditions inherent to grounded research have also worsened. Official barriers as well as people’s distrust hinder participatory research and field work. Permit requirements for field research are now strongly implemented and failure to present such a document can result in imprisonment. In addition to the authorities’ direct methods, fear and paranoia of critical politics instigate distrust and hostility among concerned communities towards researchers asking questions or taking pictures. Finally, grounded work is by nature incremental, thus slow. With the Egyptian political climate, people’s perceptions are also subject to rapid change, potentially disabling the continuity of those projects. In the current political and legal context, GUPs must therefore negotiate between the top-down politics and the difficulty to do bottom-up research. When the mitigation process can actually happen, it still takes time, manpower, and energy. In this regard, GUPs run the risk of falling short of such manpower because of the current hollowing out of Egypt’s educated youth, scholars, journalists and activists. This brain drain phenomena not only reduces the circle, strength and influence of organizations engaged in GUPs but also contributes to the fatigue and isolation of those who stay.





‘Keeping your entity alive is the main challenge now.’ → Kareem Ibrahim (Takween) The current legal framework not only hinders fieldwork efforts, but also greatly limits the possibilities to get funds, endangering GUPs financial sustainability and independence. While the Arab Revolutions triggered worldwide collective interest in Egypt, opening the doors to more accessible foreign funding, the legislation established by the recent governments has subsequently stifled it, and made it increasingly difficult to access. In addition, external funding implies taking into account the funder’s agenda. As a result, GUPs often have to engage in a trade-off between financial sustainability and independence. GUPs encounter difficulties in reaching out to communities within establishment institutions. Practices often cannot have their voices truly heard in major educational entities and their student communities, without tactical (or dubious) means. Unless these activities are intentionally mislabeled or tactically carried out, they cannot occur due to limits imposed by the government. Due to this limited outreach, knowledge about

GUPs run the risk of being limited to a certain audience of insiders and educated practitioners. As it has been mentioned before, advocates of GUPs constitute a small group. Paradoxically to their initial objective, they fear they might become a niche while the vast majority of people remain unaware of their initiatives. More specifically, some interviewees have raised their concern regarding the lack of public transportation to reach their offices, which makes it difficult for some of the population to join activities that were explicitly meant to be accessible to all. As long as such practices are not considered mainstream, they will only be implementing small scale projects whose impact seems minimal compared to the mega-projects promoted by large coalitions formed by the Egyptian government and the real estate sector.


Fig15. Overall table of selected GUPs and key information [CAIRO]







10Tooba is an interdisciplinary group that conducts applied research on the built environment in Egypt, with topics related to urban inequality, informality, housing, public space and service provision. They use the lessons learned from the ground to inform their policy recommendations and research.

Founding members Ahmed Zaazaa, Omnia Khalil, Yahia Shawkat Areas of focus Community Development, Urban Policy, Housing Active since 2014 Key projects Built Environment Observatory, Built Environment Deprivation Index, Urban Parallel Practice in Egypt

Legal Type LLC Website 10tooba.org/en Interviewee Ahmed Zaazaa, co-founder of 10tooba Interviewers Omar Nagati, Marina Najjar and Omnia Awni Date of the interview 06.12.2018 Format of the interview Meeting via Skype

Mission Statement 10Tooba is an interdisciplinary group of built environment professionals, with similar roots in architecture and engineering, and developed expertise in anthropology, participatory planning, legislation and policy while working closely with communities in Egypt. 10 Tooba works on applied research, where a continuous loop of lessons learned from the ground inform our analysis, and our research informs our applications. We produce knowledge on the built environment in Egypt with a focus on issues such as housing, urban upgrading, urban history, public space, services and transport. Common threads that cut through our main topics are social justice, sustainability, informality, climate change, urban design & management practices and appropriate technology.



Bayt Yakan

Bayt Yakan is a privately-renovated 17thcentury house located in al-Darb al-Ahmar, which is now the headquarters of its renovator’s professional practice, Turath Conservation Group, and NGO, Center for Revitalization of the City. The center organizes events and workshops for the community with a particular focus on heritage, community development and art/culture.

Founding member Alaa al-Habashi Areas of focus Heritage, Art/Culture, Urban Policy Active since NGO created in 2005 / Professional Practice created in 2007 Key projects Renovation of Bayt Yakan, Student competition to design upgrading plan, Geometries of Bayt Yakan workshop.

Legal Type NGO and Professional Practice Website www.facebook.com/ TurathGroup/ Location Suq al-Silah St., Darb al-Ahmar, Cairo, Egypt Interviewee Alaa al-Habashi founder of Bayt Yakan

Interviewers Omar Nagati, René Boer, Marina Najjar Amin el-Didi, Marwa Shykhon, and Laura Meynier Date of the interview 07.23.2018 Mission Statement TCG stands for “Turath Conservation Group”, a company that was founded in 2007 and registered to consult for, and implement heritage conservation projects.




Cairobserver is an online platform open to public contributions, dedicated as an outlet for Cairenes to engage with urban and architectural issues in Egypt. Between 2011 and 2016, various printed versions have been produced.

Founding member Mohamed Elshahed Areas of focus Media/Discourse Active since 2011 Key project N/A Legal Type Not legally defined Website cairobserver.com

Interviewee Mohamed Elshahed, founder of Cairobserver Interviewers Omar Nagati, Marina Najjar, Amin el-Didi, and Laura Meynier Date of the interview 06.26.2018 Format of the interview Meeting at CLUSTER

Mission Statement Cairobserver is the start of a conversation about Cairo’s architecture and buildings, urban fabric and city life. Cairobserver is an online platform that acts as a focal point of architectural and urban discourse in Egypt. The blog provides a space for writings by specialists and non-specialists, students and teachers, city residents and visitors, architects and concerned citizens. The aim is to stimulate public debate and conversation about the architecture, urbanism and cultural heritage of Cairo, other Egyptian cities and beyond.




CILAS is a liberal arts institute which seeks to make critical and interdisciplinary education accessible as an alternative to more traditional forms of pedagogy. Its core principles revolve around urban embedeness in the community and critical thinking.

Founding member Karim-Yassin Goessinger Areas of focus Pedagogy/Education Active since 2013 Key projects CILAS Cairo, CILAS Alex (launched in September 2018) Legal Type JLC Website ci-las.org

Interviewee Karim-Yassin Goessinger, founder and current Program Director at CILAS Interviewers Omar Nagati, Marina Najjar, Amin el-Didi, and Omnia Awni Date of the interview 06.19.2018 Format of the interview Meeting via Skype

Mission Statement The Cairo Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences CILAS invites students from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds to engage with the liberal arts through a pedagogy of discovery. CILAS hosts a dynamic, discussion-based learning environment conducive to creative inquiry, self-reflection, and civic engagement. Co-creation of knowledge at CILAS is fostered through classroom discussion and debate, workshops, musical performances, guest lectures, field visits, cooking, laughing, and listening..




CLUSTER (Cairo Lab for Urban Study, Training and Environmental Research) is an independent urban research and design platform located Downtown Cairo with a strong focus on public space and informal urbanism. It organizes conferences, symposia, talks, and walking tours to engage critical urban questions facing the city and public space.

Founding members Omar Nagati and Beth Stryker Areas of focus Community Development, Urban Policy, Public space, Art/Culture, Heritage

Cairo Urban Tours, Ard el-Liwa workshop, PILOT (Public InterLibrary Online Technology)

Date of the interview 07.29.2018

Legal Type LLC, Professional Practice

Mission Statement Cairo Lab for Urban Studies, Training and Environmental Research aims at establishing a critical space for urban discourse. CLUSTER engages critical theorization while being grounded in professional practice, negotiating the blurred boundaries between formal/institutional regulations and everyday urban informality.

Active since 2011

Website clustercairo.org

Key projects Downtown Passageways, CLUSTER Mapping Initiatives, Learning from Cairo Conference, Creative Cities Conference,

Interviewee Omar Nagati, cofounder of CLUSTER Interviewers Marina Najjar, Amin el-Didi, Marwa Shykhon and Laura Meynier

Format of the interview Meeting at CLUSTER




DUCO is a company promoting street art, intervening in the urban landscape through wall painting. DUCO seeks to enhance the visual experience of the city and make people see the potential of space, promoting artists from the community in the design of specific projects.

Founding member Hassan Ismail

Website duco-eg.com

Format of the interview Meeting at CLUSTER

Areas of focus Public Space, Art/ Culture

Location 28 Falaki St., Bab alLouq, Cairo, Egypt

Active since 2015

Interviewee Hassan Ismail, cofounder and current Director of DUCO

Mission Statement DUCO aspires to become an agency and platform for the facilitation and promotion of public art in an urban context powered by a commercial approach while maintaining the mission of contributing towards an urban aesthetic development. With massive corporate marketing and construction budgets and the fact that Egypt comprises vast plain and ripe surfaces reaching millions of square meters among the built environment, there is a huge potential for transforming those surfaces into attractive canvases expressing visually appealing art and graphics.

Key projects NGSC Skate Park, La7 Gym, Palm Hills Club, The Lunch Box, Mounir Store, Hadawet Design, Mohandessin Electrician Legal Type LLC

Interviewers Omar Nagati, Marina Najjar, Amin el-Didi, Omnia Awni and Martina AbuAlam Date of the interview 06.07.2018



House of Egyptian Architecture The House of Egyptian Architecture is a museum dedicated to Egyptian architecture and is located in Hassan Fathy’s former house in Darb al-Labbana, including a virtual library gathering architecture-related work. It organizes workshops, children’s activities, and hosts cultural events.

Founding member Heba Safey Eldeen Areas of focus Heritage, Art/Culture, Education/Pedagogy Active since 2015 (established in 2010) Key project Museum of Egyptian Architecture Legal Type Government entity Website egyptarch.gov.eg

Location 4 Darb al-Labbana, Darb al-Ahmar, Cairo, Egypt Interviewee Heba Safey Eldeen, founder of House of Egyptian Architecture Interviewers Omar Nagati, Marina Najjar, and Omnia Awni Date of the interview 06.13.2018 Format of the interview Meeting at CLUSTER

Mission Statement This house is an architectural creative center. In addition to a huge library, the house belongs to the Cultural Development Fund, hence, it is a center for architectural and cultural activities, such as symposia, workshops, trainings, exhibitions, etc. In sum, the house aims at communicating architectural culturation and communication within society. Raising an awareness of architecture, design, urbanism and the built environment, together with the associated arts and crafts. The aim is achieved through the permanent museum of the history of Egyptian architecture, as well as through the interactive activities and festivities. It also contributes to the scientific research domain through its library and archive. The house is affiliated with a number of architectural centers, institutions, libraries and museums that serve the architectural culturation, education and practice. In addition to offering professional assistance to artisans and historians.



