Contemporary architecture of Cairo (1990–2020): mutational plurality of "ISMS", decolonialism, and cosmopolitanism

Marwa M. El-Ashmouni*, Ashraf M. Salama

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
20 Downloads (Pure)


The purpose of this paper is to develop an analytical account on the contemporary architecture of Cairo with emphasis on the past three decades, from the early 1990s to the present. The paper critically analyses narratives of the plurality of "isms", within architectural vocabulary and discourse, that resulted from the contextual particularities that shaped it.

Three lines of inquiry are envisioned as overarching aspects of architecture: the chronological, the interventional and the representational. These discussions are underpinned by the discourse of decolonialisation and cosmopolitanism, posited sequentially by Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth (1961), and Ulrich Beck in The Cosmopolitan Vision (2004). The analysis expands to interrogate these two notions as prelude for reflecting on representations of selected projects: The Smart Village (2001); the Great Egyptian Museum (2002), Al-Azhar Park (2005), American University in Cairo New Campus (2008/2009), and the New Administrative Capital (2018).

The investigation on the interventional and the representational levels via aspects of discursivity and contradictions highlights that decolonisation and cosmopolitanism are two inseparable facets in the architectural practice in Egypt's 21st century. These indivisible notions are based on idiosyncratic core to human experience, which emerged from concurrent overturning historical and secular everyday life striving to suppress ideological supremacy.

Research limitations/implications
Further detailed examples can be developed to offer discerning elucidations relevant to both notions of cosmopolitanism and decolonialisation.

The paper offers novel theoretical analysis of Cairo's most recent architecture. The reflection on the notions of decolonialisation and cosmopolitanism is a timely example of the complex cultural encounters that have shaped the Egyptian architecture, given the recent interventions by the "Modern State" that legitimised such notions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-142
Number of pages22
JournalOpen House International
Issue number1/2
Early online date27 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes


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