Lala Studio

Lala is a studio looking to provide community services in Darb al-Labbana, working mainly with volunteers, and making its practices close to that of a charity. It hosts events related to heritage, art and culture, having a strong emphasis on education.

Founding member Dr. Ali Labib Areas of focus Heritage, Art/Culture, Public Space Active since 2017 Key project Virtual Museum Legal Type JLC Website facebook.com/ LalaStudio10

Interviewee Ali Labib, founder of Lala Studio Interviewers Omar Nagati, Marina Najjar, Amin el-Didi, and Omnia Awni Date of the interview 06.20.2018 Format of the interview Meeting at CLUSTER

Mission Statement We host quality education that we believe will enhance the perception of architecture, enable our students to acquire and practice architectural skills and understanding, and perform better in their schools, or professions. We host architectural cultural gatherings, where everyone is welcome to join, to strengthen communication, networking, and knowledge sharing among local architects.




Madd is a non-formalized group of researchers and practitioners critical of top-down urban planning. Among its main project was the Maspero project which aimed at creating and formalizing a participatory framework for urban planning, integrating local stakeholders in the process.

Founding members Ahmad Borham, Ahmed Zaazaa, Mohamad Abo Tera, Aly Ahmed Areas of focus Community Development, Urban Policy, Public Space Active since 2011 Key projects Maspero Parallel Participatory Project Legal Type Not legally defined

Website issuu.com/ maddplatform Interviewee Mohamed Abotera, co-founder of Madd Platform Interviewers Omar Nagati, Marina Najjar, Amin el-Didi, and Omnia Awni and Ahmed Morsi Date of the interview 06.06.201

Format of the interview Meeting at CLUSTER Mission Statement Madd Platform is an independent noninstitutional entity that is composed of researchers and practitioners of architecture and urban design whose activities have been focused on the public domain through participatory on ground projects and research.




Megawra is based in and concentrating its efforts on Al-Khalifa neighborhood in Historic Cairo. It seeks to achieve heritage protection through a context-based approach, and through not only technical renovation but also community empowerment and a renewed sense of heritage ownership.

Founding member May al-Ibrashi Areas of focus Community Development, Urban Policy, Heritage, Art/ Culture, Public Space Active since 2011 Key projects Athar Lina, Al-Hattaba Garden, City Walks, Conservation of the domes of Shajar al-Durr, al-Sayyida Ruqayya, Ja’fari and ‘Atika in alKhalifa

Legal Type Professional Practice & NGO Website megawra.com Interviewee May al-Ibrashi, cofounder of Megawra and Built Environment Collective Interviewers Omar Nagati, Marina Najjar, Amin el-Didi, and Laura Meynier Date of the interview 07.17.2018

Format of the interview Meeting at Al Khalifa community center Mission Statement Megawra is an architectural hub for young students and architects that is also welcoming to the public. It is a platform for holistic debate on the field of architecture and urbanisma with a focus on it as art, theory, praxis and cultural heritage and its role in promoting sustainability and social responsibility in the built environment.



Shadow Ministry of Housing Shadow Ministry of Housing is an online blog critically discussing governmental policies pertaining to housing, such as rent, cost, and utilities. It opposes the process of evictions and tries to create an alternative discourse focused on the right to housing, and has published articles in Arabic in order to be more accessible

Founding member Yahia Shawkat Areas of focus Urban Policy, Housing, Media/Discourse Active since 2008 until 2013 Key project N/A Legal Type Not legally defined Website blog.shadowministryofhousing.org/ p/english.html

Interviewee Yahia Shawkat, founder of Shadow Ministry of Housing Interviewers Omar Nagati, RenĂŠ Boer, Marina Najjar, Amin el-Didi, and Marwa Shykhon Date of the interview 07.24.2018 Format of the interview Meeting via Skype

Mission Statement Shadow Ministry of Housing is a blog that critiques built environment policy in Egypt. The blog has worked to shed light on the different challenges faced by communities through field visits, presenting issues reported in the press, and analysing public projects and policy. The blog is aimed at the Arabic speaking audience as, ironically, very little writing and analysis about Egypt’s built environment is available in Arabic. Some material will be made available in english over the coming months. SMoH was founded in 2008 by Yahia Shawkat, and also accepts Arabic contributions on issues of social justice and the built environment.




Takween is an urban development company engaged in design, construction and research activities, towards a more integrated urban development approach. It’s online platform Tadamun promotes citizens’ equal right to their city, as well as a shared responsibility towards it.

Founding member Kareem Ibrahim Areas of focus Community Development, Public Space, Urban Policy, Heritage, Housing

Interviewee Kareem Ibrahim, co-founder of Takween

Active since 2009

Interviewers Omar Nagati, René Boer, Marina Najjar, Amin el-Didi, Marwa Shykon and Laura Meynier

Key projects Tadamun, Izbat Khayrallah Paint Cairo

Date of the interview 07.23.2018

Legal Type LLC

Format of the interview Meeting at Takween’s office

Website takween-eg.com org/p/english.html

Mission Statement Takween is to be a leading community development service provider in the Middle East that offers hands-on technical expertise for built environment, social and economic development interventions. We are committed to setting the stage for innovative, knowledgeable, reliable and sustainable urban solutions supporting efforts in promoting vibrant integrated communities.



Transport for Cairo Transport for Cairo is a company mapping Cairo’s public transportation network, triggered by the global trend towards the right to information through open data, and aiming to launch a mobile app and share their work on Google Maps in order to make it available and useful to commuters and policy-makers.

Founding member Hussam al-Oda, Mohamad Mahrous, Abdel Rahman Hegazy, Tamer Taha and Mohamed Hegazy Areas of focus Urban Policy, Mobility/ Transport Active since 2015 Key projects Open Data Day 2016 (Cairo), Transit Map Design Workshop, Mwasalat Misr bus routes mapping Legal Type LLC

Website transportforcairo.com Interviewee Mohamed Hegazy, cofounder of Transport for Cairo Interviewers Omar Nagati, Marina Najjar, Amin el-Didi, and Laura Meynier Date of the interview 07.09.2018 Format of the interview Meeting via Skype

Mission Statement Transport for Cairo (TfC) was founded in 2015 by a young team cross-disciplinary team of urban planners, social scientists and computer engineers.TfC believes that mobility is a universal right, where mobility is the accessibility of people, goods and services to go where they need or want to safely, efficiently and affordably. Our intent is to improve mobility & accessibility in Cairo by mapping all formal and informal transportation and leveraging Public Private Innovation to advance sustainable future mobility systems and the industries and enterprises that will supply them. We work to enhance the quality of research and level of understanding of transit service provision in GCR by developing and disseminating contextualized research methodologies and non-conventional data collection and management techniques.


Amsterdam Rotterdam


The Garden Which is the Nearest to God (Taturo Atzu, 2015). Source: Oude Kerk Amsterdam

1 Historical Context These are just a few examples of the many visionaries who have contributed to the transformation of Dutch cities into democratic and egalitarian urban landscapes. During the heyday of the welfare state in the 70s and 80s, they were headed by responsive, responsible and agile local authorities, providing a wide range of services and willing to negotiate with communities and social movements. Around the same time, Dutch cities reached their peak in terms of the share of social housing compared to the entire housing stock. In the late 80s, Amsterdam’s reached a percentage of 85% of housing under governmental regulation and distributed according to waiting lists, which basically amounts to the almost fully equalized distribution of private space among the city’s inhabitants.

While the Netherlands has a long history of unequal urban conditions and exploitative economic models, it has also seen a remarkable array people of all walks of life committed to make the country’s cities more egalitarian, democratic and culturally diverse. They experimented with new kinds of urban interventions and urban development models, which in many cases have become mainstream practice in the years that followed. It can be seen as a tradition that continues up to this In the mid 90s however, the rapday. idly globalizing political dogma of neoliberalism reached the In the mid 19th century the Dutch phy- Netherlands, which reinforced sician Samuel Sarphati campaigned for existing right wing ideas such widely diverging but very important urban as decreasing governmental interventions such as a citywide sewage expenditures and deregulating system and a ‘palace for people’s culture’ markets in different sectors. In in Amsterdam, both of which were real- practice, this soon translated ised. Later on, several pioneers started into attempts to scale down the to invest in affordable housing schemes for the city’s poorest, paving the way for the important 1901 housing law. Closer to date, the counter-cultural movements of the 70s and the 80s introduced the notion that cities could be organised bottom-up, which strongly influenced local decision-making processes across the country.





activities and services of the local authorities, and led to the liberalization of the government-controlled housing market. By the mid 00s, Amsterdam’s social housing stock was rapidly being privatized, with the aim to reduce it to 30% in a few decades. In the meantime the neoliberal political current, by now a dominant force around the world, resulted in an uncontrolled financialization of the economy, not only in the Netherlands but around the world. By 2007 the lack of control in the US housing market had led to a financial crisis, which soon went global. Its effects were also felt in the Netherlands, which, interestingly, stimulated the growth of the most recent wave of alternative urban practices. In the years following the crisis, the economy went into a severe recession, impacting the spatial sector heavily. Urban redevelopment plans were cancelled on a large scale, and most other kinds of building commissions were, at least temporarily, halted. It pushed many architects and other spatial professionals out of work, and also resulted in rapidly rising vacancy rates, in particular of office buildings. In the same period, the longstanding Dutch tradition of squatting (the occupation of empty properties without the permission of the owner) was criminalized and anti-squatting (real estate owners protecting their properties against squatters by placing a few, often young and precarious, ‘guardians’ in them) rapidly proliferated. For decades, squatting had allowed groups of people to take ownership of the city and experiment with new models of collectively shaping the urban environment, but this way of taking root in the city now started to evaporate rapidly. During the crisis years many spatial professionals, and to a lesser extent the more radical groups, were forced to look for new ways of working. In hindsight it could be argued that this has resulted in a new generation of alternative urban practitioners. In general, their work can be characterized as starting from the smallest scale, organized in a bottom-up fashion, often rooted in neighborhoods and facilitated by the professionals (or radicals) from before. Many of these projects created their own context and conditions, creating positive changes in their respective localities, but in several cases these projects merely came to the rescue of a struggling real estate sector while being co-opted as ‘placemakers’.


While these practices proliferated, many existing urban policies were intensified, such as the privatization of social housing (accelerated by a new tax), urban beautification schemes and extensive city branding projects. This resulted, in particular in Amsterdam, in state-led gentrification processes and an increase in tourism, coinciding with the rise of Airbnb. In reality, there was little that the new alternative practices could do to stop these developments, other than soften their effects. And, ironically, as the large building projects commissioned before the crisis were finally completed in these years, traditional, iconic construction continued to dominate the image of architecture, in particular in Rotterdam. In the last few years, the Dutch economy has fully recovered, resulting in a real estate boom (some say bubble) in the major cities. While several new local laws in Rotterdam are further privatizing the city’s social housing stock and stimulating gentrification, average square meter prices in Amsterdam are now so extreme that even the middle classes are seriously affected and that the classic idea on the mechanisms of gentrification in this city are arguably no longer valid. In any case both cities now have rather low to very low vacancy rates and have undergone a process of full-blown sanitization, radically changing their outward appearance. Since the start of the economic upturn, many architects and other spatial professionals working in the alternative urban practices seem tempted to go back to the business-as-usual office and return their efforts to the ongoing construction

of the status quo. At the same time, there are fewer and fewer empty properties or plots of land that allow for experimentation, as every single bit of space is turned towards the current opportunities for profit. Both developments seem to have seriously hampered the strength and continued proliferation of the alternative urban practices, ten years into their existence. However, a broader critique on the rather harsh, profit-driven urban development of the major cities is becoming louder. Amsterdam’s new left-wing local government (and new left-wing mayor) has announced putting brakes on tourism and working on new social policies and housing plans. In Rotterdam, in their ‘Letters to the Mayor’ project, many architects have collectively called for more social and productive economies, and architectures to match. Maybe, the current ‘boom’ is only a temporary dip, and these shifts in political priorities could open up new opportunities for the ongoing development of alternative urban models.



2 Previous Studies on GUPs in Post-Crisis Amsterdam/ Rotterdam the book Pop-up City: Citymaking in a Fluid World (2014), which was basically a collection of many small, temporary urban interventions around the world, further underlining the often apolitical character of this new wave.

The proliferation of alternative practices during and after the financial crisis has been analysed in various publications and writings. In her essay Bottom Up Is Not Enough (2013), Dutch architecture historian Michelle Provoost argues that this phenomenon is occurring around the world, and that it could be seen as an international movement. She simultaneously formulates a strong critique, arguing that there is ‘an actual industry emerging of temporality, pop-up, participatory planning and crowdsourcing which is used by and for the institutional parties directly, without any ambition to achieve a greater goal’. According to her, there is a need to both influence the top-levels while also rooting more. This argument is sustained by the book Reactivate! Innovators of Dutch Architecture (2013), in which journalist Indira van ‘t Klooster describes how small architectural offices have dealt with the crisis, and what kind of projects have resulted from it. She argues that many of these projects were actually not inspired by political or idealistic motivations, but were often a matter of survival in a radical new economical and professional context. A year later, the Amsterdam-based blog Pop-up City published

The more theoretically oriented book Het Nieuwe Stadmaken (The New Citymaking, 2015) takes a more serious and critical look at the post-crisis alternative modes of working, while at the same time acknowledging their possible impact. In a collection of insightful essays they discuss various approaches and practices, offering a broader contextual background. However, in their essay Why the Pop-up Hype Isn’t Going to Save Our Cities (2016) architecture critics Mark Minkjan and René Boer reiterate Michelle Provoost’s critique on the lack of political ambition in many of the realized projects, and their easy cooptation by more powerful stakeholders.




Over the last five years, many conferences have been organised on the matter, such as the ‘Stadsmakerscongres’ (‘City Makers Conference’) in Rotterdam and ‘We Make the City’ in Amsterdam. In reality, these convergences have been rather uncritical of business-as-usual spatial production and closely aligned with large stakeholders such as housing corporations, various multinationals and the municipality. However, among the many practices in the ‘bottom-up industry’ there a few who are critical of the status quo and do experiment with radically inclusive models. While some of them pop-up in some of the studies, they have never been collectively assessed.

3 Selection of Practices




Similar to the Egyptian part of this research (see previous chapter), a specific selection out of this larger wave of new urban practices has been made for the Dutch case (for a full overview, see the list below). While this wave of new urban practices has reached most corners of the Netherlands, it seems to have been most prominent in Amsterdam/Rotterdam. For that reason, and as these cities offer a metropolitan context that at least to some extent resembles urban conditions in Cairo, a choice has been made to focus exclusively on these urban environments. Further research could arguably delve into related practices in smaller towns and the provinces. Furthermore, the same definition of grounded urban practices outlined in the introduction has been applied, to arrive at a more or less comparable set of practices. Crucial is the focus on space as an agent of change, either in the iconic visibility of the architecture (the Luchtsingel by Zus, or the Ru Paré community center by Samen Wonen Samen Leven), the restoration of heritage (Stadsherstel’s renovation of Amsterdam’s historic buildings), the provision of affordable space (Soweto’s social housing project, or Urban Resorts artist studios) or in other ways. Similarly to Cairo, it leaves out bottom-up and participatory projects such as self-organized, locally based healthcare provision systems. Secondly, being thoroughly grounded on the long term has been a prerequisite, either in a specific local area (Verhalenhuis Belvedere in Rotterdam’s Katendrecht neighborhood, Stad in de Maak in Rotterdam-Noord and Cascoland in

Amsterdam’s Kolenkit area), a specific community (Stadsherstel among heritage specialists, Vers Beton among urban enthusiasts) or a specific movement (Soweto and Urban Resort in Amsterdam’s subcultural scene). Short-term, temporary and sudden interventions have therefore not been considered. Thirdly, being critical of the status quo of spatial production has been an important point of attention. This is arguably the most arbitrary distinction, as no practice can ever be fully autonomous. All practices on the Dutch list have to some extent compromised their ideals to be more effective. However, practices directly commissioned by housing corporations, large companies or the municipality (and hence influenced by their agenda) have not been selected as they are deemed too close to the regular urban development processes. Some GUPs have not made it to the final list for not considering the negative impact, for example in terms of gentrification, as part of the realization of their ideals. The final criterium for GUPs is the level of experimentation with new models, ideas and approaches, and their possible replicability. Some practices have revived old, radical models (Soweto’s social housing association), while others have developed new ways of financing their ideals, such as issuing bonds or setting up a crowdfunding campaign (Verhalenhuis Belvedere, Stadsherstel and Zus’ Luchtsingel respectively). The final list is as follows, including Non-fiction, the office conducting this research.

Practices in Amsterdam/Rotterdam


We conducted 11 interviews with the (co-)founders of the following practices: 1. Cascoland Interview with Roel Schoenmakers and Judith Leijdekkers A collective of Amsterdam-based artists developing tools and interventions that empower people, communities and neighborhoods, and create awareness among planners and authorities. In particular, they are known for their work in the Kolenkit neighborhood in Amsterdam-West.

2. Jeanne Works / Afrikaanderwijk Interview with Jeanne van Heeswijk An individual artist (or ‘urban curator’) organising long-term community engagement and empowering inhabitants to change their own environment themselves. Afrikaanderwijk is her long standing project in Rotterdam-Zuid, featuring among others working cooperatives.

3. Non-fiction Interview with Mark Minkjan and René Boer A collective of researchers, designers, thinkers and curators, creating discursive reflections and temporary urban interventions allowing for different perspectives on the city. Tussenruimte was a temporary project that sought to intervene in the ‘in-between’ spaces of Amsterdam’s UNESCO canal zone.

5. Soweto / Nieuwland Interview with Steven Kelk and Carla Huisman An alternative housing association, buying buildings to transform them into affordable, collective housing. Nieuwland, in the eastern part of Amsterdam, is their first housing project.

6. Stad in de Maak Interview with Ana Džokić, Marc Neelen and Piet Vollaard A foundation aiming to take properties off the market in Rotterdam and create affordable spaces for living and working. For now they only have properties on a temporary loan.

4. Samen Wonen Samen Leven / Ru Paré Interview with Auguste van Oppen A foundation creating new community hubs, recently winning the Amsterdam Architecture Award for their project in Amsterdam West.


7. Stadsherstel Interview with Paul Morel A company aiming to acquire and restore dilapidated buildings (in particular monuments), preserve them and rent them out.

8. Urban Resort / Volkshotel Interview with Jaap Draaisma and Wessel de Boer A foundation temporarily renting abandoned buildings and converting them into affordable working (and housing) arrangements across Amsterdam. Volkshotel is one of their early projects, now partly made permanent through a deal with a hotel.

9. Verhalenhuis Belvedere Interview with Els Desmet A ‘home for immaterial heritage’ in Rotterdam’s rapidly changing Katendrecht neighborhood, where people can meet through food, storytelling, and exhibitions. The project has gained financial security by acquiring an iconic building through crowdfunding and issuing bonds.

10. Vers Beton Interview with Teun van den Ende and Eeva Liukku An online magazine for Rotterdam, focusing on urban development, architecture, politics, arts and culture. Provides a platform for discussion about urban issues and sets the local agenda.

11. ZUS / Luchtsingel Interview with Elma van Boxel and Kris Koreman An architecture & urbanism office, working worldwide but also in their immediate environment where it is involved in the redevelopment of the area, including the construction of a crowdfunded pedestrian bridge connecting three neighborhoods.


Fig. 16: Map of selected GUPs [Amsterdam/Rotterdam]




Fig. 17: Areas of focus of GUPs [Amsterdam/Rotterdam]


Fig. 18: Timeline of date of establishment of GUPs [Amsterdam/Rotterdam]




4 Analysis: Patterns within Grounded Urban Practices

1. Roots and Reasons

Most of the GUPs in this research share the wider ambition to create new forms of more inclusive living, sharing and working in the city, while reinforcing existing and shaping new communities. Slightly different are Vers Beton, who aim to stimulate a digital community through discursive exchange on (local) urban issues, the Luchtsingel by Zus, which embodies an urban design intervention benefiting the urban environment on a larger, more abstract scale, and Non-fiction, who seek to create new discourse through artistic interventions and their research platform Failed Architecture. Many of the practices feel the need to, and have even been founded to, address urgent issues arising from the most recent financial crisis, and to make use of the opportunities that are created by this global phenomenon. A notable exception is Stadsherstel, which was founded much earlier to address a different crisis (Amsterdam’s post-war urban decay) and easily survived the more recent troubles in the real estate sector.

Interestingly, many of the selected practices have their roots (often on a personal historical level, sometimes as a collective) in the squatting movement, which still exists but has been in decline for many years now. Among others key team members of Stad in de Maak, Cascoland, Soweto, Urban Resort, Stadsherstel and Samen Wonen Samen Leven were involved in squatting properties at some point and thus creating their first experiences in intervening collectively in the urban environment. The GUPs in this specific research have, to some extent, roots in architecture itself (ZUS/Luchtsingel, Stadsherstel, Vers Beton, Stad in de Maak and Samen Wonen Samen Leven) and to a lesser extent in the arts (Jeanne Works, Verhalenhuis Belvedere, Urban Resort and Cascoland).

2. Structure and Organization

A. Legal Organization

An important element in how a grounded urban practice functions is their organizational model, which is based in their legal registration. The Netherlands has a system that has been largely synchronized with the rest of the European Union but still contains its own terminology (see list and explanations).





Fig. 19: Description of legal entities [Amsterdam/Rotterdam]

In general, there are not many restrictions of what a certain legal form can or can’t do, or what kind of incomes it can generate. The most important difference among them is the organization of liabilities in case things go wrong, with the Dutch equivalents of the LLC and PLC offering the best protection for the persons involved. There are also a few restrictions in terms of making a profit, in particular for associations and foundations, who can only direct any profit to respectively themselves or to the societal aims mentioned in their foundational statement. An interesting variation on the association is the cooperative, which functions in a similar way but is allowed to pay any profit to its members. The GUPs have made use of a wide variety of the legal forms available and organised themselves accordingly, which will be explained in more detail in the following section.


As can be seen in the schematic overview of all the grounded urban practices at the end of this chapter, many different forms, and sometimes multiple forms have been applied to structure their activities. The foundation is the most common legal entity, in particular when it comes to purely applying societal ideals. In many of the case studies, the practice itself is a foundation, such as Vers Beton, Urban Resort, Samen Wonen Samen Leven and Verhalenhuis Belvedere. The latter two practices also set up another foundation to acquire, run and maintain their building and keep it organizationally and financially separate from their activities. In other cases, foundations are being set up for a specific project, while the practice itself is organized differently. Cascoland sets up foundations for their projects, allowing community members to take the lead, while their own practice is registered as a partnership (vof), enabling themselves to make a living. De Luchtsingel bridge has been realized through a foundation, while the initiator, ZUS architecture and urbanism, is itself a limited liability company (bv), which operates as a regular architecture office. Stad in de Maak is also a foundation, but with their founder’s personal activities backed up by, among others, a partnership (maatschap). Four practices have organized themselves differently. Soweto is the only association, who have invited people from their wider political and subcultural scene to become its members. As they can control the directors (and depose them), the political line will be guaranteed on the long term beyond the actions of a specific director. Jeanne van Heeswijk, who has a one person company for her own activities, seeks to set up cooperatives, which she did among others in her work




in Rotterdam’s Afrikaanderwijk. By doing so activities can be organized that actually generate income, which can then be paid to the members of this neighborhood cooperative. According to her, every euro generated this way gets spent a few times in the area, which hugely benefits the local economy. Stadsherstel, to conclude, has, after a long discussion at the time, organised themselves as a PLC (NV), which means that their shareholders can influence their directions, which means that in practice that less adventurous undertakings will be started (shareholders have their money invested), but at the same time that activities will be solid. The practice has now run successfully for more than half a century. Non-fiction is organized as a non-registered collective of collaborating sole proprietorships, who set up a foundation for the Failed Architecture platform.

B. Organizational Structures

In most of the GUPs selected for this research, the initiators remain the key (and sometimes only) players in their respective organizations, who often share power and responsibility in a horizontal way. Examples are Stad in de Maak, Samen Wonen Samen Leven, Non-fiction and Cascoland. Interesting cases are then Soweto and Jeanne van Heeswijk, who have organized a form of democratic decision making among more people by setting up an association and cooperative respectively. Some of the practices have become larger organizations over time, and have created some hierarchy in their way of working. Urban Resort, Stadsherstel and Verhalenhuis Belvedere work with senior and junior positions, while Vers Beton has an editorial board that can make final decisions on their output. As most practices are rather small and consist of small teams of a few people, external people are now and then hired for larger projects. Also other specific expertise (financial bookkeeping, graphic design, web development) is often outsourced rather than developed in-house. Some practices work with interns now and then, but not consistently.

C. Financial Models

There are many ways the GUPs can sustain themselves and their activities financially, and the various practices often use a variety of income models to guarantee their operations on the long term. In practice, support from different Dutch funding organisations (either with a cultural, community or urban/architectural focus) remains an important source of income for almost all practices, except for Soweto, Stadsherstel, Urban Resort and Samen Wonen Samen Leven. Interestingly, these are the practices for whom monthly rent, either from the inhabitants or work place users in their projects, is a major source of income. While none of the GUPs in Amsterdam/Rotterdam rely on commissions in the private sector, except for the architecture firm ZUS, subsidies from the local authorities have often been key in setting up their projects, such as with Urban Resort, Jeanne van Heeswijk and the Luchtsingel project by ZUS, and even in continuing them in the long term, such as with Cascoland and Samen Wonen Samen Leven. For many practices large in-kind contributions in terms of space either by the local authorities or large stakeholders have been crucial to making their practice work. Stad in de Maak, Urban Resort and Jeanne van Heeswijk rely on acquiring buildings on loan for free or greatly reduced amounts for a certain period of time, while Soweto, Stadsherstel and Verhalenhuis Belvedere were able to buy buildings for subsidized rates, or in the case of Stadsherstel, private persons willing to sell to them for lower prices out of idealistic reasons. While memberships and sales are mostly minor sources of income, issuing bonds and organising crowdfunding campaigns have unlocked quite some possibilities. Bonds allowed private persons to co-invest in the real estate of Soweto and Stadsherstel, while a crowdfunding for the Luchtsingel (a wooden plank could be sponsored for 25 euro) laid the financial basis for this large scale urban intervention.





Fig. 20: Extended financial model of typical GUPs [Amsterdam/Rotterdam]


D. Evolution

Most practices start small, with a few people and a single intervention, learning by doing and learning from the mistakes. From there on, they seek to establish themselves more firmly and grow over time. Stadsherstel, Stad in de Maak en Urban Resort all started with one building, and expanded from there. Urban Resort went bankrupt on their first building and were bailed out by the municipality before they could continue. For the same building, they managed to make a deal with a hotel investor to ensure that at least a third of the project would continue in the long term, which was a surprising compromise to many. Verhalenhuis Belvedere planned the renovation of their building in many small steps, and the Luchtsingel was likewise built in 6 phases. Failed Architecture (by Non-fiction) and Vers Beton slowly expanded their readership over time. While most practices are continually evolving, responding to new conditions, some of them are currently going through some interesting developments in terms of their organizational model. Now the Luchtsingel has been realized, Zus has decided to hand the structure over to the municipality (also in terms of maintenance), and dissolve its foundation. Soweto plans to set up new associations for every building they manage to acquire, while Stad in de Maak is looking for a new model through which

to acquire their first property. In the meanwhile, Verhalenhuis Belvedere is still professionalizing their organization and might shift its legal form accordingly. Urban Resort, on the other hand, feels their organization has reached an optimal size (20 employees), which is very effective but not so large to become an anonymous NGO.

3. Strategies, Methods, Tools

While every practice has set up their own specific response to a need they wanted to address, and developed their own mix of strategies, methods and tools to realise their intervention, there are several tactics and phenomena which have been key for their long term development and sustainability. Absolutely key across the board is the long term personal investment, mostly in terms of time and energy, but in some cases also in terms of financial resources, by the initiators in their respective projects. Often, they have been working day and night, sometimes while being in practices or regular jobs, to see their ideals materialise.




For most practices, the control over spaces to base themselves in, having a safe, warm place in which to build intimate communities, and various other reasons has been very important. Many practices have been scanning the city for abandoned properties in search of new opportunities. In some cases they managed to get a building on a loan for free or for a subsidized rate, while others have opted consciously for the actual acquisition of the property, which would provide them with a space without any limit imposed by others. In some cases, the acquisition or user agreement of a certain building has been part of interesting partnerships, including financial compensation for obligatory repairs, such as with Stad in de Maak and Urban Resort. Building partnerships with larger institutions has also been beneficial in other cases, for example in the case of Vers Beton taking over the task (and subsidies) from another institution to generate debate about architecture in Rotterdam. Then, the ideal of stimulating community life in the increasingly individualistic Dutch urban culture has been realised in a wider variety of ways. Providing community services has been a returning strategy to bring people together for very specific reasons. Stad in de Maak, Cascoland, Samen Wonen Samen Leven, Jeanne van Heeswijk and Verhalenhuis Belvedere, among others, have applied this idea in different ways. The latter two, and in some way also Vers Beton, have argued for the importance of deep listening, or taking the time to hear people’s life stories and the collective stories of communities. Many have stated that the long-term realization of their grounded urban practices has been a ‘school of life’, which has taught them ways of navigating complex urban environments and governmental bureaucracies smartly. No architecture school or urban stu-dies programme teaches either this, or other ways of turning ideals into reality. Some practices, such as Urban Resort, Jeanne van Heeswijk and Stadsherstel, therefore take the time to educate and train others (whether community members or junior employees in the organization) and teach them how to continue the work. Only of importance to a few practices has been the iconicity of architecture to create well-designed environments that elevate the quality of urban life and the dignity of its users. The Ru Paré community building by Samen Wonen Samen Leven is of such extraordinary quality that is goes beyond any traditional notion of what regular community buildings look like. De Luchtsingel by ZUS is almost a new icon for Rotterdam, and its clear design helps to create connections in people’s mental maps in this fragmented part of the city. The renovation of remarkable, historic architecture has always helped Stadsherstel to show off the importance of what they do and to continue to create actual living environments in historical areas.

Finally, many practices mention influencing decision making as a way to realise the ideals and aims of their projects, mostly by showing how things can be done differently. They make it explicit that crowdfunding models can work, or that the interventions of small collectives can be more direct and more socially inclined. Urban Resort is the practice that is most active in terms of influencing the political level directly, for which they use their close ties with politicians and civil servants. They organize debates in the run-up to the municipal elections and fund alternative, subcultural media.

4. Risks, Opportunities and Challenges All practices have made important contributions to the social, political and cultural aspects of urban life in Amsterdam/Rotterdam, each in their own way and on different scales. While Urban Resort runs twenty properties, Soweto is still pioneering their first building. Stadsherstel has renovated numerous properties physically over the last few decades, while Vers Beton is mostly concerned with influencing the direction of the debate. The Luchtsingel is clearly visible in the urban landscape, even on satellite images, while the often more personal connections created by the work of Cascoland are equally important but maybe less visible. As has been described in the introduction, there is a general feeling at the moment that the proliferation of alternative practices is slowing down and that there are fewer opportunities available to make them flourish. From the interviews it did indeed





appear that there are numerous risks and challenges surfacing at the moment, in particular due to the changing conditions caused by the current economic upturn. As many business-as-usual real estate projects are being resumed, fewer and fewer buildings, areas or plots of land are available for temporary use, which has been important to many of the GUPs over the last ten years. At the same time, real estate prices are soaring, in particular in Amsterdam/Rotterdam, which will make it next to impossible for small practices to acquire (centrally located) property and root themselves within the actual urban environment for a long period of time. In addition much of the necessary expertise (including engineers, construction companies, architects and consultants) is tempted to prioritize better paying commercial projects rather than investing a lot of pro-bono time in more social-

ly inclined work. Finally, there are more work opportunities available for lower skilled workers, improving the local economy of certain neighborhoods, where to some extent there is now less urgency to intervene than there had been previously. In reality, it is rather hard for many of the practices to decide how to relate to the new upturn and the related continuation of many urban development projects. Sometimes the local authorities have grown to like their work and want to include them, with the risk of becoming too institutionalized and losing their criticality. In other cases, there is the risk of simply being sidelined in the development of a certain area, where more powerful stakeholders can simply push the years of work of grounded practices to the side. Among others Cascoland in Amsterdam’s Kolenkit area and Jeanne van Heeswijk in Rotterdam’s Afrikaanderwijk might not be involved in upcoming redevelopment of their respective neighborhoods. Finally, it is interesting to observe that the more critical practices, in particular compared to the larger, more conformist bottom-up ‘industry’ described before, do not seem to be very well connected, and sometimes do not even seem to know each other. The lack of network capacity has probably to do with the fact that the specific activities of the GUPs in this context are very different and that there are no other relevant movements to relate to.

The squatting movement, in which many practices have their origins, is now too small and fragmented to function as the solder between them. At the moment, there are at least no mechanisms to stand up for each other or support each other. And, after years of hard work, there is a serious risk that when the key players in each practice want to move on it is hard to find an equally committed and effective successor. That said, some new opportunities have been mentioned. While the economic upturn is closing down many cracks in the system, the newly generated money circulating in the national economy might also give better opportunities for private partnerships and might soon result in the loosening of restrictions (in place since the crisis) on subsidies for the arts and culture. A specific development in this context is the new national fund that has been set up to improve the poorest neighborhoods in the south of Rotterdam. In Amsterdam, a new left wing government and the first female mayor in its history, have given new hopes for more inclusive and sustainable development of the city.





Fig. 21: Overall table of selected GUPs and key information [Amsterdam/Rotterdam]




Cascoland is a collective of Amsterdam-based artists developing tools and interventions that empower people, communities and neighborhoods, and create awareness among planners and authorities. In particular, they are known for their work in the Kolenkit neighborhood in Amsterdam-West.

Founding members Fiona de Bell + Roel Schoenmakers

Interviewee Roel Schoenmakers and Judith Leijdekkers

Active since 2004

Interviewers RenĂŠ Boer and Mark Minkjan

Key projects Cascoland Kolenkit, Cascoland Joburg Legal Type Partnership > multiple foundations Website www.cascoland.com

Date of the meeting 07.17.2018 Place of the meeting Non-fiction office

Mission Statement Cascoland is an international Amsterdambased network of artists, architects, designers and performers sharing a fascination for interdisciplinary interventions in public space aiming at the development of an ecological and socially sustainable society. The Cascoland projects/ interventions/artworks are tools to be used by participants and audiences rather than artworks to be exhibited. Cascoland interventions aim to challenge and change perceptions, to empower individuals and communities and to create awareness about the need for sustainable development, not only with audiences and residents, but also with planners, designers, organisations and authorities.



Jeanne Works

Jeanne van Heewsijk is an individual artist (or ‘urban curator’) organising long-term community engagement and empowering inhabitants to change their own environment themselves. Afrikaanderwijk is her long standing project in Rotterdam-Zuid, featuring among other working cooperatives.

Founding member Jeanne van Heeswijk

Interviewee Jeanne van Heeswijk

Active since 1993

Interviewers René Boer and Mark Minkjan

Key projects Afrikaanderwijk Cooperative, Date of the meeting Philadelphia Reassembled 07.11.2018 Legal Type Sole proprietorship > co-operative Website wwww.jeanneworks.net

Place of the meeting Jeanne van Heeswijk’s office

Mission Statement How can an artist be an instrument for the collective reimagining of daily environments, given the complexity of our societies? This is the question that artist Jeanne van Heeswijk, of the Netherlands, considers when deciding how to employ her work to improve communities. Van Heeswijk believes communities need to co-produce their own futures. That’s why she embeds herself, for years at a time, in communities from Rotterdam to Liverpool, working with them to improve their neighbourhoods and empowering them to design their own futures—not wait for local authorities to foist upon them urban planning schemes which rarely take embedded culture into account. Her work often attempts to unravel invisible legislation, governmental codes, and social institutions, gradually preparing areas for their predictive futures. She calls it “radicalising the local” by empowering communities to become their own antidote.



Samen Wonen Samen Leven

Samen Wonen Samen Leven is a foundation creating new community hubs, recently winning the Amsterdam Architecture Award for their project in Amsterdam West.

Founding members Hans Krikke & others Active since 2011 Key project Ru Paré Legal Type multiple foundations Website www.sw-sl.nl Interviewee Auguste van Oppen (Beta Office, architect Ru Paré)

Interviewers René Boer and Mark Minkjan Date of the meeting 07.19.2018 Place of the meeting Non-fiction office

Mission Statement Foundation ‘Samen Wonen Samen Leven’ (‘Dwelling Together Living Together’) is a small social undertaking, aiming at a new kind of welfare for civil society. Civil society is the kind of society people make themselves, through associations, volunteering and informal societies. SWSL focuses on groups of helpers, role models, key figures en leading man and woman, all willing to help precarious neighbors.




Soweto is an alternative housing association, buying buildings to transform them into affordable, collective housing. Nieuwland, in the eastern part of Amsterdam, is their first housing project.

Founding members Various individuals from a squatting group in Amsterdam-East Active since 2005 Key project Nieuwland Legal Type association > associations Website www.soweto.nl

Interviewee Steven Kelk Interviewers RenĂŠ Boer and Mark Minkjan Date of the meeting 07.16.2018 Place of the meeting Non-fiction office

Mission Statement Soweto is a housing association where the DIY-ethos of its renters is most important. By renting out buildings to groups of people who take care of them on their own responsibility, Soweto provides affordable living and working spaces. Soweto is a democratic association whose members decide collectively about the association’s policy. Solidarity and sustainability play an important role in this.



Stad in de Maak

Stad in de Maak is a foundation aiming to take properties off the market in Rotterdam and create affordable spaces for living and working. For now they only have properties on a temporary loan.

Founding members Erik Jutten, Piet Vollaard, Ana Džokić, Marc Neelen

Interviewee Ana Džokić, Marc Neelen

Active since 2013

Interviewers René Boer and Mark Minkjan

Key project Pieter de Raadtstraat

Date of the meeting 07.20.2018

Legal Type partnership > foundation

Place of the meeting Skype

Website www.stadindemaak.nl

Mission Statement City in the Making has since 2013 taken on the redevelopment of vacant properties in Rotterdam. Driven by hands-on communities we manage these building currently for a period of ten years. Five years on, we see our challenge beyond such “temporary vacancy management” and aim towards permanence in affordable housing and working spaces in collective ownership and management. And possibly even a step further: a long-term socially and economically sustainable life in the city, including our own baseline income.




Stadsherstel is a company aiming to acquire and restore dilapidated buildings (in particular monuments), preserve them and rent them out.

Founding members various founding companies and foundations Active since 1956 Key projects Amstelkerk, Vondelkerk, Huis de Pinto Legal Type company (with a societal aim) Website www.stadsherstel.nl

Interviewee Paul Morel, Senior Project Manager Interviewers RenĂŠ Boer and Mark Minkjan Date of the meeting 07.20.2018 Place of the meeting Stadsherstel office

Mission Statement Since its founding, 60 years ago, Stadsherstel Amsterdam has developed into a restoration company for all kinds of monuments in an urban or rural environment. It not only restores, but also preserves these monuments in such manner, that the character of the building is left intact and that further development will not cause any damage to the architecture, or change it in any way. Stadsherstel set itself three objectives: 1) To buy and restore the most threatened historic dwelling houses, especially listed monuments 2) To construct modern dwellings within these buildings for the benefit of the public housing sector 3) To maintain these buildings after restoring them.



Urban Resort

Urban Resort is a foundation temporarily renting abandoned buildings and converting them into affordable working (and housing) arrangements across Amsterdam. Volkshotel is one of their early projects, now partly made permanent through a deal with a hotel.

Founding members Jaap Draaisma + Hay Schoolmeesters

Interviewee Jaap Draaisma, Wessel de Boer

Active since 2007

Interviewers René Boer and Mark Minkjan

Key project Volkshotel, ACTA, Lely, SUP Legal Type foundation Website www.urbanresort.nl

Date of the meeting 06.29.2018 Place of the meeting Urban Resort Office

Mission Statement Stichting Urban Resort develops and manages ‘broedplaatsen’ for artists, craftsmen, freelancers and starters. We offer places where you can work and experiment freely on an artistic and social level. A place where rents remain low and the engagement is high. Where things such as giant installations and miniature theater arise. Where there is room for organizing a festival, spontaneously asking the neighbors to join you for a coffee, but also for working while concentrated. And where Amsterdam people live together with new Amsterdam people. Together, we keep the city accessible and diverse.



Verhalenhuis Belvédère A ‘home for immaterial heritage’ in Rotterdam’s rapidly changing Katendrecht neighborhood, where people can meet through food, storytelling, and exhibitions. The project has gained financial security by acquiring an iconic building through crowdfunding and issuing bonds.

Founding members Els Desmet + 7 others

Interviewee Els Desmet

Active since 2008

Interviewers René Boer and Mark Minkjan

Key projects Renovation and reactivation building in Katendrecht, mobile ‘stories project’ Legal Type multiple foundations Website www.belvedererotterdam.nl Location Rechthuislaan 1, 3072 LB Rotterdam

Date of the meeting 07.11.2018 Place of the meeting Verhalenhuis Belvedere

Mission Statement Making people and communities visible in the contemporary city using art, culture and personal stories. The stories are presented in the form of (photo-)exhibitions, performances, urban discovery tours, inspirational programs, publications, events and people’s kitchens. The form is different each time, the way of working the same: hospitable, positive, personal and inspirational. Both on location in the city and our home base.



Vers Beton

Online magazine for Rotterdam, focussing on urban development, architecture, politics, arts and culture. Provides a platform for discussion about urban issues and sets the local agenda.

Founding members a large group of individuals

Interviewee Teun van den Ende

Active since 2011

Interviewers RenĂŠ Boer and Mark Minkjan

Key projects online magazine, specific journalistic research projects Legal Type foundation Website www.versbeton.nl

Date of the meeting 07.11.2018 Place of the meeting Vers Beton office

Mission Statement Vers Beton is the online magazine for the hard-thinking Rotterdammer. We analyse the city, wish her the best and focus on politics, art, culture, urban development, science, economy and human interest. Vers Beton is not a platform for quick news or party information, but a space for thorough reflection.




Architecture & urbanism office, working worldwide but also in their immediate environment, where it is involved in the redevelopment of the area, including the construction of a crowdfunded pedestrian bridge connecting 3 neighborhoods.

Founding members Elma van Boxel, Kristian Koreman

Interviewers René Boer and Mark Minkjan

Active since 2001, Luchtsingel since 2009

Date of the meeting 07.17.2018

Key project Luchtsingel Legal Type company (ZUS) / foundation (Luchtsingel) Website www.zus.cc Interviewee Elma van Boxel, Kris Koreman

Place of the meeting ZUS office Mission Statement ZUS researches the contemporary urban landscape with productions ranging from political research to specific design of an object. ZUS works with a belief that every place has the potential to become unique

and thrilling. A spatial intervention should therefore always be inspired by the specific qualities of the situation or, in case of large scale projects, with a critical but optimistic attitude. Mission Statement Luchtsingel Decades after their separation, the 400-meter-long Luchtsingel pedestrian bridge has reconnected three districts in the heart of Rotterdam. The Luchtsingel is the world’s first piece of public infrastructure to be accomplished through crowdfunding. Together with the new public spaces, including the Delftsehof, Dakakker, Pompenburg Park, and the Hofplein Station Roof Park, a ‘three-dimensional cityscape’ has arisen. Based on the idea of Permanent Temporality, the Luchtsingel introduces a new way of making city.

Cairo Downtown Passages project, 2015 (project by CLUSTER).


Amsterdam Tussenruimte project, 2013 (project by Non-fiction).

In April 2019, a seminar was organized in Cairo bringing together GUPs from the three cities, introducing their practices, sharing challenges they encounter, and reflecting on commonalities and differences between their respective, Egyptian and Dutch, contexts. The seminar involved visits to GUPs in Cairo, and focused urban tours to engage critical questions facing Cairo, as well as two sessions for exchange and reflection. The following section summarizes some of the main similarities and differences discussed during this encounter, building on the extensive research developed over the previous year and outlined in this report. In Cairo and Amsterdam/Rotterdam, all selected GUPs evolved more or less over the same time span. Comparable conditions led to their emergence and comparable developments are now causing their current difficulties. This wave of alternative urban practices started when professionals seized crisis as an opportunity to push for change and is now at risk coming to an end with the restoration of pre-crisis conditions. Although a major conclusion of the seminar was that GUPs in Cairo and Amsterdam/Rotterdam share more similarities than the background they operate in, they also differ in many ways.

1. Different Approaches: Diverging Adaptations to Global Trends

GUPs’ activities revolve around a different general focus in Egypt and in the Netherlands. In Amsterdam/Rotterdam, GUPs mainly focus on obtaining control over space and make them affordable for others (either to live, work, or to gather/meet), in response to an increasingly unaffordable and privatized city. In Cairo, GUPs’ activities predominantly relate to fields the state fails to provide, which includes housing but also public space, heritage conservation, transport and, more generally, community development. In other words, in each case, GUPs try to palliate the context-dependent difficulties generated by neoliberal policies. GUPs privileged domain of intervention is different in Cairo and the Netherlands. GUPs in Cairo work mainly in the interstices of an already conflicted public space, while Dutch GUPs predominantly implement projects that add a certain complexity or even disrupt increasingly overregulated urban environments. This distinction can be explained by Cairene authorities’ neglect of the public domain, which means that main-




tenance and upgrading interventions mainly rely on private initiatives. It largely this gap between loosely enforced formal regulations, on the one hand, and alternative urban orders by non-state actors, on the other, that GUPs in Cairo are able to inhabit and operate within. The opposite dynamic is observed in Dutch cities. Overregulation of the urban realm often prevents initiatives or interventions from shaping public areas, corroborating further the concept of the 19 René Boer, ‘Smooth City is ‘smooth city’19, especially in the the New Urban,’ Volume 52, 2018. case of Amsterdam. Differences Available at: http://volumeproject. in the legal landscape also acorg/smooth-city-is-the-newcount for this observation: there urban/ [Accessed 1 June 2019]. has been a longstanding tradition of adaptive reuse of private property in the Netherlands which is less common in Cairo. In other words, GUPs in Cairo are operating within a rather fluid condition as opposed to Dutch ones attempting to relate to rather rigid existing systems. In terms of strategy, Dutch GUPs have put the emphasis on experimentation and innovation while implementing projects. Those same projects have often become autonomous entities while in Cairo, only a limited number

of projects have actually been implemented. Many administrative and on-the-ground obstacles make it difficult to obtain permits and to go through the implementation phase. Cairo GUPs have hence engaged and invested efforts in different strategies, namely knowledge production and dissemination to ultimately influence decision-making. This priority is also justified by the need to palliate the lack of critical urban discourse in academia. Cairo GUPs form a more connected movement than in Amsterdam/Rotterdam, where GUPs are a less coherent group and their projects often come across as islands in the middle of the urban fabric. Cairo GUPs dense network can be seen as a strategy to cope with the uncertain conditions of their existence and survival. In Cairo, GUPs have to navigate blurry legal lines and creatively bypass grey zones in order to sustain themselves in a potentially threatening environment. This fragile situation contrasts starkly with the more solid legal backing GUPs benefit from in Amsterdam/Rotterdam.


The last difference between GUPs in Cairo and Amsterdam/Rotterdam lies in the identity of their founders. While they are mostly architects in Cairo, a wider spectrum of different professionals have created GUPs in Amsterdam/ Rotterdam. Our sample selection criteria accounts for part of this difference. The lack of permeability between different urban disciplines in the Egyptian education system also explains this observation. As notions of civic responsibility and influence of civil society are lessened, doing something about the urban realm in Cairo almost always requires an architect, an engineer, or a conservation expert.

2. Similarities across Egypt and the Netherlands: Lessons Learned

Common to all GUPs across both context is the notion of one or more people having a general vision or ambition relating to change they wish to bring about in the urban environment. By starting the process of realizing and implementing this vision, they become the founders of a self-initiated practice. From that moment onwards, starting projects as part of this larger practice without being commissioned to do so remains a crucial value. Over time, these founders often grow closely attached to their projects, investing enormous amounts of time, energy, and sometimes even financial resources. Often, this process becomes a ‘school of life’, in which they learn to develop their GUP and make it more effective. These skills are only learned in practice, and, until now, not taught in any (spatial) educational program.

Another thread common to GUPs in Amsterdam/Rotterdam and Cairo is the way they became mature over the years. This trend is visible in GUPs’ individual trajectory as well as in a comparison between older and younger practices at a given time. Generally, GUPs have become more established in the sense that they often started with an innovative, small scale approach which they attempted, when possible, to scale-up, applying the same methods to similar projects. Urban Resort, created in 2006, now has many housing projects in Amsterdam. In Cairo, Madd started with a small upgrading project before to attempt to formalize their participatory model in the Maspero project. During the Cairo encounter, in April 2019, it was proposed that GUPs may generally follow a three-stage trajectory, which could be summarized as nascent/startup, maturity/consolidation, and expansion/scaling-up. This generalization, which also corresponds to the earlier argument about the resilience and tactical shift from rather radical/idealist position towards more pragmatic and mainstream practice (fig 1), may explain the paradoxical transition that many GUPs trying to expand and grow without losing their ‘edge’.


COMPARISON and REFLECTION Maturity is also observed in terms of the progressive formalization of their legal status. In Cairo, more recently established GUPs are still unsure of the relevance of their legal status, while older practices have developed a more complex and efficient one over the years. In terms of internal structure, GUPs have established a more systematic hierarchy over the years. In Cairo, some of the oldest GUPs now have middle management levels, while the most recent ones are considering altering their very flat structure to be able to expand. In Amsterdam/Rotterdam, we have also seen some practices becoming more hierarchical over time, while transitioning from an idealistic position to a more pragmatic one, as they have had to adapt to achieve a more balanced position that allows them to be sustainable. Due to the risks that GUPs face, whether it be financial or legal, they have developed a form of adaptability and resilience in order to survive the changing conditions on the ground. One of their main features of resilience is that they are not fixed in being one type of organization, but constantly evolve based on the political, legal and economic landscape. They do so by using different tools, such as having flexible staff (mostly project-based teams), in some cases temporary working space whose ownership scheme is uncertain or favorable to them. The subversive use of conventional tools, such as the Volkshotel project’s strategic partnership, constitutes the GUPs’ tactical cunning strategies.

In both contexts, they seize opportunities created by gray zones to work in the interstices of the existing system. In fact, the idea of taking advantage of the cracks translated explicitly, not to say quite literally, into projects in both Cairo and Amsterdam with the Downtown Passageways and the Tussenruimte (in between-space) projects respectively (see pictures). Independence is needed to be able to stay critical towards the status quo but also implies a certain degree of precarity. Although this notion entails different realities in Cairo and Amsterdam/Rotterdam, GUPs in both contexts aspire to remain independent from mainstream forms of practices, involving staying away from external influences (such as corporate funding). In both cities independence is mainly asserted through accessing diverse sources of funding. In the case of Amsterdam/Rotterdam, crowdfunding and rent collecting are widespread as a way of staying accountable to and involving the community they seek to affect, while maintaining a form of independence from the government or private companies. One of the main examples of this is the Luchtsingel project built by ZUS, a crowdfunded pedestrian bridge connecting three neighborhoods. In the case of Cairo, independence is also a priority but it is achieved through different means as crowdfunding is made difficult by legal restrictions and contradicts GUPs

152 survival strategy that consists in keeping a low profile. Instead, they have maintained a relative financial independence by cross-subsidizing their research or by community development initiatives with for-profit activities. To conclude, some GUPs in both contexts have experienced a process of brain-drain, unable to maintain their staff beyond a year or two. The high turnover may be explained by both younger staffs’ viewing GUPs an introduction and training to alternative and progressive practice, rather than a ‘career path’.

3. Moving Forward: Possible Next Steps

The GUPs across Cairo and Amsterdam/Rotterdam have, to various extents, successfully negotiated a space of productive operation within their restrictive wider contexts that allows them to engage critically with urban space to address key urban issues. Whilst facilitated by a position of independence, this renders them in a state of relative precarity that threatens their existence and growth; a reality that is compounded by the return to the status quo after the respective crises in Egypt and the Netherlands. This research has offered a detailed perspective on the conditions and strategies that both limit and facilitate the work of GUPs, highlighting some factors that could be constructively addressed in order to promote their continued and secure practice in the long run, perhaps paving the way for larger-scale impact on the predominant urban practice.



In Cairo, for example, flexibility regarding the range of activities formally permitted for architectural practices to engage in would be essential to facilitate the multiplicity of alternative tools deployed by GUPs, which often traditionally fall outside the realm of conventional architectural practice. This could be institutionalized in the recognition of GUPs as a legitimate mode of urban practice by the official Syndicate of Engineers (which includes architects), with an appropriate and specific legal framework. This could also extend to more flexibility regarding legalized sources of funding that acknowledges the predominantly nonprofit nature of their work, even if formally registered as private companies. In Amsterdam/Rotterdam, future GUPs need to carefully consider how they will manage to carve out and hold a space for themselves, with available spaces becoming both increasingly expensive and/ or overregulated. Finding ways to take over the ownership of key spaces can help sustain a project and its impact in the long term. It is also important to look ahead towards the moment the initial, personal energy will start to wear off and needs replacement. Starting by training successors early on could prove essential. Then, to truly engage locally and become a grounded practice, it is key to actually listen to a community and to hear what they need most. And finally, even with small budgets architecture can still prove a powerful tool to elevate an important project into something visible, empowering and attractive. For both Cairo and Amsterdam/Rotterdam, the ongoing blossoming of new and existing GUPs could be sustained by training programmes that allow engaged graduates in architecture, urbanism and other fields to develop their own strategies to set up new initiatives that are grounded, critical, experimental and use space as their main agent of change. Sharing strategies, methods and tools developed by GUPs with existing programs and courses in universities may be complemented by training and internship programs with each GUPs, and/or developing more robust training program with a structured pedagogy as in the case of new International School for the City in Rotterdam. On a larger scale, it has been argued at the Cairo Forum that similar practices have emerged in other cities around the world, and that there is a need to engage with these practices and create new opportunities to exchange strategies and ways of working. Currently, plans are already in the making to expand the project to Berlin and Tunis and connect with local GUPs. Beyond these two additions, a broader, global network could be formed, that could possibly develop a charter, or manifest itself in major platforms such as the World Urban Forum.




Terms related to the form of organization






Alternative Association Blog






Center Collaboration

‫مركز‬ ‫تعاونية‬

Company Cooperative Collective

‫شركة‬ ‫تعاوني‬ ‫مجموعة‬





Co-working space


‫مساحة للعمل المشترك‬







blog centrum samenwerking bedrijf cooperatief collectief (lokale) gemeenschap advies gedeelde werkruimte kritisch onderneming geworteld, geaard


Group Hub2 Hub for artist studios (breeding ground) Independent

‫مجموعة‬ ‫ ملتقى‬/‫مركز‬ ‫حاضنة لمبادرات‬

groep ‘hub’, knooppunt broedplaats

‫ناشئة او مساحات فنية‬ ‫مُ ستقل‬











1 NUANCE in arabic,no equivalent of community, rather “society” or “group”


Foundation Lab LLC (limited liability company) Magazine



‫مؤسسة‬ ‫مختبر‬ ‫شركة ذات مسئولية محدودة‬ (‫م‬.‫م‬.‫)ش‬ ‫مجلة‬

stichting laboratorium BV (besloten vennootschap) tijdschrift







NGO Not-for-profit Office Organization Platform

‫منظمات غير الحكومية‬ ‫غير ربحية‬ ‫مكتب‬ ‫منظمة‬ ‫منصة‬

‘NGO’ ‘Not-for-profit’ kantoor organisatie platform








‫ مساحة‬/‫مكان‬



2 NUANCE In arabic, equivalent of “hub” refers to “center”

ruimte stedelijk

Terms related to the scope/practice


Adaptive Reuse



‫إعادة استخدام‬














Creative Commons Curator Discursive Practices Event Exhibition Graphic Design Heritage

‫المشاع اإلبداعي‬ ‫الق َيم على‬ ِ ‫ممارسات خطابيّة‬ ‫ فعالية‬/‫حدث‬ ‫معرض‬ ‫التصميم المرئي الطباعي‬ ‫تراث‬

Housing association

‫جمعية إسكان‬

Housing corporation (privatized)

‫شركة إسكان‬

(urban ) Interventions Innovation Mapping Manifesto

(‫تدخالت (عمرانية‬ ‫إبتكار‬/‫إبداع‬ ‫التوثيق المكاني‬ ‫بيان رسمي‬





Neighborhood Open source

‫حي‬ ‫المصدر المفتوح‬

‘creative commons’ curator discursieve praktijken evenement tentoonstelling grafisch ontwerp erfgoed woningbouwvereniging woningcorporatie interventie innovatie in kaart brengen manifest media muurschildering buurt ‘open source’






voor voetgangers







(‫ممارسة (مهنية‬



‫ مطبوعة‬/‫منشور‬


Social housing Squatting

‫سكن إجتماعي‬ (‫تدخالت (عمرانية‬


sociale huurwoningen kraken

‫بغير حق قانوني‬

Squat (place) Squat (legalized) Stakeholder analysis

‫ مساحة وضع يد‬/ ‫أرض‬ ‫تقنين وضع اليد‬ ‫تحليل االطراف المعنية‬/

kraakpand gelegaliseerd kraakpand ‘stakeholder analysis’

‫أصحاب المصلحة‬





Research Tactical Urbanism

‫بحث‬ ‫تدابير عمرانية محلية‬

symposium renovatie onderzoek tactische stedelijke interventies







Urban tours Urban vacancy Visualization Website Web-platform Workshop

‫جوالت عمرانية‬ ‫مساحة عمرانية شاغرة‬ ‫تعبير بصري‬ ‫موقع الكتروني‬ ‫منصة إلكترونية‬ ‫ورشة‬

stadsrondleiding leegstand visualisatie website ‘web platform’ ‘workshop’




Fig. 1. Spectrum of sustainable modes of practice


Fig. 2. Diagram of GUPs at the intersection between activists and creatives


Fig. 3. Map of selected GUPs [Cairo]


Fig. 4. Areas of focus of GUPs [Cairo]


Fig. 5: Timeline of date of establishment of GUPs [Cairo]


Fig. 6. Key for legal landscape of organizations [Cairo]


Fig. 7. Description of legal entities and their respective management structure [Cairo]


Fig. 8. Revenues and activities allowed for nonprofit and for-profit organizations [Cairo]


Fig. 9. Extended financial model of typical GUPs [Cairo]


Fig. 10. Examples of alternatives to financial model [Cairo]


Fig. 11. Extended organizational structure [Cairo and Amsterdam/Rotterdam]


Fig. 12. Examples of variations of organizational structure [Cairo and Amsterdam/Rotterdam]


Fig. 13. Typical methods used by GUPs [Cairo]


Fig. 14. Sunburst Diagram of strategies, methods and tools mobilized by GUPs [Cairo]


Fig. 15. Overall table of selected GUPs and key information [Cairo]


Fig. 16. Map of selected GUPs [Amsterdam/Rotterdam]


Fig. 17. Areas of focus of GUPs [Amsterdam/Rotterdam]


Fig. 18. Timeline of date of establishment of GUPs [Amsterdam/Rotterdam]


Fig. 19. Description of legal entities [Amsterdam/Rotterdam]


Fig. 20. Extended financial model of typical GUPs [Amsterdam/Rotterdam]


Fig. 21. Overall table of selected GUPs and key information [Amsterdam/ Rotterdam]





Sources Abaza, Mariam. ‘Post January Revolution in Cairo: Urban Wars and the Reshaping of Public Space.’ Theory, Culture & Society, 2014, pp. 1–21. Adham, Khaled. ‘Making or Shaking the State: Urban Boundaries of State Control and Popular Appropriation in Sayyida Zaynab Model Park.’ Cairo Contested: Governance, Urban Space and Modernity, edited by Diane Singerman, Cairo; New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2009, pp. 41-62. Beekmans, Jeroen and Joop de Boer. Pop-Up City: City-Making in a Fluid World. Amsterdam: BIS Publishers, 2014. Braudel, Fernand. The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. Paris: Armand Colin, 1949. Butcher, Luke. ‘Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture.’ Notes on Metamodernism, 2018, http://www.metamodernism. com/2011/08/02/spatial-agency-other-ways-of-doing-architecture/ [Accessed 30 Jul. 2018] Boer, René. ‘Smooth City is the New Urban.’ Volume 52, 2018, http://volumeproject.org/smooth-city-is-the-new-urban/ [Accessed 30 Jul. 2018] Boer, René and Mark Minkjan. ‘Why the Pop-up Hype Isn’t Going to Save Our Cities.’ Failed Architecture, 2016, https://failedarchitecture.com/why-the-pop-up-hype-isnt-going-to-save-our-cities/ [Accessed 5 Aug. 2018] Cruz, Teddy. ‘The Architecture of Neoliberalism.’ The Politics of Parametricism: Digital Technologies in Architecture, edited by Matthew Poole and Manuel Shvartzberg, London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015, pp. 189-199. De Graaf, Reinier. ‘Architecture is now a tool of capital, complicit in a purpose antithetical to its social mission.’ Architectural Review 24, 2015, https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/viewpoints/ architecture-is-now-a-tool-of-capital-complicit-in-a-purpose-antithetical-to-its-social-mission/8681564.article [Accessed 25 Jul 2018]

‘Egypt’s New Cities: Neither Just nor Efficient,’ Tadamun, 2015, http://www.tadamun.co/2015/12/31/egypts-new-cities-neitherjust-efficient/?lang=en#.W18Rf9L-g2x [Accessed 30 Jul 2018] Elazzazy, Mohamed and Ahmed Zaazaa. ‘Urban Trojan: Urban social innovations in Egypt between the hands of researchers, the community and public authorities.’ plaNext – next generation planning 5, 2012, pp. 61-77. DOI: 10.24306/plnxt.2017.05.005. Elshahed, Mohamed. ‘Popular initiatives and the Future of Cairo.’ Cairobserver, No.2, 2013. Frank, Simon, Jeroen Niemans and Frans Soeterbroek. Het Nieuwe Stadmaken. Amsterdam: Trancity*Valiz, 2015. Ibrahim, Kareem. ‘Post-Revolutionary Urban Egypt: A New Mode of Practice?’ Égypte/Monde arabe, vol 11, 2014, pp. 237-266. http:// ema.revues.org/3330 [Accessed 15 Jul. 2018] ‘Investigating Spatial Injustice in Cairo,’ Tadamun, 2015. http:// www.tadamun.co/2015/12/15/investigating-spatial-inequality-cairo/?lang=en#.W18Su9gzbEY [Accessed 30 Jul 2018] James, Paul. Urban Sustainability in Theory and Practice: Circles of sustainability. London; New York: Routledge, 2015. Nagati, Omar and Beth Stryker. Street Vendors and the Contestation of Public Space. Cairo: CLUSTER, 2017. Nagati, Omar and Beth Stryker. Archiving the City in Flux: Cairo’s Shifting Urban Landscape since the January 25th Revolution. Cairo: CLUSTER, 2013. Nagati, Omar and Beth Stryker. ‘Archiving the city in Flux: Mapping Informality in Cairo since the January 2011 Revolution.’ 2013, pp. 77-86. Oktay, Julianne S. Grounded theory. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Provoost, Michelle. ‘Bottom Up Is Not Enough.’ International New Town Institute, 2013, http://www.newtowninstitute.org/spip. php?article1156 [Accessed 26 Jul. 2018] Redeker, Cornélia and Florian Seidel. ‘Paradigm Shift on the Nile? Cairo after the Revolution.’ Bauwelt, 105:26, 2014. Shawkat, Yahia, Omnia Khalil, and Ahmed Zaazaa, 10 Tooba | Applied Research on the Built Environment. Parallel Urban Practice in Egypt, Nairobi: United Nations Human Settlements, 2015. Shawkat, Yahia and Amira Khalil. ‘The Built Environment Budget FY 2015/2016, An Analysis of Spatial Justice in Egypt,’ 10 Tooba, 2016, http://www.10tooba.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/10-Tooba-BE-Budget-2015-16.pdf [Accessed 25 Jul. 2018]




Sims, David. Understanding Cairo: The logic of a city out of control. Cairo; New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2012. Spender, Douglas. The Architecture of Neoliberalism: How Contemporary Architecture Became an Instrument of Control and Compliance. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. Stadnicki, Roman. ‘Urban Activism in Egypt: Emergence and Trajectories after the 2011 Revolution.’ Divercities Conference: Competing Narratives and Urban Practices in Beirut, Cairo and Tehran, Orient Institute Studies 3, 2015. Stryker, Beth and Omar Nagati. Eds. Creative Cities: Re-framing Downtown Cairo. Cairo: CLUSTER and The American University in Cairo Press, 2015. Stryker, Beth and Omar Nagati, and Magda Mostafa. Eds. Learning from Cairo: Global Perspectives and Future Visions. Cairo: CLUSTER and The American University in Cairo Press, 2013. Van’t Klooster, Indira. Reactivate! Innovators of Dutch Architecture. Amsterdam: Trancity*Valiz, 2013. Wacquant, Loic. ‘The militarization of urban marginality: Lessons from the Brazilian metropolis.’ Globalization and inequality in emerging societies, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, pp. 92-117. Law Law no. 70 of 2017: The Law of Associations and Other Foundations Working in the Field of Civil Work, articles 1, 2, 4, 5, 7-b, 7-k, 13, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 32, 33, 38, 42-l, 53, 57, 58 Law no. 159 of 1981: The Law of Joint Stock Companies, Partnerships Limited By Shares, articles 2, 3, 4, 5, 26, 43, 84 Press Hatherley, Owen. ‘The Architecture of Neoliberalism by Douglas Spencer review: privatising the world.’ The Guardian, 2017, https:// www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jan/12/the-architecture-of-neoliberalism-douglas-spencer-review [Accessed 15 Jul. 2018] Websites Cairo Urban Initiatives Platform (CUIP): http://cuip.clustermappinginitiative.org/




[Cairo GUPs]

10 Tooba: http://www.10tooba.org/en/ Cairobserver: http://cairobserver.com/ CILAS: http://www.ci-las.org/ CLUSTER: http://clustercairo.org/ DUCO: http://www.duco-eg.com House of Egyptian Architecture: http://egyptarch.gov.eg/ Lala Studio: https://www.facebook.com/LalaStudio10/ Madd: https://issuu.com/maddplatform Megawra: http://megawra.com/ Takween: http://takween-eg.com Transport for Cairo: http://transportforcairo.com

[Amsterdam/Rotterdam GUPs]

Belvedere: http://www.belvedererotterdam.nl/ Cascoland: http://cascoland.com/#/ Jeanneworks: http://www.jeanneworks.net/ Soweto: https://soweto.nl/nl Samen Wonen Samen Leven: http://www.sw-sl.nl/ (website under construction) https://www.spe-amsterdam.nl/netwerk/samenwonen-samenleven-sw-sl/ (current website) Stad in the maak: http://www.stadindemaak.nl/ Stadsherstel: https://www.stadsherstel.nl/ Urban Resort: https://www.urbanresort.nl/ VersBreton: https://versbeton.nl/ ZUS: http://www.zus.cc/ [Legal landscape] University of Richmond https://law.richmond.edu/academics/clinics-skills/in-house/ip-clinic/ pdf/business-sole-proprietorship.pdf General Authority For Investment (GAFI) http://www.gafi.gov.eg/english/eServices/Pages/eservices-guide. aspx http://www.gafi.gov.eg/english/eServices/Pages/eservices-guide. aspx http://www.gafi.gov.eg/English/StartaBusiness/InvestmentZones/ Pages/Inland.aspx Investopedia https://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/generalpartnership.asp https://www.investopedia.com/terms/l/limitedpartnership.asp https://www.investopedia.com/terms/j/jointstockcompany.asp




Cairo Team

Amsterdam/Rotterdam Team

The Cairo part of this study was carried out by members of CLUSTER: Principals: Omar Nagati Beth Stryker

The Amsterdam/Rotterdam part of this study has been carried out by René Boer and Mark Minkjan, both partners in Non-fiction, with advice by Michiel van Iersel, partner and founder of Non-fiction.

Research Team Omnia Awni Amin el-Didi Marina el-Najjar Laura Meynier Marwa Shykhon

We wish to extend our gratitude to all those who have generously given us their time for our project. Many thanks to Roel Schoenmakers, Judith Leijdekkers, Jeanne van Heeswijk, Michiel van Iersel, Radna Rumping, Arif Kornweitz, Auguste van Oppen, Steven Kelk, Carla Huisman Ana Džokić, Marc Neelen, Piet Vollaard, Paul Morel, Jaap Draaisma, Wessel de Boer, Els Desmet, Teun van den Ende, Eeva Liukku, Elma van Boxel and Kris Koreman for sharing with us their story.

Additional Support Eman al-Houfy Martina AbuAlam We wish to extend our gratitude to all those who have generously given us their time for our project. Many thanks to Ahmed Zaazaa, Alaa alHabashi, Ali Labib, Hassan Ismail, Heba Safey el-Deen, Karim-Yassin Goessinger, Kareem Ibrahim, May al-Ibrashi, Mohamad Abotera, Mohamed Elshahed, Mohamad Hegazy, and Yahia Shawkat for sharing with us their story.

In addition, we would like to thank the following people for the organization, coordination and documentation of the Cairo Forum: Eman Elhoufy Lojin el-Didi Maria Suescun Mary Sprague Farida Desouky Alia Abuelgheit Diagram Design Amin el-Didi (CLUSTER) Graphic Design Anastasia Kubrak Typeface Marguerite Grotesk by Charlotte Rohde


Profile for CLUSTER

Grounded Urban Practices (GUPs): Cairo and Amsterdam/Rotterdam  

'Grounded Urban Practices' (GUPs) is an ongoing research project by CLUSTER (Cairo) and Non-fiction (Amsterdam), examining the rise of a new...

Grounded Urban Practices (GUPs): Cairo and Amsterdam/Rotterdam  

'Grounded Urban Practices' (GUPs) is an ongoing research project by CLUSTER (Cairo) and Non-fiction (Amsterdam), examining the rise of a new...


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